A displaced Dixie-dweller living in the frozen wilds of New England, I was, until recently, quite unaware of the history of my adopted state’s motto. New Hampshire’s license plate sports the catchy slogan, “Live Free or Die.” The phrase was the personal proverb of New Hampshire’s hero of the War for Independence, General John Stark.
Could there be a Catholic angle to this motto? Perhaps, but let’s first explore it at face value.
There are Granite Staters today, Catholics and non, who say that “Live Free or Die” is more than a motto, and they cite the fact that the stark sentiment behind Stark’s words are still enshrined in Article 10 of New Hampshire’s State Constitution:
Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, 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.
The possibilities of open revolution or secession put aside for the moment — these options appear fairly limited, to say the least — the average law-abiding, concerned citizen in rural New England has another option to secure his “benefit, protection, and security” this March: Town Meeting.
New England town meetings generally take place during Lent, which seems particularly apt for some reason. Catholics of the Granite State can use this penitential occasion in a penitential season to recall, in keeping with our State’s motto, our obligation to free ourselves from the bondage of sin. Sin is a sort of slavery, as Saint Paul assures us, and we can revolt against that slavery by giving a supernatural meaning to General Stark’s motto.
A seven-year-old Saint Dominic Savio did it quite well in Italian: La morte ma non peccati, which is usually translated, “Death Rather Than Sin!”