Dusty Phrases

Hi! Welcome to “Dusty Phrases.” You will find a phrase below, in one ancient language or another, along with its English translation. You may also find the power to inspire your friends or provoke dread among your enemies.

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Salus Populi Suprema Lex Esto


Let the good of the people be the supreme law.

There is some debate over the translation above. Others might render it “let the safety of the people be the supreme law,” or “The health (welfare, good, salvation, felicity) of the people shall be the supreme law.” The phrase is the state motto of Missouri, U.S.A.

Great Seal designer William Wells proposed the motto, translating it in 1847 as “Let the good of the people be the supreme law.” He went on to explain, “This motto being that upon which the supporters stand, was intended to represent the foundation of the government of the State. That foundation is ‘the good of the people’ or the public good.” The current 2019-2020 Official Manual of the State of Missouri, printed by the Great Seal’s official keeper, the Missouri Secretary of State, translates it as “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law.”

The phrase has a long history outside of Missouri. From wiki:

John Locke uses it as the epigraph in the form Salus populi suprema lex in his Second Treatise on Government and refers to it as a fundamental rule for government.[3] It was the inscription on the cornet of Roundhead and Leveller William Rainsborowe during the English Civil War. This motto was also endorsed by Hobbes at the beginning of Chapter 30 of Leviathan and by Spinoza in Chapter 19 of his Theological-Political Treatise. It was frequently quoted as Salus populi est suprema lex since at least 1737.[4]

In the United States, the phrase is the state motto of Missouri and the University of Missouri, and accepted, like many other states, as an element of its state seal.[5] It is also used for Manassas Park, Virginia, and the Duquesne University School of Law.

It also appears on many coats of arms, sometimes in variant forms such as Salus populi suprema lex, or Salus populi suprema est. In the United Kingdom, these coats of arms include the City of Salford, the London Borough of Lewisham, Eastleigh, Harrow, Southport, Lytham St. Anne’s, Mid Sussex, West Lancashire, Swinton and Pendlebury, Urmston and Willenhall;[6]

The motto was featured on the masthead of the Irish medical journal Medical Press and Circular.[7]

The monument to the 1914-1918 1940-1945 Belgian infantry (place Poelaert, Brussels) includes on its western face (opposite to the avenue Louise) salus patriæ suprema lex.

A misquotation, Salus publica suprema lex, was used as an epigraph for the third pamphlet of the White Rose.

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