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The North Carolina State Motto, "Esse Quam Videri", appearing on the plaque of the Joseph Winston Monument, Guilford Courthouse, Greensboro, N.C. Image by Marmaduke Percy, Wikimedia Commons, License CC BY-SA 3.0.State Motto of North Carolina: Esse Quam Videri

From the North Carolina Manual, 2012-13.

See also: North Carolina State Symbols and Official Adoptions main page

Translation: "To be rather than to seem." 

The General Assembly of 1893 (Chapter 145) adopted the words “Esse Quam Videri” as the state’s official motto. The legislators directed that these words, along with the date “20 May, 1775,” be placed with North Carolina’s coat of arms upon the Great Seal of the State of North Carolina. “Esse Quam Videri” means “to be rather than to seem.” Nearly every U.S. state has adopted a motto, generally in Latin. North Carolina’s motto is quoted from Cicero’s essay on friendship (Cicero, de Amnicitia, Chapter 26). Until the 1893 act, North Carolina had no motto. It was one of the few states which did not have a motto and the only one of the original thirteen without one.

Excerpts from original essay and translations

De Amicitia, Cicero. (Entire essay in Latin)

"The fact is that fewer people are endowed with virtue than wish to be thought to be so." (Shuckburgh translation)
"...[N]ot nearly so many people want actually to be possessed of virtue as want to appear to be possessed of it." (from On Old Age and On Friendship, trans. by Frank Copley, Ann Arbor, U Mich. Press, 1967, p. 87).
"...[F]or the Numbers of the really virtuous are not so great, as they appear to be." (from M.T. Cicero, His Offices, trans. by William Guthrie, Esq., London, T. Waller, 1755, p. 317).

Great Seal of the State of North Carolina, with the Latin motto "Esse Quam Videri."  Image from the North Carolina Department of the Secretary of State.

Session Laws, 1893, c. 145:



WHEREAS. Contrary to the usage of nearly all the states of the American Union the coat-of-arms and the great seal of this state bear no motto; and whereas, a suitable motto, expressive of some noble sentiment and indicative of some leading trait of our people, will be instructive as well as ornamental, and the state should also keep in perpetual remembrance the immortal declaration of independence made at Charlotte; now therefore,

The General Assembly of North Carolina do enact:

Section 1. That the words "esse quam videri" are hereby adopted as the motto of this state, and as such shall be engraved on the great seal of North Carolina and likewise at the foot of the coat-of-arms of the state as part thereof.

Sec. 2. That on the coat-of-arms, in addition to the motto at the bottom, there shall be inscribed at the top the words "May the 20th, 1775."

Sec. 3.That this act shall be in force from and after its ratification.

Ratified the 21st day of February, A.D. 1893.




hey i need a little more info


I found that intresting but where is the Motto found?



The motto is on the seal. If you look at the image of the seal in the article, you can see the latin phrase at the bottom of the seal. 

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


What is the layman’s definition of “to be rather than to seem”? I know it’s a translation of a Latin saying, but what exactly does it mean? What’s it referring to? I just got my new license plate and saw the phrase on there, so I thought I’d do a little research on it; learned that’s our (NC) state motto, but wanted a little more detailed information. Thanks!


Hi Britny!

Thank you for your comment and for asking those excellent questions! I am not an expert on this phrase by any means, but I believe it might be interpreted to have a similar meaning to "walking the walk and talking the talk," in other words, living up to and following through with actions about what you believe in or support. I think the forefathers of NC were hinting at North Carolinians having traits of loyalty and steadfastness. 

The state motto comes from Cicero's De Amicitia, an essay on friendship. You can read translations of that work in the links above in the article.

Our State magazine published an interesting piece about the state motto a few years ago that might help you in your interpretation:

You might also enjoy this poem about the state motto that was published in The North Carolina Teacher in 1894:

Sorry that I couldn't find more specific information but I hope this helps! And a warm welcome to North Carolina!

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library


I need more info





Thank you for your comment! What kind of information can we help you find? Feel free to reply back to this comment or contact our library ( and we would be happy to help you!

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library


a new course on North Carolina history and beauty well written and easy to follow (by pictures and special events of the state) would be welcome learning.


More information?

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