Much like the country itself, the mottos of the 50 United States are a mixed bag. Almost half are in Latin, others are in English, and there’s a scattering of French, Spanish, Hawaiian, and Chinook. Some states have officially adopted their motto, while others acknowledge it simply because it appears on the state’s Great Seal. Some are a single word, like California’s “Eureka,” while others are quite a mouthful — it’s not easy to proudly cry out “Ense Petit Placidam Sub Libertate Quietem” if you happen to be from Massachusetts. From Alabama to Wyoming, here is a list of all 50 state mottos, and how they came to be.
Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere (We Dare Defend Our Rights)
Alabama’s state motto was inspired by the poem “In Imitation of Alcaeus” by Sir William Jones, specifically the lines “Men, who their duties know, / But know their rights, and, knowing, dare maintain.”
North to the Future
Alaska’s motto was adopted in 1967 to mark the centennial of the Alaska Purchase, the acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire.
Ditat Deus (God Enriches)
Arizona’s state seal was adopted in 1912, with the motto front and center. The images on the seal, like the motto, focus on the state’s riches, with irrigated fields, orchards, cattle, and a miner with a pick and shovel.
Regnat Populous (The People Rule)
The Arkansas state seal dates back to 1820, 16 years before Arkansas became a state. The original motto, Regnant Populi, was changed to Regnat Populous in 1907, to better express the rule of the general people, rather than groups of people.
Eureka (I Have Found It)
Best known as the exclamation made by the Greek scientist Archimedes when he stepped into the bath and realized the significance of water displacement, the use of “Eureka” as California’s motto likely refers to the discovery of gold in the state in the mid-1800s.
Nil Sine Numine (Nothing without the Deity)
Colorado’s state motto has caused some debate over the years. Variously translated as “Nothing without Providence” or “Nothing without God,” a committee report eventually clarified that the official translation should be “Nothing without the Deity.”
Qui Transtulit Sustinet (He Who Transplanted Still Sustains)
The exact origin of this motto is uncertain, but its connection to Connecticut goes all the way back to the Saybrook Colony and its seal. The English colony was established in 1635 at the mouth of the Connecticut River.
Liberty and Independence
Delaware’s motto was approved in 1847, and reflects the state’s history as the first colony to accept the new U.S. constitution in 1787 — the reason one of Delaware’s state nicknames is the “First State.”
In God We Trust
Florida’s motto is the same as that of the United States of America. Originally, however, it was written as “In God Is Our Trust.” It was only in 2006 that the current form was officially designated as the state’s motto.
Wisdom, Justice, Moderation
Georgia does not have an official state motto, but one side of its Great Seal does bear the words “Wisdom, Justice, Moderation,” which is commonly considered the motto. The seal has two sides, however, with the other stating “Agriculture and Commerce.” But the former is a little punchier, which is probably why it’s more popular.
Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Āina i ka Pono (The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness)
Hawaii officially adopted its motto in 1959. The original phrase is attributed to Kamehameha III, the third King of Hawaii, who spoke the words in 1843 when the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hawaii was returned by the British.
Esto perpetua (Let it Be Perpetual)
Idaho’s motto was incorporated in the Great Seal of the State of Idaho, which was designed by Emma Edwards Green in 1891. It is the only state seal that was created by a woman.
State Sovereignty, National Union
The Great Seal of Illinois features an eagle holding a banner in its beak with the words “State Sovereignty, National Union.” After the Civil War, when national unity was considered paramount, Secretary of State Sharon Tyndale tried to rearrange the motto to place “National Unity” first. It was rejected, but Tyndale rearranged the banner on the seal so that “National Unity” came first, while also placing the word “Sovereignty” upside down.
The Crossroads of America
Officially adopted as the state motto in 1937, Indiana’s motto is a reference to the several major interstate highways that run through the state.
Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain
The Great Seal of Iowa, created in 1847, incorporates images of the Mississippi River and a soldier standing in a field with various industrial tools. Above the soldier is an eagle, and in its beak is a banner with the state motto.
Ad Astra Per Aspera (To the Stars Through Difficulties)
The Great Seal of Kansas and the state motto were adopted in 1861. “To the stars” is a reference to hope and striving, while also recognizing Kansas’ entry as the 34th state in the Union.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall
Kentucky adopted its official state motto in 1792. A little over 200 years later, it also recognized an official Latin motto for the state: Deo Gratiam Habeamus (Let Us Be Grateful to God).
Union, Justice, Confidence
Before the Civil War, Louisiana’s state motto was “Justice, Union and Confidence.” After the war, “Union” was placed before “Justice.” While some variants of the state flag and other emblems read “Union, Justice and Confidence,” the state seal and official flag don’t include the “and.”
Dirigo (“I Direct” or “I Lead”)
Despite being one of the most succinct state mottos, “Dirigo” serves its purpose well. It represents the state and its people as leaders, while also referencing the stars that guide ships and sailors. The motto itself appears beneath the North Star that sits at the top of the state seal and the state flag.
Fatti Maschi, Parole Femmine (Strong Deeds, Gentle Words)
Maryland is the only state with a motto in Italian. The words were first incorporated into the shield of the Calvert family, Maryland’s founding family, probably from a comment made by Pope Clement VII in the 16th century. The translation has been somewhat controversial. For a long time it was translated as “Manly Deeds, Womanly Words,” which some interpreted as sexist. Today, the preferred translation is “Strong Deeds, Gentle Words.”
Ense Petit Placidam Sub Libertate Quietem (By the Sword We Seek Peace, But Peace Only Under Liberty)
Massachusetts’ Latin motto was adopted in 1775. The words are originally attributed to Algernon Sidney, an English soldier and politician who lived from 1623 to 1683.
Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam, Circumspice (If You Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You)
Michigan’s motto is one of the most welcoming and straightforward mottos of all the states. And Michigan is the only state with two peninsulas, both of which are quite pleasant.
L'étoile du Nord (The Star of the North)
Minnesota adopted the French phrase “L'Etoile du Nord” as its official state motto in 1861. The motto was chosen by Henry Sibley, the first Governor of Minnesota.
Virtute et Armis (By Valor and Arms)
Mississippi’s motto appears on a scroll on the state’s coat of arms, which was adopted in 1894. While never officially recognized as the state’s motto, its presence on the coat of arms was enough to make it stick.
Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto (The Welfare of the People is the Highest Law)
The Great Seal of Missouri has the words "United We Stand, Divided We Fall” displayed prominently on the central shield, with two grizzly bears standing proudly on either side. But this isn’t the state motto. The motto is displayed on a scroll beneath the shield in smaller letters.
Oro y Plata (Gold and Silver)
Since the mid-1800s, fortunes in gold, silver, sapphires, and agate have been extracted from the mountains of Montana, which is why the state is known as “The Treasure State.” The motto, adopted in 1865, reflects this mineral wealth. The words are in Spanish rather than Latin or English, simply because the committee agreed it had a nice ring to it.
Equality Before the Law
Nebraska adopted its motto in 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War. The motto reflects the granting of political and civil rights to Americans who previously had little or none.
All for Our Country
In 1886, just months after the end of the Civil War, Nevada replaced its territorial motto of “Volens et Potens” (“Willing and Able”) with the new state motto, “All for Our Country,” reflecting a commitment to the United States. The motto appears on the state seal but not the flag, the latter bearing the words “Battle Born,” which people often assume is the state motto.
Live Free or Die
New Hampshire was late to the party when it came to choosing a motto, but it picked a zinger. The motto was adopted in 1945 near the end of World War II. The words were taken from a toast by General John Stark, New Hampshire's most distinguished hero of the Revolutionary War: “Live free or die. Death is not the greatest of evils.”
Liberty and Prosperity
New Jersey’s motto appeared on its original Great Seal, designed by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere in 1777. Du Simitiere was also involved in designing the Great Seal of the United States.
Crescit Eundo (It Goes By Growing)
New Mexico’s Latin motto is arguably the strangest of them all, with its meaning seemingly opaque at best and nonsensical at worst. It makes more sense when taken in its original context. The phrase was taken from 1st century Roman philosopher Lucretius' epic scientific poem De rerum natura, in which the phrase refers to a thunderbolt that increases in strength as it moves through the sky.
Excelsior (Ever Upward)
New York kept it simple yet inspiring when it chose the single Latin word “Excelsior” as its state motto, conveying a continuous striving for excellence and a better, brighter future.
Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather Than to Seem)
North Carolina adopted its Latin motto in 1893, but the phrase was coined much earlier. It comes from De Amicitia, a treatise on friendship by the Roman statesman and author Marcus Tullius Cicero, written in 44 BC.
Liberty and Union Now and Forever, One and Inseparable
North Dakota’s motto dates back to the creation of the state’s Great Seal in 1889. The phrase comes from a famous speech made by statesman Daniel Webster in the Senate in 1830.
With God, All Things Are Possible
Ohio had no state motto until 1959, when a 12-year-old boy suggested a line from Matthew 19:26. It was adopted, seemingly without issue. Later, in 1997, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a suit against Ohio and its motto, arguing that the biblical quotation violated the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution, guaranteeing freedom of religion. Federal courts finally ruled against the suit, and Ohio kept its motto.
Labor Omnia Vincit (Labor Conquers All Things)
This motto was adopted in 1893, but the phrase dates back more than 2,000 years to a series of Latin poems written by the Roman poet Virgil.
Alis Volat Propriis (She Flies With Her Own Wings)
Oregon’s Latin motto was adopted in 1854, but was replaced by “The Union” in 1957. In 1987, the state decided to change the motto back to the original, arguing that it better represented Oregon’s tradition of independence and innovation.
Virtue, Liberty and Independence
Pennsylvania’s motto first appeared on the state’s coat of arms in 1778. It was designed by Caleb Lownes, a Philadelphia Quaker and iron merchant who supplied Thomas Jefferson with iron for his nailery.
It’s perhaps fitting that the smallest state in the U.S. has the shortest motto. The motto dates back to 1664 and the Rhode Island Colony, whose seal featured an anchor with the word "Hope" above it. It was possibly inspired by the biblical phrase, “hope we have as an anchor of the soul.”
Animis Opibusque Parati (Prepared in Mind and Resources) and Dum Spiro Spero (While I Breathe I Hope)
South Carolina’s original 1777 state seal was two-sided, with a phrase on each side. That proved problematic, so eventually both sides were combined into one. As such, the state ended up with two official mottos.
Under God the People Rule
South Dakota’s motto was incorporated on the state’s original Great Seal, adopted in 1885.
Agriculture and Commerce
The words “Agriculture” and “Commerce” appeared on Tennessee’s Great Seal of 1802, but the motto was only officially adopted in 1987.
This simple motto was adopted in 1930. The word “Texas” comes from the Native American word “Tejas,” which means “friendship."
Utah’s no-nonsense motto ties in with its official state emblem, the beehive, which is featured on the state’s coat of arms and flag, representing hard work and industry.
Freedom and Unity
Vermont’s motto comes from the state seal, adopted in 1779. In 2015, Vermont also adopted a Latin motto, Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat (May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright), a suggestion by Latin student Angela Kubicke, in reference to Vermont being the fourteenth state to join the Union.
Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus Always to Tyrants)
Virginia’s Latin motto is directly connected to the image on its state seal, which shows the Roman goddess Virtus (Virtue) holding a sword and a spear, with one foot planted firmly on the chest of a conquered tyrant.
Al-ki (Bye and Bye)
Washington’s unofficial state motto first appeared on the territorial seal. It is a Chinook word, spelled Al-ki or Alki, meaning “bye and bye,” with a second meaning of “into the future.”
Montani Semper Liberi (Mountaineers Are Always Free)
West Virginia is known for its mountains and rolling hills, a fact reflected in both its Latin motto and the state’s nickname, “The Mountain State.”
Adopted in 1851, Wisconsin’s single-word motto is simple but powerful.
Like Nebraska’s “Equality Before the Law,” Wyoming’s state motto puts the focus on equal rights. The motto reflects that, in 1869, Wyoming became the first state to grant women the right to vote.
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