Illinois State Motto

"State Sovereignty; National Union"

State Motto and Banner

Adopted in 1818; 1868.

Language: English

Focus: Union vs. State

See Illinois State Seal

Like many state mottoes, the Illinois state motto, State Sovereignty - National Union, was not approved as Illinois official state motto, but rather, was adopted as an element of the State Seal in 1818.

These words, "State Sovereignty; National Union," were inscribed on the original state seal adopted in 1818.

Illinois State Motto
"State Sovereignty; National Union

These state have mottos that reference the union:

  1. Illinois: "State Sovereignty; National Union"
  2. Kentucky: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall"
  3. Louisiana: "Union, Justice, and Confidence"
  4. Nevada: "All for Our Country"
  5. North Dakota: "Liberty and Union Now and Forever; One and Inseparable"
  6. Vermont: "Freedom and Unity"

The Illinois state motto is 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 seal that came into use in 1868, contrary to an amendment disallowing it, reversed the motto and placed "National Union" above "State Sovereignty. "Nevertheless, the official motto places "State Sovereignty" first.

Until 1868 the Second Great Seal was the one in use. In January 1867 Secretary of State Sharon Tyndale told State Senator Allen C. Fuller that a new seal was needed. He asked Senator Fuller to sponsor a bill to authorize that new seal.

In the bill that Fuller sponsored, Tynsdale proposed changing the wording on the banner the eagle held to "National Union, State Sovereignty" from the original "State Sovereignty, National Union." The wording change proposal was in response to the states rights controversy that was critical to the, then recently, settled Civil War.

The Senate disagreed with Tynsdale's proposed wording change. A new State Seal was authorized of March 7, 1867; however, the amended bill restored the original wording. Although Tinsdale followed the General Assembly's decree that he not reverse the wording, he redesigned the seal in such a way that the words "National Union" are more prominent than the words "State Sovereignty."

The present Great Seal of the State of Illinois is essentially unchanged from the one produced by Tynsdale.

Illinois Law

The law designating the official Illinois state motto is found in the Illinois Compiled Statutes (5 ILCS 460/) State Designations Act. (5 ILCS 460/5)

This statute describes the Illinois State Seal. The motto is specified within this description.

(5 ILCS 460/) State Designations Act.
(5 ILCS 460/5)

Sec. 5. State seal. a) The reproduction of the emblem only on the "great seal of the State of Illinois" is authorized and permitted when reproduced in black or in the national colors upon a white sheet or background and bearing underneath the emblem in blue letters the word "Illinois" and being an actual reproduction of the great seal, except for the outer ring, for use as a State banner or insignia under the conditions and subject to the restrictions provided by the laws of the United States and the State of Illinois as to the United States or State flag or ensign.

(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.
(Source: P. A. 87-273.)

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