Massachusetts 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 Massachusetts State Motto
Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem has not been specifically adopted as the motto of Massachusetts but has been accepted as an element of the arms and seal of the Commonwealth.
This motto appeared for the first time on a seal that was adopted in response to a July 25, 1775 order from the Massachusetts General Court (Legislature). The order appointed a committee to consider "what is necessary to be done relative to a Colony Seal." Due to the conflicts of the day, the colony no longer recognized the authority of the Royal Governor General Thomas Gage and he had possession of the Seal of the Province. A new seal was adopted, depicting a man holding the Magna Carta. The seal, engraved by Paul Revere, also included the motto, Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.
In 1780, after its first meeting under the new Massachusetts Constitution, the General Court again appointed a committee "to consider & determine upon a Seal for this Commonwealth." The seal adopted at this time was a version of the 1692 seal granted with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
On June 4, 1885, a new seal was described by law that defines the current seal. After a 100-year absence, the motto was again included as an element of a seal. This time, it was included on the Seal of the Commonwealth. Its description is included in the section defining the arms of the Commonwealth.
The statute's specific wording has changed a couple of times since 1885 (1898 and 1971), but Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem has remained as an element of the Great Seal of the Commonwealth.
About the Massachusetts State Motto
The motto of Massachusetts is attributed to Algernon Sidney, an English soldier and politician.
The words were written on the second of two lines he wrote in The Book of Mottoes in the King's Library at Copenhagen, Denmark around 1659. As his father wrote to him:
Algernon Sidney's Discourses Concerning Government, originally published in 1698, had some influence on political thinking at the time and may have been particularly favored by some in the American Colonies. His words, written in The Book of Mottoes, were adopted in 1775 as an element of Massachusetts' first colonial seal as the fledgling state began to break ties with England.
Today, those words are incorporated in the Seal of the Commonwealth. The blue ribbon around the bottom of the shield on the coat of arms reads, Ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem.
The Massachusetts General Laws
Massachusetts' state motto was adopted as an element the official coat of arms of the Commonwealth. The following information is excerpted from the Massachusetts General Laws, Part 1, Title 1, Chapter 2, Section 1.
PART I. ADMINISTRATION OF THE GOVERNMENT.
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: Massachusetts General Laws, (http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/index.htm), March 22, 2005
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