In the Stacks
Live Free or Die For the past 22 issues, New England native and Willamette University College of Law Librarian Richard Breen has written a column for Willamette Lawyer called “In the Stacks.” He has told readers about legal maxims, clever judges, trial by jury and piracy and the law, among other subjects. We’ve enjoyed Dick’s wry takes on the legal profession, which is one of the reasons we’ll miss him greatly in retirement.
Politicians, take note. In a state known for its rugged individualism and where 44 percent of the electorate are registered as independents, it should come as no surprise that in part 1, article 10 of the New Hampshire Constitution, its citizens retain the right of revolution:
was found guilty of a misdemeanor and eventually spent 15 days in the Grafton County jail. Only through the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court in Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705 (1977), did justice prevail and revolution, or death, was thereby averted. In the words of citizen Maynard, “I refuse to be coerced by the State into advertising a slogan which I find morally, ethically, religiously and politically abhorrent.” Well said. Every New Englander values the right not to speak, which includes the right not to become a mobile billboard for state government. And now for the rest of the story .... Legend has it that the words “Live Free or Die” were spoken by New Hampshire’s General John Stark before the 1777 Battle of Bennington, where he defeated a detachment of General Burgoyne’s British dragoons. Fact has it that 32 years later and in failing health he sent the words as a toast to be presented at a reunion of his comradesin-arms.
Whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind. And, for good measure, the state motto, “Live Free or Die,” is emblazoned on New Hampshire license plates which are, ironically, made by prisoners. In the spirit of the constitution, one independent-minded George Maynard in 1974 violated the letter of state law to knowingly obscure any letters or figures on any license plate when, on several occasions, he taped over the motto “Live Free or Die.” For his transgressions he
Regardless, the words were adopted as the state motto in 1945 and remained in obscurity until 1969 when the New Hampshire Legislature, in a resurgence of state pride in its revolutionary history and the individualism of its citizens, voted to replace “Scenic New Hampshire” on its license plates with “Live Free or Die. ”The motto was particularly appealing to arch-conservative, defender of state sovereignty, lawyer, and Equity Law Book publisher Meldrim Thomson, who used it as a political slogan in his unsuccessful runs for the New Hampshire governorship in 1968 and 1970. In 1971 the motto appeared for the first time on New Hampshire license plates and in 1972 “Ax the Tax,” “Keep your Guns,” “Live Free or Die” Mel Thomson won the governorship on the Republican ticket. By that time the slogan had taken on a political identity and the rest is history.
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