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Fact Checked

What Is the State Motto of Virginia?

Esther Ejim
Esther Ejim

The state motto of Virginia is "Sic Semper Tyrannis,” meaning “Thus Always to Tyrants.” The motto was adopted in 1776, with the words symbolizing victory over tyranny. Virginia's state motto was recommended by George Mason to be incorporated into the Seal of Virginia during the 1776 Virginia Convention. Even though the words are Latin, the exact origins are unknown, unlike the mottoes of most states in the US.

One very unique factor of the state motto of Virginia is that it is thoroughly incorporated into the state seal. The state seal is circular, with a garland of flowers forming an inner circle. Within this circle, two figures actually act out the meaning of the state motto. The female image represents the Roman figure, Virtus, which is a figure of peace. The male figure represents Tyranny, who lies at the foot of Virtus. Virtus is shown holding a long spear, and the whole impression is that of a battle that has already been won.

Virginia's state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," means "Thus Always to Tyrants."
Virginia's state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," means "Thus Always to Tyrants."

On the ground, beside the prostrate Tyranny, lies a royal crown. Tyranny represents Great Britain, and the image of Virtus standing victorious over Tyranny represents the victory of Virginia over Great Britain. Tyranny is shown with a broken chain in his hand, symbolizing Virginia’s victory from Britain’s hold on colonial trade. The words of the state motto of Virginia, “Thus Always to Tyrants,” are written underneath his prostrate form, giving the motto a literal meaning. Much of the design of the state seal is derived from Roman mythology.

Sir Walter Raleigh gave Virginia its name.
Sir Walter Raleigh gave Virginia its name.

Aside from the official state motto of Virginia, the state has several unofficial nicknames, including “The Old Dominion” in reference to the status of Virginia as the oldest American Settlement of King Charles. “Mother of States” refers to Virginia’s huge territory from which other states including Kentucky, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and West Virginia were carved out. “Mother of Presidents” is a direct reference to the fact that Virginia has produced as many as eight United States presidents. “The Cavalier State” is a reference to the entry of English Cavaliers into the state during and after the reign of King Charles I.

Other official state symbols include the American foxhound, which is the official state dog, the brook trout, which is the official state fish, and the cardinal, which is the official state bird. Virginia’s state flower is the American dogwood, while the official state fossil is Chesapecten jeffersonius, named after both the Chesapeake Bay and Thomas Jefferson.

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Discussion Comments


@jennythelib - I never thought of it that way! But even though the colonists wound up turning on monarchy in general, it's important to remember that the British had long thought of themselves as a "free people." The UK is, and has been since I guess 1215, a constitutional monarchy, rather than an absolute one like the French monarchy.

Tyranny is in the eye of the beholder, I guess! George III was interfering with the colonists' daily lives, therefore they perceived him as a tyrant. Some historians think that the American Revolution owes its inspiration to the Glorious Revolution of 1683, in which James II was basically fired as king and a new king was interviewed and hired in his place (William, whose claim to the throne was through his wife, Mary, James's daughter; they ruled together). The idea was that the idea that people have a say in how they are governed was not new-born in America, but actually had a long history in England.


Has anyone else noticed the the idea of being "the Cavalier state" and "the Old Dominion" is really at odds with the state motto?

Think about it. The motto, combined with the seal, clearly shows that monarchy is tyranny. But the cavaliers were royalists! They supported the doomed ruler, King Charles I, against the Puritan rebels who eventually prevailed and executed him, establishing a republic in place of the monarchy.

I guess things change! The Puritans certainly had their own form of tyranny, what with shutting down the playhouses and canceling Christmas and all. No wonder people were so happy after Cromwell's death when the Republic fell apart and Charles I's son, Charles II, now grown to manhood, took the throne. And he was a real party guy, from all reports, so the mood was definitely different!

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    • Virginia's state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," means "Thus Always to Tyrants."
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      Virginia's state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," means "Thus Always to Tyrants."
    • Sir Walter Raleigh gave Virginia its name.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      Sir Walter Raleigh gave Virginia its name.