Illinois State Motto
State mottoes may be said to reflect the character and beliefs of the citizens of the state, or more accurately, the citizens of the state when they were adopted. State mottoes can help us gain insight into the history of a state. [What is a motto? ]
Adoption of the Illinois State Motto
Like many state mottoes, the Illinois state motto, State Sovereignty - National Union, was not approved as an official state motto, but rather, was adopted as an element of the State Seal.
Two months after Illinois entered the Union, the new Illinois General Assembly decreed, on February 19, 1819, that a permanent state seal should be obtained for use on the official documents of the state. A seal, modeled after the Great Seal of the United States was created with some differences appropriate to Illinois as a state. Importantly, the ribbon held in the eagle's beak was changed from E Pluribus Unum to State Sovereignty - National Union.
In 1839 a new seal was cut that differed somewhat from the original but retained the same motto. In January of 1867, Secretary of State Sharon Tynedale approached Senator Allen C. Fuller and requested that he sponsor legislation in the General Assembly to authorize a new seal. Mr. Tynedale said that the old seal had worn out and a new one was needed. A controversy arose in the General Assembly, however, when it was discovered that Tynedale was intent on changing the order of the wording on the seal from "State Sovereignty - National Union" to "National Union - State Sovereignty".
The General Assembly did not agree to this, the legislation was amended, and the wording remained as introduced in 1819. The bill authorizing a new seal was passed on March 7, 1867. It appears that Tynedale managed to change the design of the ribbon slightly during production so that "National Union" was more prominent on the seal than "State Sovereignty."
The current State Seal is essentially the same as Tynedale's seal and the wording of the motto still reads State Sovereignty - National Union.
About the Illinois State Motto
The Illinois state motto is very much related to the issues surrounding the power of an individual state versus the power of the Union. Illinois entered the Union as a free state, but Mississippi, just before, had come into the Union as a slave state. Alabama was to follow Illinois as a slave state. The Civil War was still a polarizing reality and Illinois' motto was symbolic of the issues that had been confronted during the brutal conflict.
The Illinois Compiled Statutes
Like many states, Illinois' state motto was adopted as an element of its official seal. The following information is excerpted from the Illinois Compiled Statutes, Chapter 5, Section 460/5. The State Designations Act includes sections about all state designations, including the state bird, the state mineral and so forth. Only section 5, regarding the state seal is included below. Note that a description of the seal is not contained in the Illinois Compiled Statutes.
(b) It is lawful for the Secretary of State as custodian of the "great seal of the State of Illinois" to permit at his or her discretion the inspection and examination of the seal for the purpose of copying or reproducing the emblem only on the great seal for the uses and purposes authorized by this Section.
State Motto List: List of all of the state mottoes.
State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide, Third Edition - Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, Greenwood Press, 2002
State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols: A Study based on historical documents giving the origin and significance of the state names, nicknames, mottoes, seals, flowers, birds, songs, and descriptive comments on the capitol buildings and on some of the leading state histories, Revised Edition - George Earlie Shankle, Ph.D., The H.W. Wilson Company, 1938 (Reprint Services Corp. 1971)
Source: Illinois Secretary of State, (http://www.sos.state.il.us/general/seal.html), March 13, 2005
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