What Is the State Motto of Tennessee?

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  • Written By: Esther Ejim
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 20 September 2019
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The state motto of Tennessee is “Agriculture and Commerce.” It is one of the most recent mottoes to be adopted by a state in the United States. Derived from an inscription on the Great Seal of the State of Tennessee, the motto was adopted in 1987.

The seal is shaped in a circular form with an inscription on top that reads, “The Great Seal Of The State Of Tennessee.” At the bottom, the date "1796" is inscribed, and the middle bears the words that make up the state motto of Tennessee: “Agriculture” and “Commerce.” It also has the Roman numeral "XVI," which represents Tennessee entering into the United States as the 16th state.

When the state of Tennessee was created, provision was made in the 1796 constitution for the creation of a seal. Thereafter, subsequent constitutions followed the same pattern and also made provisions for a state seal. Despite these efforts, no further action was taken to actually create a seal for the state until September 25, 1801. It was on this date that that representatives from both the Senate and House of Representatives formed committees to select a design for a seal and to actually cut the seal for use by the state.


The seal was prepared and used for the first time on April 24, 1802. This seal was used by seven governors until 1829, when another seal was introduced. The second seal was used until 1869, when the seal that is now being used in Tennessee was introduced during Governor William Brownlow’s administration. The present seal bears the words of the state motto of Tennessee, which was adopted by the 95th General Assembly in 1987.

Aside from the state motto of Tennessee, an unofficial nickname is “The Volunteer State.” The origin of this nickname stems from the War of 1812 when many Tennessee men heeded Governor Blount’s call for men to enlist. “The Mother of Southwester Statesmen” is a nickname that refers to Tennessee’s influence in national government, especially the fact that three presidents were from Tennessee. "The Big Bend State” is a reference to the Indian name for the Tennessee River — “The River With The Big Bend.”

Some official state symbols other than the state motto and state seal of Tennessee include the mockingbird, which is the state bird, the raccoon, which is the state wild animal, and the zebra swallowtail, which is the state butterfly. Tennessee has two state insects, the firefly and the ladybug. The state reptile is the eastern box turtle, while the state amphibian is the Tennessee cave salamander.


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