“Live Free or Die.” It sounds like an old Bruce Willis Die Hard series movie, but it’s actually the state motto of New Hampshire. That simple yet profound slogan easily tops any list of the greatest state mottos in the U.S. All 50 U.S. states have a motto, yet many Americans would be hard-pressed to name even a handful of those, and even some of the ones you think you know are wrong; Missouri’s official motto is not “The Show Me State,” but “Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law.” Many of these slogans are baffling, or translate poorly from Latin to English. That said, here’s our take on the five best state mottos, along with a few that are somewhat baffling.
5. Serit Ut Alteri Saeclo Prosit: ‘One Sows For the Benefit of Another Age’ (North Dakota)
In 2011, a group of high school students in Fargo decided that the existing North Dakota motto, “Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable” needed a Latin companion. So the Latin students proposed Serit ut alteri saeclo prosit, or “One sows for the benefit of another age.” The reference is appropriate considering North Dakota’s agrarian nature, but the message could apply to saving for retirement, investing in education, etc.
4. Dum Spiro Spero: ‘While I Breathe, I Hope’ (South Carolina)
South Carolina actually has two state mottos, and both of them are rather good. The other S.C. motto is, Animis Opibusque Parati, Latin for “Prepared in Mind and Resources.”
3. ‘With God, All Things Are Possible’ (Ohio)
Adopted in 1959, this one is rather recent compared to other state mottos. Not surprisingly, this quotation from the Book of Matthew (19:26) has been challenged in court; it has thus far prevailed, with the state arguing it is not an explicit endorsement of Christianity.
2. Montani Semper Liberi: ‘Mountaineers Are Always Free’ (West Virginia)
Roughly half the state mottos are partially or totally in Latin. That can lead to some awkward English translations. Not so with West Virginia’s motto, Montani semper liberi. It not only translates strongly (“Mountaineers are Always Free”), but it looks cool in Latin, too.
1. ‘Live Free or Die’ (New Hampshire)
One could picture Revolutionary War soldiers screaming this phrase as they charged into battle, or imagine it being used as the rallying cry in a slave rebellion. The quote originated with the French Revolution; a New Hampshire military leader, Gen. John Stark, used the quote in 1809 to commemorate fallen soldiers in a major Revolutionary War battle. His entire quote is even more impressive: “Live free or die: Death is not the worst of evils.”
And as promised, here are a couple of state mottos that could use a little help:
Dirigo: ‘I Lead’ (Maine)
Everyone should aspire to be a leader, not a follower — but Maine’s motto has nothing to do with leadership. Instead, it refers to mariners using the North Star for navigation. Adopted in 1820, almost 200 years later a stylized North Star is still featured on the Maine state seal. On a similar note, Minnesota’s motto, L’étoile du Nord, translates as “The Star of the North,” which is why the state is often referred to as the “North Star State.”
Qui Transtulit Sustinet: ‘He Who Transplanted Sustains’ (Connecticut)
This motto came over from England with early settlers in Connecticut. It was officially adopted in 1662. It’s possible those early settlers were giddy about the meaning of this phrase, but it sounds dated today.