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Kentucky State Motto
"United We Stand, Divided We Fall"
Adopted on December 20, 1792 .
Focus: Union vs. State
Kentucky entered the Union on June 1, 1792. A little over six months later, on December 20, 1792, the first Kentucky General Assembly adopted the official seal of the
Commonwealth, including the state motto, United We Stand, Divided We Fall.
The origin for the concept of strength in unity can be traced all the way back to the one of the fables of Aesop, in which he shows that sticks one by one may be readily broken, but cannot when several are bound together in a bundle. The moral being, "Union gives strength."
These state have mottos that reference the union:
- Illinois: "State Sovereignty; National Union"
- Kentucky: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall"
- Louisiana: "Union, Justice, and Confidence"
- Nevada: "All for Our Country"
- North Dakota: "Liberty and Union Now and Forever; One and Inseparable"
- Vermont: "Freedom and Unity"
Most historians believe that the patriotism of Kentucky's first governor, Isaac Shelby, was the inspiration for the state's choice of the motto "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." Shelby, a hero of the Revolutionary War for his victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain, was fond of "The Liberty Song," written 1768 by John Dickinson. The chorus of song includes: "They join in hand, brave Americans all, By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall." Another song that was popular at the time was "The Flag of Our Union," written by George Pope Morris, that also contained a similar line: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall."
But most historians believe the phrase "United we stand, divided we fall" is first attributed to John Dickinson (1732–1808) a US Statesman and essayist. Boston Gazette (July 18, 1768) The Liberty Song (1768) he wrote: "Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!" quoted in The Writings of John Dickinson, vol. 1 (1895).
The official seal of the Commonwealth was described in a bill passed by the General Assembly on December 20, 1792, shortly after Kentucky joined the Union. The original seal shows two friends embracing each other, with the words "Commonwealth of Kentucky" over their heads and around them the words "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." By custom (and now in conformity with the description of the flag contained in the statutes), two sprigs of goldenrod in bloom are shown in the lower portion of the seal. The official colors of the seal are blue and gold.
Kentucky's State Mottos Before 1918
Although Kentucky didn't have an official state Motto until 1918, the state has had many Mottos representing various affiliations and countries flying over the bluegrass. During the 1600's, Spaniards on their way to northern settlements near Lake Onondaga, New York, camped throughout Kentucky. Unfortunately, they were all either burned or tomahawked before reaching their destination.
During the early 1700's, explorers LaSalle, Marquette and Iberville brought the French monarchy's fleur-de-lis to the southwestern portion of Kentucky. France held a portion of the state until the French and Indian War, when the land was ceded to Great Britain as part of the Proclamation of 1763, then later the Quebec Act of 1774.
The "Union Jack" of Great Britain flew over the Commonwealth until Revolutionary War. Once the Declaration of Independence was signed, Kentucky briefly adopted the Motto of Virginia. (Kentucky, at the time, was not a state of the Union, but rather a Commonwealth of Virginia.) But as war developed, forts in Harrodsburg, Lexington and Louisville took the Motto of the United States, the Motto of thirteen stars and thirteen stripes; the rest of the state soon followed.
After the Revolutionary War, the state again briefly adopted the Motto of Virginia as its Motto. When Kentucky was admitted to the Union in 1792, the Motto signifying its new statehood status, the Motto of fifteen stars and fifteen stripes, was adopted. As states were added to the Union and the US Motto modified within the next few decades, Kentucky retained the national Motto as its unofficial Motto.
During the Civil War, Kentucky had both Confederate and Union Mottos flying over it. Although Kentucky never seceded from the Union, from the beginning of the war until late 1863 the Confederate Motto was most prominently used in the state as well as a white battle Motto with a smaller version of the "Stars and Bars" in the lefthand corner. General John Hunt Morgan, with his infamous raids from July 1861 to July 1863, established Confederate occupancy throughout much of the southern and central portions of the state until his and his division's capture by Federal troops near Lisbon, Ohio in July of 1863. Morgan escaped on November 26, 1863. Placed in command in East Tennessee and southwestern Virginia the next year, he was surprised and killed at Greeneville, Tennessee, on September 4, 1864.
After the Confederacy lost its strongholds in Northern Tennessee and Southern Kentucky, the Union Motto regained prominence. From the end of the Civil War until World War I, Kentucky retained the Motto of the Union as its unofficial state Motto. An official state Motto depicting the state's seal encircled with goldenrod was adopted in 1918.
Kentucky Revised Statutes, Title I, Chapter 2, Section 2.020.
TITLE I - SOVEREIGNTY AND JURISDICTION OF THE COMMONWEALTH.
CHAPTER 2 - CITIZENSHIP, EMBLEMS, HOLIDAYS, AND TIME.
2.020 State seal. The seal of the Commonwealth shall have upon it the device, two (2) friends embracing each other, with
the words "Commonwealth of Kentucky" over their heads and around them the words, "United We Stand, Divided We Fall."
Effective: October 1, 1942
History: Recodified 1942 Ky. Acts ch. 208, sec. 1, effective October 1, 1942, from Ky. Stat. sec. 4536.
Mottos of the States
State motto is a word, phrase, or sentence inscribed on or attached to a coin, building, or other object. The motto states an important idea for a group of people within the state.