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'Live Free Or Die' Motto Often Invoked at State House, With Mixed Results

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Long live "Live Free or Die."

Written by Revolutionary War Gen. John Stark in 1809 and adopted as the state motto in 1945, the phrase won praise from then-candidate Donald Trump just before the 2016 presidential primary.

"What a great slogan," Trump said in a Facebook video. "Congratulations, New Hampshire. Wonderful job."

To Trump, the motto stood for everything from free enterprise and border security to "taking care of our vets."

Based on this session's debate, some New Hampshire politicians would add protecting transgender individuals and crime victims, texting at stoplights and growing marijuana.

"Live Free or Die" was invoked at least 10 times this year at the Statehouse, with mixed results


Supporters of allowing adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana argued that it is past time to legalize a drug that has been debated for decades, particularly given movement in surrounding states.

"It looks bad for the reputation of the Live Free or Die state to be an island of prohibition surrounded by a sea of freedom," said Rep. Keith Ammon, a New Boston Republican, during the Jan. 9 House debate.

The House later passed the bill, but it ended up tabled in the Senate.


In February, Republican Rep. Norman Silber, of Gilford, used the motto to argue against banning therapy meant to change a child's sexual orientation. Such a prohibition would erode the freedom of parents to decide what's best for their children, he said.

"In our state we have a motto, as you all know, we see it all the time every day, Live Free or Die, and General Stark, hero of the battle of Bennington, said 'Death is not the worst of evils,'" Silber said. "The worst of evils is when our citizens become serfs to the government, and we increase the government's involvement in every aspect of our lives. It's long past time we say no, enough is enough."

The House killed the bill, but a similar measure passed both chambers and was sent to Republican Gov. Chris Sununu.


Rep. Glen Dickey, R-New Boston, who sponsored a bill to require vehicle inspections every two years instead of annually, brought up the motto in arguing that New Hampshire drivers are no more dangerous than those in states that require less frequent inspections.

"Do we have a cultural value of aiming for the potholes or the trees? Is there something in the water that makes us extra reckless?" he said on Feb. 15. "You would think if we were that distinct from inhabitants of other regions we would be drowning in sociological studies describing the Live Free or Die gene or the New Hampshire death cult."

The bill failed, as did another vehicle-related bill that prompted a reference to "Live Free or Die." In March, the House killed a bill that would allow texting at stoplights, despite Republican Rep. Josh Moore's claim that the existing law against doing so goes against the motto.


Sununu has a particular fondness for the phrase, using it to call for a constitutional amendment to protect crime victims, describe the need for a civil rights unit in the Department of Justice and praise passage of regulatory reform measures. In April, he sent senators a letter outlining his opposition to creating a paid family leave program.

"While I believe access to a paid-leave program would provide a benefit to some Granite Staters, it is not in our 'Live Free or Die' nature to force citizens to pay for a service they do not want," he said.

The bill passed the House but the Senate voted to further study it.


Earlier this month, Sen. Dan Innis urged his colleagues to protect transgender people from discrimination, saying the state's roughly 4,500 transgender residents deserve to be treated fairly in housing, employment and public accommodations.

"We want everyone in our state to have the opportunity to Live Free or Die," said Innis, who is gay. "These laws are necessary because of the pervasive discrimination that transgender people face at work, at home and in public. I'm not transgender, but 10, 20 years ago, I experienced these discriminations. They're painful."

The bill passed both the House and Senate, and Sununu plans to sign it.

—Holly Ramer, Associated Press


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