In the Pearls Before Swine universe, Pig is a well-meaning but simple sort of
character. Rat is usually quite a bit darker, but has a better grasp of the
real world. In this strip, however, I think he is just a character for Pig to bounce
his statement off of. Pig is the sort of character to enjoy light, fluffy, optimistic
state slogans, as can be seen on his face as he progresses from state to state.
When he encounters New Hampshire's stark statement of preferring death to
loss of freedom, it was a shock to the happy optimism he was enjoying. As I
said, it was a mild joke. This strip has done better (and worse).
Looking at Wikipedia's page on state mottos (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/State_motto
I was surprised to see that New Hampshire adopted this statement as late as
1945. Massachusetts' motto, "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under
liberty" dates from 1775. And it is quite wordy, so maybe not the best for a cartoon
And, in the cartoon strip, Rhode Island is listed as "Hope". As a current metaphorical prisoner
of that state, "Hope" isn't the word that springs to mind. Although, another comic DOES spring
to mind: HopeNChange:http://hopenchangecartoons.blogspot.com/