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Massachusetts officials seek input for new state seal and motto

Residents can help write history by sharing their thoughts about phrasing, themes, and imagery for the state seal and motto.

The Massachusetts State House beneath cloudy blues skies. A flag bearing the state seal flies to the right of the building.

A flag bearing the current state seal flies high outside of the State House.

Photo by @babyboomer1611

What does the phrase “ense petit placidam sub libertate quietem” mean to you? If you never studied Latin, it probably doesn’t mean much — which is partially why Massachusetts officials are looking to adopt a new state motto and seal.

Both the motto — which loosely translates to “By the Sword We Seek Peace, but Peace Only Under Liberty” — and the state seal are currently up for a remodel. State leaders have shared an online survey to learn more about which imagery, values, and beliefs will adequately represent + unite residents.

The survey will gauge participants’ feelings about a variety of themes and phrasing, including which state plants and animals to portray in the seal (if any), and which words and languages to consider for the new motto.


The seal appears on imagery throughout the State House, including the center of this stained glass window.

Photo by @tinyocean_rving

While you ponder what you’d like to see — perhaps a right whale or black-capped chickadee — learn some quick context about the current editions.

The state seal
The current seal displays a crest and a Native man holding a bow and arrow, which points downward to signify peace. A star to his left designates Massachusetts as one of the original 13 states. An arm holding a sword hovers above him as a nod to the American Revolution, while a blue ribbon bearing the state motto surrounds the crest.

The state motto
These words stem from the English solider-statesman Algernon Sidney, who was executed for treason after opposing King Charles II. Massachusetts leaders first selected his words for a temporary state seal in 1775, and they’ve been displayed throughout state imagery ever since.

The current seal of Massachusetts.

The current Massachusetts state seal.

From the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.