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What Is the State Motto of Kansas?

By J.E. Holloway
Updated May 17, 2024
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"Ad astra per aspera" is the state motto of Kansas. This Latin phrase means "to the stars through difficulties" and represents the aspirations and hard-working spirit of the state. It also refers to the history of violence between pro- and anti-slavery factions in Kansas in the late 1850s and early 1860s. The state motto of Kansas forms part of the state's great seal; the state adopted both at the same time.

Kansas became the 34th state in the Union in January 1861. Every state in the Union has both a state seal and a state motto. As a result, statehood brought with it a demand for symbols to represent Kansas. Both the great seal and the state motto of Kansas were the work of John J. Ingalls. Ingalls, a state senator for the town of Atchison, was a Massachusetts native and prominent antislavery activist who played a prominent role in Kansas's path to statehood.

The state motto of Kansas appears written on a scroll at the top of the state's great seal, together with a number of other symbols relating to the state's history. 34 stars fill the sky beneath the motto, referring to Kansas's position as the 34th state. Below them, the seal depicts a number of scenes from Kansas life, including a settler plowing the land, a wagon train heading west, a steamboat on a river and Native Americans hunting bison. An inscription in the border of the seal gives the date of Kansas's entry into the United States.

The phrase "ad astra per aspera" is not original to Ingalls. The expression "ad astra," meaning "to the stars," probably originates with the Roman poet Virgil, who used the phrase in his Aeneid. Its earliest use as a motto may be at Dr Challoner's Grammar School, a 17th-century English school, although the exact date of the motto is uncertain. "Per aspera ad astra," which has an identical meaning, is another common version of this phrase. It appears as the motto of the duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

"Per ardua ad astra" is a Latin phrase with a similar meaning to the state motto of Kansas. It is the motto of at least one prominent family and, possibly through the influence of author H. Rider Haggard, became the motto of Britain's Royal Flying Corps in 1912. It later became the motto of the Royal Air Force as well as the Royal Canadian, Australian and New Zealand Air Forces. The South African and Spanish Air Forces use "per aspera ad astra" as their mottoes.

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