Which state refers to "manly deeds and womanly words" in its motto? What is the only state with a motto in Spanish — or a motto in French? State mottos encapsulate that state's history in the union and the shared camaraderie of its citizens. But while some mottos are perfectly explanatory, others may leave you scratching your head.
All 50 States' Mottos and What They Mean (They Make Sense, Promise)
Alabama: Audemus Jura Nostra Defendere
You'll find Alabama's Latin motto, which means "We Dare Defend Our Rights" on its coat of arms. It comes from an 18th-century poem, "Patriotism," by Sir William Jones ("Men who their duties know, But know their rights, and, knowing, dare maintain …”) and defines Alabamians’ sense of civic duty.
Alaska: North to the Future
Alaska was the last state to join the United States and went without a motto for its first eight years of statehood. "North to the Future" was chosen as Alaska's motto during the Alaska Purchase Centennial, describing both Alaska's northernmost position and its value to America's future.
Arizona: Ditat Deus
Latin for "God Enriches," Arizona's motto originated in 1863, nearly 50 years before Arizona even became a state. Many believe that the phrase comes from Genesis 14:23 in the Bible, which depicts the story of Adam deciding to live on God's blessings alone.
Arkansas: Regnat Populus
Arkansas's state motto, which is Latin for "The People Rule," describes the essence of democracy itself. The motto was originally adopted as Regnant Populi in 1864 but changed in 1907 for grammatical reasons (populi means "groups of people").
Surprisingly, the third-largest state in the union has the second-shortest motto. California's motto (Greek for "I Have Found It") reflects the discovery of gold during the California Gold Rush, only one year before California officially became a state.
Colorado: Nil Sine Numine
Colorado's Latin motto, which means "Nothing Without the Deity," comes from the epic poem Aeneid by Virgil (Book II, Line 777: "non haec sine numine devûm Eveniunt" — these things do not come to pass without divine will). Notice that it does not name "God," as numine refers to any type of divinity.
Connecticut: Qui Transtulit Sustinet
If you're thinking of moving to Connecticut, you'll be welcome there! The English translation of Connecticut's Latin motto is "He Who Is Transplanted Sustains," meaning that those who move to Connecticut help it grow.
Delaware: Liberty and Independence
As the first state admitted to the United States, Delaware made its intentions clear in its motto. "Liberty and Independence" reflect not only the will of the people but the political climate of the Revolutionary War — the backdrop of Delaware's statehood.
Florida: In God We Trust
Florida shares its state motto with the entire United States! Its original motto, "In God Is Our Trust," was adorned on the state seal in 1868, but adapted to its current phrasing in 2006.
Georgia: Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation
Plato's Republic cites "wisdom, justice, and moderation" as the three essential pillars of a civilized government. Georgia state founders agreed and added the phrase to their state seal — although interestingly, it's never been made official.
Hawaii: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka Aina i ka Pono
Fittingly, the motto of Hawaii is in Hawaiian — which is the official state language. The phrase means "The Life of the Land Is Perpetuated in Righteousness," a proclamation credited to King Kamehameha III after Queen Victoria withdrew British troops from Honolulu in 1843.
Idaho: Esto Perpetua
Alternatively translated as "Let It Be Perpetual" and "It Shall Be Perpetual," the Idaho state motto comes from Renaissance-era theologian Petro Sarpi. "Esto perpetua" were said to be his last words, referencing his flourishing town of Venice, Italy.
Illinois: State Sovereignty, National Union
Illinois's self-explanatory motto is not without its controversy. It was adapted as it currently reads in 1819, but in 1867, legislators considered changing the order to "National Union, State Sovereignty" to reflect Illinois's loyalty to the United States after the Civil War. The change did not go over well, and the order was changed back in 1868 (although "National Union" is featured more prominently on the state seal than "State Sovereignty").
Indiana: The Crossroads of America
Although Indiana became a state in 1816, its status as "The Crossroads of America" didn't come about until 1937, after the construction of several major highways that crisscrossed the state. Indiana is also the hub of many railways and waterways, making it an essential part of American commerce.
Iowa: Our Liberties We Prize and Our Rights We Will Maintain
Iowa was on the verge of becoming a state right before the Civil War, just as the Union was threatening to split. The issues of state borders and slavery kept Iowa from becoming a state until 1846, and its clearly worded motto reflects Iowa's nearly 60-year struggle for statehood.
Kansas: Per Aspera Ad Astra
Like Iowa, Kansas struggled through the journey toward statehood — so much so that it was known as "Bleeding Kansas" due to the violence between pro-slavery advocates and abolitionist forces. Kansas became a state in 1861 and established its Latin motto meaning "To the Stars Through Difficulties," reflecting the strife in its territorial past (and tested during the soon-to-come Civil War).
Kentucky: United We Stand, Divided We Fall
Kentucky has a motto from the 18th century and one from the 21st century! Its original motto comes from the 1768 "Liberty Song" by John Dickinson, and it captures the solidarity of the new country after the Revolutionary War. However, Kentucky also adopted a Latin motto in 2002: Deo Gratiam Habeamus ("Let Us Be Grateful to God") to reflect the preamble in the state's constitution.
Louisiana: Union, Justice, Confidence
Louisana's motto may seem straightforward enough, but when coupled with the rather intense image on the state flag and seal (a pelican ripping at her own chest to feed her babies with her own blood), the motto takes on a whole new meaning. The three drops of blood symbolize "Union, Justice, Confidence" — three qualities that Louisianians value most of all.
Maine's Latin motto, meaning "I Lead" or "I Direct," is both catchy and accurate. It reflects the popular saying "As Maine Goes, So Goes the Nation," meaning that Maine's politics tend to determine the political direction of the U.S.
Maryland: Fatti Maschii, Parole Femine
Unless you're from Maryland (and even if you are), the phrase "Manly Deeds, Womanly Words" may raise your 21st-century eyebrow. Many claim that Maryland's Italian motto actually means "Strong Deeds, Gentle Words," which is a nice sentiment on its own. However, others argue that this translation may be too general to suffice.
Massachusetts: Ense Petit Placidam Sub Libertate Quietem
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has a Latin motto best suited for a battle cry: "By the Sword We Seek Peace, But Peace Only Under Liberty." It was adopted in 1775, just one year before the Revolutionary War and 13 years before the colony became a state.
Michigan: Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice
Much of Michigan's charm is in its proximity to the Great Lakes — a fact referenced in the state's motto itself! Its Latin motto means "If you Seek a Pleasant Peninsula, Look About You," which provides both helpful instructions and a nice description of Michigan itself.
Minnesota: L'Etoile du Nord
Minnesota's French motto, which means "The Star of the North," pays tribute to the French-Canadian pioneers who first settled in the state. It's the only state to have a motto in French, although not the only state to reference its northern placement in the United States.
Mississippi: Virtute et Armis
Emblazoned on the Mississippi coat of arms is the Latin phrase Virtute et Armis, which means "By Valor and Arms." While it's not an official state motto, the phrase reflects Mississippi's values of courage and strength throughout its history.
Missouri: Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto
Like several other states, Missouri derived its motto from Ancient Rome. Its Latin motto means "Let the Welfare of the People Be the Supreme Law," and comes from Cicero's De Legibus, a fictionalized dialogue on the ideal laws of a state.
Montana: Oro y Plata
It seems apt that Montana, nicknamed "The Treasure State," should have a motto that means "Gold and Silver." If you're wondering why Montana is the only state in the country with a Spanish motto, look at the state name itself: montaña is Spanish for "mountain!"
Nebraska: Equality Before the Law
Like many states that joined the Union in the 1860s, the issue of slavery was a major point of contention for Nebraska. The territory became a state in 1867, after the Civil War had ended slavery in the United States, and only after Nebraska agreed to remove a restriction from its constitution that only allowed white people to vote. Nebraska's motto emphasizes this move and its prioritization of equality among all Americans.
Nevada: All For Our Country
The history of Nevada's state motto is both fascinating and contentious. Its territory motto, Volens et Potens ("Willing and Able") was replaced in 1866 when Nevada became a state, just months after the end of the Civil War. However, many believe the Nevada state motto to be "Battle Born," which was coined in 1864 in reference to Nevada's impending statehood during the Civil War. While "Battle Born" sounds more hardcore, it's "All For Our Country" that appears on the state seal.
New Hampshire: Live Free or Die
As one of the original 13 colonies, New Hampshire saw its share of battle during the Revolutionary War. General John Stark, the state's most well-known Revolutionary hero, coined the phrase in an 1809 toast commemorating the Battle of Bennington in Vermont: "Live Free or Die; Death is Not the Worst of Evils."
New Jersey: Liberty and Prosperity
New Jersey was the first state to ratify the Bill of Rights in a newly christened United States. As such, they proclaimed their state motto to reflect the document's (and the country's) values in a post-colonial era.
New Mexico: Crescit Eundo
If you're thinking that New Mexico's Latin motto, which means "It Grows as It Grows" sounds like it comes from a science book, you're partly right! Crescit Eundo comes from Latin poet Lucretius's science-based poem De Rerum Natura ("On the Nature of Things," and describes how the state prospers as it progresses.
North Carolina: Esse Quam Videri
North Carolina's state motto is a wonderful mantra for anyone to follow, not just North Carolinians. It means "To Be, Rather Than to Seem" and comes from Cicero's De Amicitia ("On Friendship"). Simply put, North Carolina would rather that you're authentic and real, not pretending to be something that you're not.
North Dakota: Liberty and Union, Now and Forever, One and Inseparable
North Dakota makes its loyalty to the Union clear with its nine-word motto, which appears on the state seal. However, North Dakota also has a Latin motto, approved in 2011: Serit ut alteri saeclo prosit ("One Sows For the Benefit of Another Age").
Ohio: With God, All Things Are Possible
Ohio has a rough motto history. The state's original motto, Imperium In Imperio ("An Empire Within an Empire") was removed in 1868 and not replaced until 1959 when the state held a contest to choose a new motto. After nearly 40 years of "With God, All Things Are Possible" as its motto, the state was accused of violating the separation of church and state and brought to federal court. Ohio was eventually allowed to keep its motto, though it doesn't appear on the state seal.
Oklahoma: Labor Omnia Vincit
Like Colorado, Oklahoma's state motto comes from the work of Virgil. The Latin phrase Labor Omnia Vincit ("Labor Conquers All Things," or "Work Conquers All." While it appears on the state seal, the phrase isn't an official motto, and there has been recent effort to make Oklahoma's official motto "Oklahoma — In God We Trust!"
Oregon: Alis Volat Propriis
Oregon's state motto means "She Flies With Her Own Wings," depicting the state's appreciation for independence and self-sufficiency. The Latin phrase became Oregon's territorial motto in 1854 but was replaced on the state seal with "The Union" in 1859 to reflect pro-union sentiments. The state's official motto became "The Union" in 1957 and returned to its roots with Alis Volat Propriis in 1987.
Pennsylvania: Virtue, Liberty, and Independence
While the motto "Virtue, Liberty, and Independence" appeared on the Pennsylvania coat of arms in 1778, it didn't become Pennsylvania's official state motto for nearly one hundred years. It summarizes the values of its Revolutionary-era citizens and holds up centuries later.
Rhode Island: Hope
It's appropriate that the smallest state has the shortest motto! The word "Hope" appears on the state seal underneath a golden anchor, possibly depicting the Biblical phrase "we have this hope as an anchor for the soul" from Hebrews 6:19.
South Carolina: Dum Spiro Spero / Animis Opibusque Parati
Only South Carolina has two official mottos, both of which were adopted the same year as the Declaration of Independence (1776). Dum Spiro Spero is Latin for "While I Breathe, I Hope," while Animis Opibusque Parati means "Ready in Soul and Resource." Both mottos even appear on the South Carolina state seal!
South Dakota: Under God the People Rule
Dr. Joseph Ward, founder of Yankton College and notable leader in the journey toward South Dakota becoming a state, suggested the religious motto at the 1885 Constitutional Convention. Interestingly enough, the Convention took place four years before South Dakota was added to the Union — and Dr. Ward's motto stayed in place.
Tennessee: Agriculture and Commerce
While Tennessee's state motto may not be as poetic or classically based as other state mottos, it sums up Tennessee's value as one of the most agriculturally diverse states in the nation. Tennessee also adopted an unofficial state slogan in 1965: "Tennessee — America at Its Best."
At first glance, Texas's motto seems a little more basic and a little less patriotic than other states' mottos. But the word Texas itself comes from the native Caddo word tejas, meaning "allies" or "friendship." The state's motto hearkens back to its beginnings as Native American territory.
Utah's state motto may bring to mind a busy highway or fancy skyscraper, but it actually relates to the industriousness of a beehive and the honey bee, which are the official state emblem and state insect of Utah, and the inspiration for its nickname “the Beehive State.” Utah adopted "Industry" as its motto in 1959 to pay tribute to the pioneer spirit that founded the state.
Vermont: Freedom and Unity
Vermont's official state motto, "Freedom and Unity," was adopted in 1791 when Vermont became a state. However, the state added a new Latin motto in 2015: Stella Quarta Decima Fulgeat, which means "May the Fourteenth Star Shine Bright." It refers to Vermont's status as the 14th state to join the Union.
Virginia: Sic Semper Tyrannis
The state motto of Virginia, home state of eight American presidents, means "Thus Always to Tyrants." While the Latin phrase refers to America's victory over Britain in the Revolutionary War, it is commonly associated with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, as John Wilkes Booth famously shouted "Sic semper tyrannis" just after shooting the president.
Washington is yet another state without an official state motto, but its unofficial motto, Al-ki, is a Chinook word translated as "bye and bye" in English. The colloquial phrase means "in the future," as in "We'll see each other bye and bye."
West Virginia: Montani Semper Liberi
West Virginia managed to bring both patriotism and regional flavor to its state motto, which means "Mountaineers Are Always Free." As the only state located completely within the Appalachian Mountains, West Virginia is forever connected to its mountaineer heritage, which is reflected in its motto and mountain-themed state seal.
A simple but powerful word, "Forward" encompasses the Wisconsinite spirit of moving ahead and national leadership. The motto was adopted in 1851 after the Latin Excelsior (which is New York's state motto) was rejected by those designing the state seal, although many consider the mottos to reflect the same attitude.
Wyoming: Equal Rights
Wyoming's state motto may not look like much, but it commemorates an important accomplishment: in 1869, Wyoming became the first state in the Union to provide voting and office-holding rights to women. The state's nickname, "The Equality State," also reflects this milestone, which occurred over 50 years before the 19th Amendment would do so for women in every state.