Sunday, January 29, 2012

Kansas: To the Stars Through Difficulty

"Ad astra per astera" is the motto of the 34th state to join the Union, Kansas. It joined the Union on January 29, 1861.

Icarus by Henri Matisse, c. 1947

Translated from the Latin, "ad astra per astera" literally means, "to the stars through difficulty." More colloquially, it translates into the familiar adage, "nothing worth doing is ever accomplished without effort."  Though heady stuff in the Latin, making one look upward to consider dreams and goals, it ultimately is practical advice – mid-western advice.

The state flag of Kansas: Ad astra per astera
The motto is placed at the heart of the Kansas state flag just the way Kansas is settled at the heart of the country. It is found at the top of the Kansas state seal (c. 1911), a circular picture enclosing a star-studded blue sky, a golden horizon, and rolling hills of farmland with a farmer and a team of horses plowing in the foreground. The seal is central upon a blue field. Below it, in bold, golden yellow, is "Kansas", a detail added in 1961.

Above the seal is the Kansas state crest, a pretty but odd, little device created by the US War Department in 1923. The crest consists of two parts: a very pretty sunflower above a baton with yellow and blue stripes. The baton looks a lot like the bars of a military medal and is supposed to symbolize the Louisiana Purchase (1803) from which much of Kansas is carved (  

The official State Banner of Kansas, c. 1925-1927
Kansas did not have a state flag until 1927. For two years, from 1925-1927, Kansas had an official state banner in lieu of a state flag. It is the only state to do so, a situation owing to the continuing debate of the flag's design.

The discussion begins in 1915 with a request for a state flag by former newspaperman, then governor, and eventual five-term US Senator, Arthur Capper. The desire for state flags must have been part of a national discussion at the time for in 1916, the Daughters of the American Revolution hold a flag contest for a Kansas state flag. The Kansas DAR contest is just one of many hosted across the country that will be responsible for a plethora of state flags – but not this one.

Esther Estelle Northrup of Lawrence, Kansas wins the contest. The Northrup design includes three wide, horizontal stripes. From top to bottom, they are in red, white and blue. On the bottom stripe, the blue stripe, there is no additional ornament. On the central, white stripe, is the state seal. On the red stripe, at the top, is the state flower, the sunflower. [Unfortunately, an image of the Northrup design is not available.]

Arthur Capper, journalist, governor, US senator
According to state histories, the state flower, in itself, was a topic of debate as some liked the ubiquitous Kansas sunflower and others considered it a "noxious" weed ( Despite the debate on the merits of the sunflower, at the time of the 1916 DAR contest, the sunflower had been the official state flower of Kansas for five years. At the end of the debate, however, the Northrup flag was considered to be too similar to the Stars and Stripes for the state's officials' tastes, so the search continued.

By 1925, a Civil War veterans group of Union soldiers, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), steps in and successfully lobbies for an official state banner. This design depicts a blue field with a large, golden sunflower in the middle. "Kansas" is below the sunflower. Gold fringe decorates the bottom. To make it clear that this is a banner and not a flag, the banner is required to be hung between two poles or to be carried in a similar manner, a requirement that makes carrying the banner twice as difficult as carrying a flag. The National Guard is not happy about this. Separate from that complaint is the obvious irritation of the DAR with the GAR. And so it went.

Albert Reid riffs on JP Morgan and monopolies

The image on the banner, however, is a pretty one. The Kansas State Historical Society's description makes it sound as if the image is the same one submitted by the rather famous Kansas illustrator Albert Reid. Reid, who aspired to being a painter, is best known for his wry political cartoons and those depicting social commentary. Other sources credit the banner's design to Adjutant General Joe Nickell.

In either event, this state of affairs lasted for two years before a state flag was finally chosen. Adjutant General Milton R. McLean managed to successfully sponsor the Kansas Flag Act. It was passed on March 21, 1927 and describes the flag as a blue field with the state seal in the center and the state crest centered above that. With the single exception of the 1961 modification, it remains unchanged.

Ad astra per astera is both the Kansas state motto as well as the story behind her flag.
Sunflowers by Yovko Lambrev

Let it fly!

A wonderfully detailed and illustrated timeline of Kansas history can be found at Kansas History Online.


Kansas History Online (

Kansas State Historical Society

State Library of Kansas (


Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Flag of Michigan and the Michigan 24th

The State Flag of Michigan, first seen at Gettysburg
On the 26th day of January in 1837, Michigan became the 26th state.

Less than 25 years later...

In the Spring of 1861, Fort Sumter falls. 
President Lincoln responds with a call to arms. Michigan replies with an initial enlistment of 10 companies.  

President Lincoln's response was succinct: "Thank God for Michigan!" (
Battlefield memorial to the Michigan 24th
By the following December, Michigan had sent an additional 16,000 men into battle. By war's end, the number of Michigan soldiers totaled 97,729. This was nearly a quarter of Michigan's entire male population. Of all these men, 1 in 6 would die: Their numbers are the 6th highest of Union Army war dead (

Michigan soldiers were at some of the worst fighting of the Civil War: Antietam. Gettysburg. Chancellorsville. The list goes on.
At Gettysburg, the 24th Michigan, part of the Iron Brigade of cavalry from the western states, lost 56% of its company. The Iron Brigade took some of the heaviest losses during the war, including some of the fiercest fighting during the three days of Gettysburg. 
Even before the war was over, Gettysburg was made into a soldier's cemetery to honor the war dead from both sides. (This picture of the battlefield memorial to the Michigan 24th is from Gettysburg.) It was here, at The Soldiers Cemetery at Gettysburg in 1863, that President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address. And it was here, July 4, 1865, that the Michigan state flag was "unfurled" for the very first time ( 

The Michigan flag is inspired by the state seal and includes an adaptation of the seal against  a blue field. The state seal was designed in 1835 by Lewis Cass, a territorial governor, but takes its inspiration from the Hudson Bay Company's seal which features two rampant moose beside a shield with a red cross and a beaver in each quadrant. A fox atop a crown rests above the shield. The moose are standing on a banner with the rather wry Latin motto proclaiming "skin for skin" (Manitoba Historical Society).
Original Hudson Bay Company shield

The flag is a proud blending of national symbolism as well as state identity. At the top is a red banner. Below this is an American eagle holding three arrows and an olive branch. The olive branch has 13 olives or "fruits" symbolizing the original 13 colonies. 

Under the eagle is a shield with a rampant elk and a moose on either side. Below the shield is a patch of green and below that, two white banners. The shield depicts Michigan's land and great waterways. It also includes a man with one hand raised in peace and the other hand holding a gun.

The Michigan flag contains 3 Latin mottoes: Inside the red banner it reads, "E Pluribus Unum." Sound familiar? Translation: Out of many, one. The prominent second motto reads: "Tuebor." Translation: I will defend. Together, they state there is one nation out of many states and I will defend it. It is clear that Michigan did so unstintingly.

The third Latin motto is the official state motto and reads: "Si Quæris Peninsulam Amœnam Circumspice." Translation: If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you. This refers to Michigan's amazing inland relationship to water: It is the only state to touch four out of the five Great Lakes and has 36,000 miles of rivers and streams. With over 56,000 square miles, one is always "within 85 miles of a Great Lake anywhere in the state" (

Artist's version of Lincoln giving the Gettysburg Address
The Gettysburg Address
November 19, 1863

When Lincoln arrived by train the evening before, the station platform was lined with coffins of soldiers who had not yet been re-interred in the memorial cemetery (  

The crowds that gathered the next day, had not come to hear the president speak. The had come to listen to the great orator, Edward Everett who spoke for over two hours. Lincoln's speech, which took less than five minutes to give, remains one of the world's great speeches. If you have never had the opportunity to read the entire speech, here it is in all of its oratorical brilliance:

"Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

The Soldiers National Cemetery at Gettysburg, PA
"We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

"But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

"It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they, who fought here, have thus far so nobly advanced. 
Battle flag of the 4th Michigan

"It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth."

To view the original Gettysburg Address and for more information about the Battle of Gettysburg, check out this link @

Did you know...
It was a Michigan unit, the 4th Michigan Cavalry under Col. Benjamin Pritchard, that captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

The State Flag of Michigan is unchanged since 1911.
Let it fly!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Connecticut: "Older than the nation"

theConnecticut's state flag
Surviving in new soil ...
Connecticut, the Constitution state, was made the fifth state of the new nation. The fifth of the original 13 colonies, it was granted statehood in 1788. While Connecticut's state flag was not adopted until some 90 years later in 1879, the flag's thematic roots rest in the fertile soil of this earliest founding.
The Connecticut state flag has a classical design based on traditional heraldic forms and a motif of grapevines that are staked vines, not wild vines. Its shield, in the rococo style, dates to the 1600s, at a time when England's "second sons" journeyed far to make their fortune and their mark. This is, at its heart, the story of Connecticut's grapevine flag, a story about new roots and new harvests that extend far beyond the journey of a "second son."
The grapevines on the Connecticut flag represent the first "transplants" to Connecticut in the 1600s. These early "transplants" arrived from England as well as Massachusetts Bay Colony. The imagery of the grapevine, however, an image that has been chosen to represent this state for centuries now, can be traced directly to one of Connecticut's first territorial governors. This idea of being transplanted and thriving in a new environment also is present in the state motto, "Qui transtulit sustinet," which translates to "He who transplants, still sustains" ( 
Both the transplanted grapevine motif and the motto date to Colonel George Fenwick and a signet ring that he possessed, the Saybrook seal (
A parting gift...
The Fenwick seal (
Fenwick, the son of a Northumberland country squire,  arrived from England in 1639 with his wife and his two sisters ( He arrived as one of the partners in the Warwick Patent, an unusual patent in that it had 15 partners and these partners also were tiered. 
The first partners were titled. The second tier included "gentlemen": landowners, sons of squires, lawyers, and so forth. Col. Fenwick was part of this second tier of ownership. A member of Parliament (, solicitor, landowner, and former soldier, he was the second governor of these new lands until 1644. 
Common to the time, Fenwick was known to use a signet ring for validating documents. The seal was decorated with grapevines and the Latin motto, "Sustinet qui transtulit," an appropriate legend for a group of Puritans and land owners who had come to establish a new society amidst new land.
The state motto, that same motto as found on the Saybrook signet ring, has been interpreted by Charles J. Hoadly, a former Connecticut State Librarian and scholar (c. 1889) as having biblical roots taken from Psalm 80: 8-9 ( It reads:
8 Thou has brought a vine out of Egypt: Thou hast cast out the heathen and planted it. 
9 Thou preparedst room before it, and didst cause it to take deep root, and it filled the land. 
Connecticut's 1711 colonial seal
In 1644, Fenwick sold the Saybrook land to the newly forming Colony of Connecticut. The price for the land, by the way, was £1800 of which Fenwick collected £1600. He then returned to England in 1645 ( after his wife's death. 

The signet ring accompanied the sale and continued to be used by the Connecticut General Assembly and the Secretary of the Colony until its disappearance in 1687. A new stamp was not made until 1711.

Other sources claim that the three vines on the state seal and the state flag symbolize the first three towns or settlements in Connecticut. These towns/ settlements are variously identified as Hartford (1636), Wethersfield (1634) and Windsor (1633); or Hartford, New Haven (1638) and Fenwick's plantation of Saybrook (1635), or some version thereof.  

Looking at the dates of their founding (, it is clear that the oldest settlements are Windsor, Wethersfield and Saybrook. Hartford, however, created from settlements merging into the Colony of Connecticut, was the site of an early Dutch fort that was built in 1633, the House of Hope. 

Connecticut's state seal
Either way, these early settlements became the Colony of Connecticut, founded on the notion of "new shoots" transplanted from the old country and strong enough to not just survive but to flourish.

Older than the nation...
After the Revolution, a new state seal was reworked from Fenwick's original Saybrook seal with its Latin motto and symbolism of transplanted vines. This 18th century seal remains the official state seal of Connecticut.

The "seal" that is on the Connecticut state flag actually is the state's official coat-of-arms. The coat-of-arms was designed in 1931 and is designated by the state to be not just a formal heraldic shield but "an armorial shield of rococo design." 

While much of Connecticut's history is "older than the nation," this particular phrase is identified with one particular Connecticut institution, the Hartford Courant.

Front page of The Courant Courant, Oct. 29, 1764

The Courant is the nation's oldest newspaper still in existence. Founded in 1764, the Hartford Courant was originally known as the Connecticut Courant so it really is "older than the nation." To read about George Washington's advertisement in the Courant and Thomas Jefferson's libel suit against the Courant, go to

Let it fly!

sources: Society of Colonial Wars in CT