This is not about the phrase, so things that are only mentions of it, and variations on it, are not examples.
Basically this is when people are willing to fight to the death for freedom. Sometimes they actually do end up dying for it, but this trope is solely about being willing to die for freedom, regardless of the result. Expect a Rousing Speech or two.
Can overlap with I Die Free when those fighting for their freedom are on the losing side and they have only that choice left.
And there are many bloody revolutions in Real Life.
Compare Martyrdom Culture.
- InuYasha: Kagura is enslaved to Naraku but is determined to obtain her freedom. Sesshoumaru warns her that her path will lead to her death if she's not careful, but she persists anyway because there is no other alternative for her. Eventually, even though she knows it will cost her life to do so, she saves Kohaku from being killed by Mouryoumaru and is promptly killed by Naraku. Bittersweet because she realises as she's dying that the only way she could ever gain her freedom was by dying, but that it is true freedom. Lampshaded later on by Mouryoumaru when he accidentally triggers Sesshoumaru's Berserk Button by insulting Kagura's willingness to die for her freedom, an ideal and death he views as worthless.
- Older Sister Maid in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha, when she had to impersonating Crimson Scholar, and being arrested for being heretical.
- In Scion, when the Raven and Heron kingdoms invade the Lesser Races' Sanctuary island, Exeter makes it clear that he's willing to die defending it, which leads to his Crowning Moment of Awesome:
"We're close to accomplishing the impossible. To making a dream reality. And some dreams are worth fighting for."
- Shows up in Part III of The Cartoon History of the Universe, in the bit about the Zanj Rebellion. "Zanj" was a term for East African slaves (bought from their native rulers in what is now Kenya and Tanzania) who were employed in southern Iraq's production of sugarcane. They rose in revolt against the Arab, Persian, and Turkish rulers of the Abbasid Caliphate, and (as Gonick notes) fought ferociously for their freedom (primarily because the alternative was death). It's specifically brought up in this panel:
Zanj army: LIBERTY OR DEATH!Frightened-looking Arab soldier: You lack sophistication, my dear fellow! Have you ever thought of the idea that no man is ever completely free?Zanj soldier: But completely dead, yes!
- Spoofed in Chicken Run:
"We'll either die free chickens, or we'll die trying!""Are those the only choices?"
- Those tiny blue Discworld William Wallace stand-ins, the Nac Mac Feegle. "Nae king! Nae Quin! Nae Laird! Nae master! We willna be fooled again!" Then again, they also think they're dead and in warrior paradise, so their views on getting killed are a little unique.
- The trope is mocked in Night Watch, where zealous revolutionary Reg Shoe shouts at the enemy, "You can take our lives, but you can never take our freedom!" There's a long pause and some mumbling while everyone runs that sentence through their heads again and decides that, yes, it's the stupidest battle cry they've ever heard. Sure enough, Carcer answers "Wrong!" and shoots him.
- Nineteen Eighty-Four, with the Brotherhood. It turns this was set up by the Big Bad, though. Only Thought Criminials would join such an organization and so the Brotherhood gathers all poetential rebels while the loyal party members ignore it.
- Robert A. Heinlein visits this territory many times, particularly in Sixth Column, The Puppet Masters and "If This Goes On—". In the latter he says:
You can't conquer a free man; the most you can do is kill him.
- In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, as Roane reveals what the Psychocrats have done, Nelis concludes that the terrible risks of breaking the Mind-Control Device affecting the entire planet is worth it for freedom from their conditioning.
- In Andre Norton's Catseye, after their escape, the cat observes they were told they would die if they did, but they are still alive. They agree to stay with Troy after questioning him to discern that he can't actually control them, he can only talk.
- Animorphs is built on teenagers repeatedly risking their lives to fight alien brain-controlling slugs enslaving humanity. Ax finds this exact phrase in a book of quotes and wonders if the Yeerks would've invaded if they knew humans thought like that. Other species targeted by the Yeerks frequently have a "free or dead" attitude.
- You know what it says on the New Hampshire license plates?Live free or die.My mother walks out of here a free woman, or she dies.
- The song "A Tale They Won't Believe" (they get death):
"When we left Macquarie Harbour it was in the pouring rain
None of us quite sure if we would see England again
And some fool muttered 'death or liberty' ..."
- In Dragon Age II Anders seems to believe it’s better if mages die fighting for their freedom rather than live in the Circle, that for him is nothing more than a Gilded Cage. He blows up the Chantry to provoke a war and force mages to rebel or be slaughtered.
- In the backstory of Path of Exile the kingdom of Ezomyr was forcibly annexed by the Eternal Empire. The Ezomytes were enslaved en mass and the kingdom driven into poverty. When the Purity Rebellion rose up against the excesses of the Empire, the Ezomytes took to the field against the Empire's legions and kept fighting despite hideous casualties (losing three men for each legionnaire they killed) until they won.
- In The Elder Scrolls backstory, St. Alessia, the "Slave Queen", led a uprising of Cyrodiil's native human population against their Ayleid masters, who had dominated Cyrodiil since time immemorial, for the freedom of the enslaved humans they kept. After risking her life to escape slavery herself, she would ally with the Nordic Empire, rebel Ayleid lords, and even the gods themselves to defeat the Ayleids.
- Trope name comes from Patrick Henry, a melodramatic patriot in The American Revolution.
- An interesting subtrope: in that same Revolution, the British government promised freedom to any colonial slave who ran away and joined the loyalist army. Thousands (including a few of Henry's own slaves) did, evidently preferring the risk of death on the battlefield to the certainty of a life in chains if the colonists won independence. When that happened, most of them fled to Canada, where the British allowed them to form Black Loyalist communities, mostly in the province of Nova Scotia.
- The American Civil War was an ironic twist on this for the South. They wanted freedom ... the freedom to keep slaves.
- There were also a number of slave revolts, even though the slaves knew there was a high chance they'd be crushed by the militia and executed.
- The French Revolution invoked this repeatedly. The Jacobin motto was "Vivre libre ou mourir" ("Live free or die")/ "La Liberté ou la mort" ("Liberty or Death") and the motto of the National Convention during the Reign of Terror, "Unité, Indivisibilité de la République; Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité ou la mort".
- During the famous instance of the Glorious First of June, where French ships engaged the English so that a vital convoy of food imports reached France, French sailors engaged the English in an action before being crushed. The sailors chose to drown instead of being captured, shouting "Vive la République" with their dying breaths.
- Likewise during the French Revolution, their slave run colonies heard some of that fancy Republican rhetoric and decided they wanted in. This led to rebellion in Haiti, the only nation founded by a successful slave rebellion. The National Convention acknowledged the rebellion until Napoleon Bonaparte destroyed the Republic and reinstated slavery, and captured the great Toussaint Louverture during a peace negotiation. The people of Haiti rose up in Rebellion and repelled the French, forcing Napoleon to abandon all of France's New World colonies.
- Another instance was that of Louis Delgrès, a Mulatto Revolutionary in Guadeloupe who in 1802 started a slave rebellion against the expeditionary forces sent by Napoleon to bring slavery back to the colonies (after the National Convention had abolished it). Delgrès and his allies, 300 of them, committed mass suicide by igniting stocks of gunpowder rather than surrender. In 1998, Delgres' sacrifice and struggle was recognised and honored by the French Pantheon.
- "Freedom or Death!" is the official motto of both Greece and Uruguay.
- "Live Free or Die" is the official motto of the state of New Hampshire.
- The Natchez nation went to war against French Louisiana in 1729 after being abominably treated in various ways and having their culture mucked up; the chief who touched things off is supposed to have said, "We walk like slaves, which we soon will be... Is not death preferable to slavery?"
- They were clever, too—they planned things out well, and folded over 200 black slaves into their forces after attacking their plantations, and presumably killing their masters.
- The French then bribed the Choctaw into killing the Natchez for them. Freaking politics.
- Harriet Tubman, a "conductor" on the Underground Railroad (that smuggled slaves from the American south to freedom in Canada), carried a handgun with her for protection. She once said that when a runaway slave lost heart and wanted to give up and return to the plantation, she pointed the gun at him and said, "You go free or die."
- Slaves in Argentina were usually incorporated into the army during the war of independence, and then the civil war, with the chance of being free if they survived the military career. Sometimes this was voluntary, other times (when the threats were higher) it was enforced. Traffic of slaves was abolished in 1813, and the sons of slaves were automatically emancipated. By 1853, the time when slavery was completely abolished, there were so few slaves in the country anyway that the abolition is hardly worth a footnote in the history books of Argentina.