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Arkansas’s state motto is Regnat Populus, which is Latin for “the people rule.” No other state employs this motto, in either Latin or English, although South Dakota’s comes close: “Under God, the people rule.” The motto’s use is mostly limited to the Seal of State and its derivatives used by various state officers.
The constitution under the terms of which Arkansas entered statehood in 1836 stipulated that the governor must “keep” the Great Seal of the State. Its design, mentioned in Article 5, Section 12, should be “the present seal of the territory, until otherwise directed by the general assembly.” That seal bore, among other elements, the Latin motto Regnant Populi, which could be translated as “the people rule.” The origin of the phrase, either in Latin or English, is unknown. Its promoter was likely the recording clerk of the first territorial assembly, Samuel Calhoun Roane, who is usually credited with the initial design of the territorial seal. The 1864 Arkansas General Assembly reiterated the phrase’s place in the state seal while specifying an updated, if not simplified, design for the omnibus emblem.
In 1907, the General Assembly acted to modify the motto’s Latin form in order to better communicate a sense of its English version. “The people rule” had originally been rendered in Latin as regnant populi, employing the plural form of the noun, i.e., “the (or ‘some’) peoples,” implying multiple groups. An act approved by Acting Governor Xenophon O. Pindall on May 24, 1907, modified the subject to populus, signifying a single group, as in “the people.” Adjusting the verb to agree with the subject resulted in regnat populus, in which form the motto survives today.
For additional information:
“Arkansas State Motto.” Netstate. http://www.netstate.com/states/tables/state_mottoes.htm (accessed March 8, 2018).
Ware, David. It’s Official! The Real Stories behind Arkansas’s State Symbols. 2nd ed. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2017.
Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office
Last Updated 3/8/2018
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