Kansas 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 Kansas State Motto
John James Ingalls was born in Middleton, Massachusetts on December 29, 1833. He graduated from Williams College in 1855, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1857. Drawn by an advertisement, he left Massachusetts and headed for Atchison, Kansas. He arrived in 1859. It was in Kansas that he gained his reputation as an orator, scholar, lawyer, and statesman, known for his keen sarcasm and quick wit.
Ingalls believed in Kansas, and wrote that "the aspiration of Kansas is to reach the unattainable; its dream is the realization of the impossible." Ingalls chose to live in Kansas because he believed the state had a bright and promising future. He was 26 years old and already making his mark on Kansas politics when he became a force behind the creation of the Kansas Constitution that lead to statehood.
One of the early orders of business of the first Kansas General Assembly in 1861 was to design a seal to be used to authenticate official state documents. On April 9, 1861, a resolution was introduced in the Senate and referred to the committee on ways and means:
The Senate resolution was approved, the House concurred and the joint committee commenced with the task of providing a design for a seal for the State of Kansas.
Ingalls, serving as Secretary of the Senate at the time, sketched a simple design that depicted a single star rising from the clouds at the base of a field. A constellation of 33 stars at the top of the seal was to represent the other states then in the Union. The rising star symbolized Kansas joining the Union after a stormy struggle. Considering the hard lives of early Kansas pioneers and the tough battles that Kansas had gone through and won to become the 34th state, John James Ingalls thought it fitting that Ad Astra per Aspera be displayed on the seal and adopted as the state motto. He had first seen these words "...on an old brass seal in the office of the gentleman with whom I read law in Haverhill, Mass., in 1857. The same thought is expressed in many different ways, but 'Ad astra per aspera' seemed the most melodious, and so I selected it for my sketch."
Though his design was almost universally admired, Ingalls' design would not to make it through the committee. Some members objected that the Ingalls' elegant design did not include enough symbolic elements to represent the character of the State of Kansas. Another design was submitted by John H. McDowell of the State Library Committee. Mr. McDowell's landscape design included a river steamboat, buffalo hunting and a farmer plowing his field. His idea for a motto was "We Will".
The committee compromised. The seal that was finally adopted most closely resembles the design submitted by Mr. McDowell, but the motto belongs to John Ingalls.
Many were disappointed by the choice of design. McDowell's seal seemed too busy, too cluttered. Ingalls remarked:
The Great Seal of the State of Kansas, along with the motto, Ad Astra per Aspera, was adopted by a Joint Resolution of the first session of the Kansas Legislature on May 25, 1861.
About the Kansas State Motto
According to the Office of the Governor of Kansas:
Robert Hay writes in The Great Seal of Kansas, in the Transactions of the Kansas Historical Society, 1903-1904, vol. 8,
There has been some speculation that the motto, Ad Astra per Aspera, was formed by the fusion of ideas and words from two lines in Virgil's Aenid. The two lines are sic itur ad astra, from Book IX (line 641) and opta ardua pennis astra sequi, from Book XII (lines 892-3).
The Kansas Statutes
Like many states, Kansas' state motto was adopted as an element of its official seal. The following information is excerpted from the Kansas Statutes, Chapter 75, Article 2.
CHAPTER 75. STATE DEPARTMENTS; PUBLIC OFFICERS AND EMPLOYEES.
History: L. 1879, ch. 166, § 15; March 20; R.S. 1923, 75-201.
75-202. Record of seal. The description in writing of the great seal of the state, deposited and recorded in the office of the secretary of state, shall be and remain a public record.
History: L. 1879, ch. 166, § 16; March 20; R.S. 1923, 75-202.
75-203. Custody and use of seal. The great seal of the state shall be kept in the executive office, and shall be used only in attestation of the proclamations, commissions and executive warrants issued by the governor, and of all obligations of the state issued in pursuance of law, and of such acts of authentication as may be required under the laws of the United States, and under the rules of comity between states.
History: L. 1879, ch. 166, § 17; March 20; R.S. 1923, 75-203.
State Motto List: List of all of the state mottoes.
Star Trek: Essay about John James Ingalls, including details about the adoption of the Great Seal of Kansas.
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: Kansas History Online, http://www.kansashistoryonline.org/ksh/ArticlePage.asp?artid=110), March 17, 2005
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