Esse Quam Videri

Written By Jessica Lee Thompson

The Latin phrase Esse Quam Videri, “to be rather than to seem,” was chosen as the North Carolina state motto by jurist and historian Walter Clark.  After Clark drafted the bill in 1893, Senator Jacob Battle of Nash County introduced the bill to create an official state motto to the General Assembly. After the bill’s passage, Esse Quam Videri and “20 May, 1775” were ordered to be placed on the great seal and the coat of arms.  (On May 20, 1775, the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence was signed).

The origin of Esse Quam Videri is traced to a sentence in Marcus Tullius Cicero’s, “On Friendship.”  It reads: “Virtute enim ipsa non tam multi praediti esse quam videri volunt.”  Frank Copley, professor emeritus of Latin at the University of Michigan, translated the entire sentence to read: “[N]ot nearly so many people want actually to be possessed of virtue as want to appear to be possessed of it.”

Prior to adopting Esse Quam Videri in 1893, North Carolina was one of the few states and the only of the original thirteen that was without an official state motto. Before the colony declared its independence, however, Quae Sera Tamen Respexit appeared on its great seal. Quae Sera Tamen Respexit referred to the image of Liberty on the seal and means “Which though late, looked upon me.”