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Kansas State Motto

Ad Astra per Aspera Language:Latin
Translation:To the Stars with Difficulty Adoption:1861

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.

Kansas Capitol, Topeka
Vintage Kansas Capitol, Topeka

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:

"Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed on behalf of the senate to act with a like committee on the part of the house to draw and recommend a design for the great seal of the State of Kansas."

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:

"I was secretary of the Kansas state senate at its first session after our admission in 1861. A joint committee was appointed to present a design for the great seal of the state and I suggested a sketch embracing a single star rising from the clouds at the base of a field, with the constellation (representing the number of states then in the Union) above, accompanied by the motto, "Ad astra per aspera." If you will examine the seal as it now exists you will see that my idea was adopted, but in addition thereto the committee incorporated a mountain scene, a river view, a herd of buffalo chased by Indians on horseback, a log cabin with a settler plowing in the foreground, together with a number of other incongruous, allegorical and metaphorical augmentations which destroyed the beauty and simplicity of my design.

The clouds at the base were intended to represent the perils and troubles of our territorial history; the star emerging therefrom, the new state; the constellation, like that on the flag, the Union, to which, after a stormy struggle, it had been admitted." [Biographical record prepared by G. H. Meixell]

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:

This motto refers not only to the pioneering spirit of the early settlers, but also the difficult times Kansas went through before becoming a state. The anti-slavery forces and slavery proponents waged battles in the electoral process as well as on the battlefield. Kansas earned the nickname “Bloody Kansas” because of the war regarding slavery, much of which was fought on Kansas' soil.

Robert Hay writes in The Great Seal of Kansas, in the Transactions of the Kansas Historical Society, 1903-1904, vol. 8,

"The idea represented by the motto itself is very old and occurs frequently in classical poetry, in German set phrases and quotations, and in feudal mottoes of the European nobility."

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.

Additional Information

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,, March 17, 2005
Source: Kansas Legislature, (, April 16, 2004
Source: Kansas Secretary of State, (, March 17, 2005
Source: Office of the Governor, (, March 17, 2005
Source: Merriam-Webster Online, (, March 3, 2005
Source: State Names, Seals, Flags, and Symbols: A Historical Guide, Third Edition - Benjamin F. Shearer and Barbara S. Shearer, Greenwood Press, 2002
Source: State Names, Flags, Seals, Songs, Birds, Flowers and Other Symbols: Revised Edition (Reprint)- George Earlie Shankle, Ph.D., The H.W. Wilson Company, 1938



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