October 29, 2022 | Last updated May 3, 2023

“Equality Before the Law”: Thoughts on the Origin of Nebraska’s State Motto

“Equality Before the Law,” Nebraska’s state motto, is unique among the fifty states. Only Wyoming’s motto, “Equal Rights,” expresses a similar idea. Both mottos date from the post-Civil War years of the 1860s and both relate to the granting of political and civil rights previously denied to certain Americans: most black men, free or slave, and women of whatever racial background. On June 14, 1867, Governor David Butler signed H.R. 41, “An Act to Provide for Procuring a Seal for the State of Nebraska.” Isaac Wiles, a member of the Nebraska House of Representatives from Plattsmouth, Cass County, introduced the act as provided by section thirteen of article three of the 1866 state constitution, which required a “Great Seal of the State of Nebraska” for use by the governor in the transaction of official business. H.R. 41 specified the seal’s design and the motto that was to appear thereon: “Equality Before the Law.”

Nebraska gained statehood in 1867 only after agreeing to accept Congress’s demand that it remove a “whites only” voting restriction from its state constitution. The state motto “Equality Before the Law” reflected Nebraska’s willingness to extend suffrage to black Americans. Read the full article here.

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