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.




Why is it spelled ¨than¨?


I don't know but probably the government.


Hi Sara,

That's a great question!  Unfortunately, there is not a very specific answer.

Here's what I can tell you:  The state motto is in Latin, as are many mottos.  And this may be for a variety of reasons. One important reason is that, particularly in the past and in the era when the motto was created, writers often used phrases or poems from classical antiquity for dedications, plaques and commemorations. Writers like the Roman poet Cicero (from whom the North Carolina state motto is considered to be borrowed), were revered by readers, politicans, and scholars, and so their sayings were often incorporated because of that reverance and to add an additional sense of permanance, historical significance and importance to the particular thing or event.  Additionally, classical Greek and Roman writers also wrote about topics that were often "epic" in nature.  Another observation about the use of Latin phrases has been that Latin uses many fewer words than English, so the creators of mottos can put a significant message in fewer words.  

The adopters of the motto may also have wanted to make a statement that the state, and its citizens, should work to be good and virtuous rather than merely to appear that way.  What do you think?

I hope this helps!

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


y we need the motto


Hi kk,

That's a really good question!

Here is a dictionary definition of "motto" (from

a sentence, phrase, or word expressing the spirit or purpose of a person, organization, city, etc.,and often inscribed on a badge, banner, etc.

Many states, countries, schools and universities, and other organzations and even companies have mottos.  

The N.C. legislature in 1893, when it created the state motto, put some words in the law that help indicate why they chose the 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."   Charlotte referred to the Mecklenburg Resolves, which were resolutions made by the Mecklenburg Committee of Safety in May of 1775, like the Declaration of Independence of 1776, but a full year before.

I hope this helps!

Kelly Agan, NC Government & Heritage Library


Ok... Where is the motto!!!!!!!!!!


The motto is "Esse Quam Videri." Is that the information for which you are looking? Let us know if you have additional questions.


Michelle Underhill, Digital Information Management Program
NC Government & Heritage Library


Why do states choose Latin phrases as their motto?


Good for Ashanti to work on


Latin is shorter than English, like the motto Esse Quam Videri takes six English words to express the same meaning

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