I swore I’d never be a listicle writer.
Each state has a tremendous retinue of official nonsense. There are state flowers, state birds, state insects, state muffins, state herbs, and state neckwear (always bolo ties). More than half of the states have an official state beverage. Most of them (a whopping twenty states) picked milk. Nebraska’s state soft drink is Kool-Aid.
Every once in a while, kindergartens and elderly constituents write in to state legislatures to suggest something trivial be given a gold star. That’s usually how states get these official state flowers, state birds, and state horses. It’s a fun little tradition that serves to keep libertarians going.
Today, it’s keeping me going too. I’m gonna rank ’em all. We’re going standard Tier List rules, that’s the following: A, B, C, D, and F in grade order, and then a bonus “S” above A because of Japanese video games or something. Mottos that receive an “S” rating are gilded and inducted into the Motto Hall of Fame. States that get an “F” lose statehood and have to be territories again.
Straight off the bat, I’ve gotta set a controversial precedent: anything resembling “we like God” is gonna get low marks from me. I’m not trying to edge too close to 2011 /r/atheism, but it’s bland and makes for a bad motto. It’s the seal on a bedsheet of state mottos: uninteresting, unoriginal, and impotent.
Ready? Let’s go.
The “God” Tier
Arizona: Ditat Deus (Latin, God Enriches)
Arizona. Come on. Let’s talk. Millions of people fly to your state from all over the world to see your cool clay trench. Tens of thousands of living fossils drive down to die in the sun. “God Enriches”? Arizona, that’s not even about you. What about “At least it’s a dry heat” or “The death knell of Daylight Saving”. You could do way better.
Colorado: Nil sine numine (Latin, Nothing without providence)
Colorado tried to sneak this one by. “Providence” instead of “God” is pretty clever, but it won’t work. As a phrase, “nothing without providence” blends hypothetical nonsense with existentialism — there wouldn’t be anything if there wasn’t anything. Deep? lol, no. We could’ve had something here, Colorado. You’ve got the Rockies, you’re the gateway to the west. Instead, you’re here proving that even a cool state can have an awful motto.
Florida: In God We Trust
So boring. Meaningless and unoriginal for sure. If you’re gonna steal something, steal something cool. (See the S-Tier states below) Honestly, I’m tempted to give Florida a bonus point, though. Hear me out: “In God We Trust” is the ultimate passing of the buck. What’s more Florida than closing your eyes and hoping things will resolve themselves?
Okay, I thought about it. No bonus point.
Ohio: With God, all things are possible
This would be more appropriate on the back of a t-shirt from a Christian summer camp for troubled youths than a state seal. The upside: it’s as unremarkable and boring as the state it belongs to.
South Dakota: Under God the people rule
My homeland. If this one looks good so far, you’ve got me to blame. Any act would look good following Ohio. I could have given you “South Dakota: I’m the scat man” and you’d have been impressed. “The people rule” is solid but unoriginal, and, depending on who you are, “under God” either reads as needlessly religious (South Dakota banned gay marriage until the Supreme Court legalized it nationwide, but Church and State have been happily married since 1776) or needlessly descriptive (the pledge of allegiance’s “under God” wasn’t added until the cold war when Congress got scared that an America that didn’t pledge itself to Jesus would start suckling at the teats of Stalin instead). If you’re pining for a third camp of people who think this motto is both dope and necessary, you’ll be happy to learn from me that South Dakota is your kind of state. Personally, I would have gone with something else. Maybe “meth, we’re on it“.
Alabama: Audemus jura nostra defendere (We dare defend our rights)
“We dare defend our rights” is far from a bad motto; it’s actually pretty good. If it belonged to a state like Connecticut, I’d imagine I’d rank it pretty highly. Unfortunately, it’s Alabama’s. Maybe try “we dare defend some of our rights” or “we will secede from the United States to avoid defending our rights”.
Alaska: North to the Future
This one’s at the top of the list alphabetically, but it’s one of the last states I decided on. It’s the first real challenge following a long line of stinkers. Let’s get it out of the way that “North to the Future” sounds really cool (because it does). What does it… mean? It sounds like they’re repurposing a metaphor, like people will know what “North to the Future” means. Or maybe I’m overthinking it. Alaska is the northernmost state and the state with the largest remaining untapped economic potential. It’s the original final frontier (cooler motto). Northerners gotta stick together.
Arkansas: The people rule
I’m convinced this one is in here just to act as a litmus test for my disdain for church-state mixture. Arkansas’s motto is an agnostic rewrite of South Dakota’s, and honestly? It’s better. It’s not much better. It sounds general. They could have gone with “Here, the people rule”, or, more accurately, “Always low prices. Always.”
California: Eureka (Greek, I have found it)
Here’s a state that knows the value of rendering words in foreign languages. “San Francisco” is way cooler than “St. Francis”, “Los Angeles” is leagues ahead of “The Angels”, and “Eureka” absolutely blows “I have found it” out of the water. Being a single word, it’s remarkably simple, but still maintains meaning and connection to its state (referring to the discovery of gold in California and the subsequent California gold rush).
California is fortunate. In 1957, amid fears of communism and a nationwide desire to distance America from the red menace, the California state legislature proposed making the state motto “In God We Trust”, a decision that would have landed them solidly in F tier. Six years later, that same body did what was right and chose a motto that wasn’t dogshit.
Connecticut: Qui transtulit sustinet (Latin: He who transplanted, still sustains)
Holy shit. Can we have more state mottos that read like riddles? Legend says there’s a troll under a bridge spanning the Connecticut river who leaps out and shouts this at travelers. If you get the answer wrong, you’re banned from New Haven. I think it means “people who move here flourish”, which is, surprisingly, a really solid motto? Most of the states we’ve visited so far are too damn bashful. Connecticut’s willing to come out and say it: “come here. You’ll like it.”
Delaware: Liberty and independence
This one sounds like someone fed a bot an archive of American jingoism and these were the first words it burped out. After all the god I’ve stomached, I’m tempted to reward novelty, but in truth, I don’t vibe with plain-text value mottos, no matter how vanilla. Plus, I’ve gotta admit, I’m more than a little upset that the first state admitted to the union missed their chance to go with “We’re number one!”
Georgia: Wisdom, justice, moderation
Are you as floored as I am that Georgia wasn’t in the God section? This is a perfect example of my beef with value mottos: does “Wisdom, justice, moderation” breathe Georgia to you?
Hawaii: Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ʻĀina i ka Pono (Hawaiian, The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness)
I’ll be honest, they could have rendered Asher Roth’s 2009 hit I Love College in Hawaiian and it’d still be scratching at S-Tier. It’s so rare for a state to use one of its native languages in any official capacity. Hawaii goes above and beyond with a downright poetic message attributed to former King of Hawaii Kamehameha III. Killer motto.
Idaho: Esto perpetua (Latin, Let it be perpetual)
Alright. I’m stumped. I don’t want to be needlessly mean to Idaho here, because, all things considered, this is a pretty good motto. I just don’t know… what it means? It looks like it’s been used by a number of other institutions, like a set of schools in Sri Lanka, a Freemason Lodge in Germany, and a handful of fraternities. Wikipedia attributes its oldest known usage to Paolo Sarpi, a Venetian mathematician and theologian who allegedly uttered the words on his deathbed, hoping to wish eternal life unto the Republic of Venice. The Republic didn’t last forever, but it did make it 1100 years. Idaho’s willing to challenge that record. Pretty ballsy, Idaho, but science suggests humans can survive on a limited diet of potatoes and fats. Here’s to a thousand years of the Most Serene State of Idaho.
Illinois: State sovereignty, national union
Guys, this is a bad motto. It sounds super Civil War, which makes sense given the whole “Land of Lincoln” thing (isn’t that your motto?), but the internet says the motto was chosen in 1819, way before the Civil War was a dream in a young boy’s little southern heart. Anyway. This one’s bad.
Indiana: The crossroads of America
This one is tough. The motto refers to Indiana and Indianapolis’s historical position on the road that would become Highway 40. If you started in the northeast and wanted to go west, you probably took your horse-drawn carriage through Indiana. Today, with the interstate highway system, it’s still something of a hub, though not as much as it once was.
As far as the actual words go? I don’t know. A crossroads isn’t a destination, it’s the place where roads to other places meet. The increased population density isn’t exactly by choice. In that way, Indiana, it sounds pretty lame. But if you go more abstract and read it as the place where the United States comes together, where the disparate cultures of the east, west, and south unite… I dunno. It’s not so bad. Big “if”, though.
Iowa: Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain
Boilerplate Americana, which is appropriate for Iowa. The state capital’s motto is “The Hartford of the West”. If you’re scratching your head, that’s Hartford, Connecticut. I guess it’s only appropriate that a city you never think about considers itself the spiritual successor of another city you never think about.
Kansas: Ad astra per aspera (Latin: To the stars through difficulties)
This one was, again, adopted on the heels of the fucking Civil War, so I’ll give them “through difficulties”. I don’t know that Kansas is or was known for going to the stars beyond the fictional reaches of Star Trek and Superman, but all the same, it’s a really solid motto. Minor nitpick? The more popular version, used by the Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin and about a hundred colleges and universities, “Per aspera, ad astra” or “through hardship, to the stars”, is clearly better. But points for original styling, I guess.
Kentucky: United we stand, divided we fall and Deo gratiam habeamus (Latin, Let us be grateful to God)
Kentucky, I don’t think you need me to tell you how much you fucked up. The original motto, established in 1942, is “United we stand, divided we fall”. It’s a little boilerplate Americana — maybe even a lot, but for Kentucky, a border state during the Civil War, the birthplace of Lincoln, site of the culture clash between the classic south and industrial north, this one works.
And then they fucked it up by adopting a second, worse motto in 2002. If they wanted to stain their state’s legacy with a hallmark of the early 2000s, they should have mandated it be presented in WordArt.
Verdict: B-Tier & F-Tier. You know which is which.
Louisiana: Union, justice, confidence
Okay, look: Louisiana adopted this one in 1902. I don’t want to sound like a broken record judging every southern state by their role in the Civil War. Eventually, it starts sounding a little “La France est le surrendeurer”. But for fewer than 40 years after reintegration, suggesting Louisiana is the home state of union, justice, or confidence is bonkers. Y’all had so little confidence in your country that you unjustly disunited from it. You’d broken all three in living memory and you still thought this was a good idea?
It’s time to cut ties with this one and pick something better. You’ve got the mouth of the mighty Mississippi. You’ve got New Orleans, which is, against Louisiana’s best wishes, the birthplace of jazz (this would also be a bad state motto, but that it’d be an improvement says something big). There are better faces out there, Louisiana; this one is stinky.
Maine: Dirigo (Latin: I Lead)
Alright, Maine, let’s get it out of the way: you most certainly do not lead. You’re a lovely state, but almost totally irrelevant to the rest of the country and the world. I imagine that’s how you like it. Geographically, though, you most certainly do lead. The sun rises earliest in Maine. Sick loophole.
Maryland: Fatti maschi, parole femine
Alright. You’ll notice I didn’t include the Latin translation for this one up top like I’ve been doing for the rest of ’em. Wikipedia and the state of Maryland both translate this as “strong deeds, gentle words“, but look at it. Is that what you think “maschi” and “femine” mean? Fuck no. Maryland’s trying to pull a fast one over on us. The authentic (and original) translation is “Masculine deeds, feminine words“. Maryland is S-Tier in bullshit, but unfortunately, we’re rating mottos here, and this one is wack.
Massachusetts: Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem (Latin, By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty)
Remember when I said I wanted more state mottos that read like riddles? I’d also gladly take more state threats. This is 1775’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick” or “If you want peace, prepare for war”. My criticism? You let it get a little lengthy. “but peace only under liberty” was clearly some dude’s last minute add-on. Do me a favor, Massachusetts: truncate that shit. “By the sword we seek peace”. Fucking sick, yeah?
Michigan: Si quaeris peninsulam amoenam circumspice (Latin, If you seek a beautiful peninsula, look about you)
I mean. Okay. Accurate, but only sort of? Don’t sell yourself short, Michigan: you have two peninsulas, which is one more than you wanted. The U.S. government gave you the Upper Peninsula after you lost the city of Toledo to Ohio, and y’all were livid. If only you’d known.
I don’t think I’ve been critical enough about the “if you seek a beautiful peninsula” part. We’re just taking for granted that people go around seeking peninsulas? I dunno. This one sounds like someone learned “peninsula” in Latin and wanted to show that knowledge off.
Minnesota: L’étoile du Nord (French: The Star of the North)
Instant S-Tier. The northernmost of the Lower 48, and at the time of the motto’s adoption (1861) the northernmost state period. Back then, being northern was something to be proud of, and the North Star was a popular emblem of those yearning for freedom. Dred Scot v. Sanford be damned.
Let me disclaim any potential bias: I am not biased. Let’s move on.
Mississippi: Virtue et armis (Latin: by valor and arms)
Adopted in 1894, this is another one that’s hard to look at through any other lens than that of a state that not long ago tried to secede from the United States to keep slavery going. By arms, for sure. By valor? Agree to disagree.
Missouri: Salus populi suprema lex esto (Latin, let the welfare of the people be supreme law)
Sick. But let’s be honest, Missouri: this ain’t you. Not now, and definitely not in 1822. Still, we all deviate from our most admirable ambitions sometimes.
Montana: Oro y plata (Spanish, Gold and silver)
Adopted in 1865, while the rest of the country is torn asunder by Civil War, Montana’s like “lmao, look at this shiny shit”. To their credit, it’s accurate; they had shiny shit to look at. Even more to their credit, Montana using Spanish.
Nebraska: Equality before the law
Yeah. Okay. It’s fine, but it’s also the bare minimum. Equality before the law? Yeah, I sure hope it does.
Nevada: All for our country
Aggressively patriotic. This one was picked up just after the Civil War, so it makes sense, but c’mon, Nevada. Have a little more personality. You’ve gotta be known for something. “The house always wins”? “Dry land, wet hearts”? Actually, maybe not that one. Unless you want to…?
New Hampshire: “Live free or die“
New Hampshire doesn’t beat around the fucking bush. Aggressive as hell words from Maple Syrup Massachusetts, but I’m all for it. This sentence fragment may have inspired a movement to encourage libertarians to move en masse to the granite state with hostile takeover dreams and catastrophic results, but it also burrowed its way into the excellent ending arc of Breaking Bad. Tell ’em what you’re all about, New Hampshire.
New Jersey: Liberty and prosperity
Leading with “liberty” is a big choice from this losing side of a longstanding custody battle with New York over the statue that bears that name. The jury’s out on liberty, but New Jerseyans rank third nationwide in median household income. Does wealth equal prosperity? That’s a question for a more philosophical article than “The definitive ranking of all 50 state mottos”.
New Mexico: Crescit eundo (Latin, It grows as it goes)
I did tell you I wanted more riddles, didn’t I? This one might be too tough for me. It’s apparently a reference to a work by the Roman poet Lucretius in which he uses these two words to describe a lightning bolt growing in power as it moves across the sky. I mean. That’s pretty cool, yeah? And it’s vague enough that accuracy is hard to challenge — New Mexico has grown. Amazing foresight from the adopters there.
New York: Excelsior (Latin, Ever upward)
New York’s chosen the unfair advantage angle here: we can all agree that “Excelsior” is, absent any obligations, a very fucking cool word, yes? But we’re not rating words, we’re rating mottos. So is it a cool motto? I’ve backed myself into a corner, what do you want me to say? No? I can’t do that to New York. It’s a cool word with a cool meaning, it sounds cool out loud, and for the state bearing the most vertical city in the United States, it’s accurate as hell. Yes, Excelsior is a top-tier, one-word motto.
North Carolina: Esse quam vidare (Latin, To be, rather than to seem)
I feel like North Carolina is staring through this list and right into my soul. This is a gauntlet throw to every other state if I’ve heard one. “Yeah, you can spit mad game, but can you actually back it up? We can.” All the other states came with words, North Carolina came with actions. Or… at least, that’s what their words say. Admittedly, I don’t know enough about North Carolina to dispute them. Look, they’re a former slave state and they picked something other than “Freedom for All”. That’s about as far as my accuracy check goes.
North Dakota: Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable and Serit ut alteri saeclo prosit (Latin, One sows for the benefit of another age)
I can’t abide by the indecisiveness, but I’ve gotta hand it to North Dakota: to add a second motto in the 2000s and not have it be “God is Hot” or “We support the War in Iraq” is impressive enough, but then to actually make that motto good? We’ve had our differences, B-Team Dakota, but this I have to respect.
Judging first the original motto, its spirit comes first from a speech by Massachusetts senator Daniel Webster. Webster was considered a giant of the senate and the speech was labeled one of the best ever to have been delivered in Congress. A selection was later paraphrased by President Lincoln in the Gettysburg address, bringing us here. To criticize this feels like criticizing the Gettysburg address itself, and that’s hard to do without looking like a real dick. So I’ll say this: as a quote, excellent. As a motto for the United States, wonderful. For North Dakota? Maybe less so.
I’m gonna judge the other one separately. “One sows for the benefit of another age”. This is, effectively, a Latin rendering of the Greek proverb “Society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” I gotta admit, y’all: I vibe with this proverb. You’ll notice North Dakota swapped out planting trees for the crop-neutral sowing, which is appropriate for the agricultural but tree-bare state. Honestly, it holds the meaning decently well, and I like it. That said, I prefer the wording of the original proverb. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, yeah?
Oklahoma: Labor omnia vincit (Labor conquers all things)
This sounds like a concentration camp motto, which is a pretty bad look for the state that was once the closest thing to an American concentration camp.
Oregon: Alis volit propriis (Latin, She flies with her own wings)
If someone in Oregon isn’t making bank by selling merch with this on it to middle school girls, the allure of capitalism really isn’t as strong there. Like most states here, Oregon went through an uncomfortable pubescent period during the Civil War, during which it told all of its friends and family members that its new motto was “Union“, which, I admit, sounds less teenagery and more “60 year-old coworker who doesn’t know the difference between the email body and the subject line”. The state legislature changed it back in 1957. A campaign to play a reverse card on that metamorphosis failed in 1999. Guys, I gotta be clear about something: I love the enthusiasm, and I know I’ve been generous to California and New York, but “Union” is F-Tier as a motto. You gotta know that.
Alright. “Union” sucks. But what about the actual motto? First off, props to Oregon for choosing the feminine pronoun, even if only to follow the cultural tradition that countries and boats produce estrogen. This is another riddle-y one, but I think it’s really just a poetic way of saying “we’re killing it, and we’re doing it on our own. Fuck Washington, fuck California, fuck Nevada, fuck Idaho.” Astute readers will note that I inserted conflict unacceptably. Making this list has changed me. I really want these states to fight. Oregon would be down. She flies with her own wings.
Pennsylvania: Virtue, liberty, and independence
Can we be done with these lists of values? Y’all are making it too easy for folks to check for inconsistencies. I need this post to be ironclad.
This is a hard one. On one hand, “liberty” and “independence” are pretty (🚨buzzwords incoming!!🚨) boilerplate Americana, but on the other, they both have specific ties to Pennsylvania, an early center of the movement toward American independence and the site of Independence Hall. “Virtue” comes out of nowhere. I think my real problem with this one is that it’s so boring. Don’t y’all have all of Ben Franklin’s back catalogue at your disposal?
I can’t get past how bland it is.
Rhode Island: Hope
Hang on to the pitchforks — I know we’re all getting ready to run Rhode Island out of town for plagiarising Barack Obama’s highly successful 2008 Presidential campaign slogan. But hear them out: they’ve been rolling with this motto since 1664. My immediate reaction was, just like yours, the Obama thing. My second reaction was to assert that this one’s too simple, too out there. Just “hope”? But in 1664, more than a hundred years before the Declaration of Independence, in a weird new world where everyone has dysentery and returning to England to visit family means a 50/50 shot at scurvy? Shit, we could all use a little hope. I’m too deep into this list and I’m starting to get sentimental. What else do you want me to say?
South Carolina: Dum spiro spero (While I breathe, I hope) and Animis opibusque parati (Latin, Ready in soul and resource)
South Carolina, we know by now that playing with two mottos is a dangerous game. Some have done it more gracefully than others. Both of these are printed on the state seal, a camel of a graphic that runs into the reverse “big ass B” problem in that its designers have allocated way too much space for too little text. You wrote two essays in one and still didn’t hit the character limit.
But we’re not rating state seals here (not yet). Let’s unpeel the mottos and take a look. This is the riddle game turned up all the way. At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that I spent the bulk of my research time for this piece just staring at these two. It’s an artful strategy on South Carolina’s part, making their mottos abstract enough that all onus of beauty is put on the beholder. “While I breathe, I hope” is another test of my method, given its similarity to
Obama’s Rhode Island’s “Hope”. I’m down with the words, but the styling, namely going for first-person pronouns, feels weird for a state. But I didn’t let that get in my way in Maine, did I? The words themselves have a long history, and it looks like they’re usually meant to point out that hope is the fortune of life, that history has ruled on the dead, but that the living always have hope. Alright. If you’ve ever wondered why abstract art is successful, I’ve answered it for you: they cut out the middleman and have you do your own bullshitting.
Continuing with my theme of rating each motto individually, now we have to attend to “Ready in soul and resource”. Fuck. Is a theme of readiness apt for South Carolina? “First into the fray” certainly describes their role in this article’s favorite U.S. conflict. Alright, I won’t contest “ready in soul”, but resource? When it comes to reliance on the federal government for financial stability, WalletHub claims South Carolina’s in the top quintile. Is that relevant? I don’t know. These ones are melting my brain.
Tennessee: Agriculture and Commerce
We’ve had so many thinkers, so many tough calls on this list. It’s a nice reprieve to land on one that’s definitively bad. Look, there’s nothing wrong with agriculture, and commerce is… fine, but that’s not Tennessee. Nashville is a regional hub. Memphis is a cultural capital of the American south. Chattanooga exists. Even without its cities, Tennessee has always been more than agriculture and commerce. Change your motto now, Tennessee, lest it spread to infect others. I can’t bear the thought of New York’s “Pigeons and rivers” or Illinois’s “Meat and lake“.
Let’s be honest: this one is the most unexpected by far and it’s not even close. We expected God, we expected Civil War-era shit-slinging (we expected that, right?), but Texas going all-in on friendship? Machismo “Everything’s bigger in Texas” Texas? Tough love “Don’t mess with Texas” Texas? For fuck’s sake, you’re the Lone Star State. Now you’re all buddy-buddy?
Unfortunately, Texas has to deal with the burden all celebrities thrust nude before the public bear: our familiarity leads us to judge them sometimes more harshly than we do others. This isn’t a north-south thing, Texas; “Friendship” works for Maine. It works for Tennessee. But it doesn’t work for you, not with the image you’ve cultivated.
Utah, you’re lucky I’m doing my selective due diligence. At first glance, “industry” looks just as bad as Tennessee’s “Agriculture and commerce” if not worse. At least that state may have at one time been known for agriculture. Utah has never been renowned for its industrial sector. But I know enough about the state to be aware that this word was chosen, at least in part, due to its association with the honeybee, the state obsession of early Utahns, who chose a bug as their spirit animal. Thus, “industry” is less “factories” and more “group labor”. A generous soul might read it as “teamwork” or “cooperation”. Those might be nice, at least when squeezed through the language press that is Latin. Unfortunately, Utah didn’t go with those. It close “Industry”.
Vermont: Freedom and unity and Stella quarta decima fulgeat (Latin, May the fourteenth star shine bright)
Okay. The closer we get to the end, the more biased I start to feel toward these double-motto states. I came in here prepped to rate exactly 50 mottos and now I’m getting cranky. Vermont, I’ll try to be fair, but it’s gonna be hard.
First, “freedom and unity“, Vermont’s original state motto. My knee-jerk opinion is that this one’s relatively weak, but Vermonters on the internet sell the hell out of it. Their argument? It’s not just two values, it’s two opposite values, the human yearning for total freedom and the responsibility one holds to benefit their group. Vermont chooses both, and accepts the balance as its burden. I’ll be honest, I’m swayed. Is it enough for S-Tier, though? …not even close. If these are the moral stances you want to invoke, Vermont, choose more powerful words.
Now, “May the fourteenth star shine bright“. Vermont being the fourteenth star is, historically, an interesting spot to be in: this was the first state to be admitted to the union following independence. The admission of Vermont, under President Washington, set precedents that would be followed thirty-six more times. On the heels of its entry, we can see why citizens of the new state may have been proud to have been the first to enter the established union.
…of course, this motto was adopted in 2015, so it’s less “citizens of the new state” and more “politicians in one of the oldest states in the country”. “May the fourteenth star shine bright” is a hopeful wish for the eighteenth century. It loses some grandiosity when we learn it was added just a couple of years after Gangnam Style. Still, it’s not bad.
Virginia: Sic semper tyrannis (Latin: Thus always to tyrants)
Alright. Elephant in the room: John Wilkes Booth yelled this after he shot and killed Abraham Lincoln. So that’s a little fucked up. But hear me out: Virginia said it first. That’s actually probably why he shouted it, as a tribute to the political center of the south. Judging it by its merits alone, I think this is a case where the history carries it. Virginia was an early leader in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War, a fight against a perceived tyrant. I don’t really know how many tyrants Virginians contend with today, though I’m open to being lectured by those who have a thing or two to say about using taxpayer money to fund school buses.
Several sources list “Al-ki”, a Chinook phrase meaning “by-and-by” as Washington’s unofficial state motto (but once its official territorial motto). This is the first one that has me stumped — I have no idea how to rate it. Fortunately, this is a list of real mottos. Elementary schools, address your complaints to Olympia.
Verdict: No motto, no score
West Virginia: Montani semper liberi (Latin, Mountaineers are always free)
…are they? Virginia’s long-lost conjoined twin shares its fortune at the hand of history: during the Civil War,West Virginia was created out of the northwestern counties of Virginia that wished (ish) to remain in the Union as the rest of the state seceded. The request was accepted on the condition that the (already relatively slaveless) state free its remaining slaves. Thus, by virtue of this act, the people of the newly-minted West Virginia would always be free.
It’s a cool story. Y’all did have slaves to free, though.
“Forward” sounds wrong from a state that is essentially Minnesota if it made all the wrong choices. Believe it or not, in a world before Reaganomics and the endlessly-alluring charm of the “You’re Fired!” guy, Wisconsin was a leader in the nation-wide progressive movement and produced one of its most successful candidates for office, Robert LaFollette. I’m tempted to dock Wisconsin for turning its back on its morals, but the history is too powerful. C’mon, Wisconsin. Look at what you could have been.
Wyoming: Equal Rights
This one’s a test. If I gave it to Wisconsin because of its history, I have to do the same for Wyoming, right? This state has a unique history with the extension of civil rights, being the first territory in the United States (I found one source that claims the world) to guarantee voting rights for women. In fairness, it may have been a clever ploy: Wyoming’s men outnumbered women 6 to 1 and they needed a gimmick. Still, as gimmicks go, political representation is pretty good.
My two bones to pick are these: first, is Wyoming really about Equal Rights nowadays? Like… for everyone? Regardless of race, religion, sexual identity? Is that its thing? Second, is “equal rights” an ideal to brag about in 2022 and beyond? We might as well try “Not corrupt as fuck” or “Slavery is bad”. My bones sufficiently picked, I can’t lie, it’s a decent motto.
That’s it. 50 mottos graded. What have we learned? That I tremendously overestimated the amount of “God” states would be presenting, that I still hold a clear and burning grudge against the states of the former confederacy, and that I underestimated the quality of a lot of these? You bet. The absolute chain of fumbles seen in the adoption of state flags led me to believe that mottos would be more of the same. Sure, we have some major stinkers, but eureka, with enough hope, we can aspire to be stars of the north, lands perpetuated in righteousness.