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Illinois: Symbols of State

Illinois Flag Illinois Seal
Flag and Seal
Motto State Sovereignty, National Union
Song Illinois 1925

In 1915, various Illinois chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution organized a contest to design a state flag. A whopping 35 designs were submitted. The Rockford chapter was awarded $25 for its winning design—an imprint of the state seal on a white background.

In 1969, the rather boring flag was dragged down further when the word “ILLINOIS” was added to the design.

In 2023, Senator Doris Turner, of Springfield, decided it was time for a fresh look. The lawmaker introduced legislation to create a commission to develop new flag designs for the General Assembly to consider by Sept. 1. Senate Bill 1818 would create an Illinois Flag Commission to come up with new state flag designs.

So, what should a new Illinois flag look like?

There are many possibilities. However, I hope flag buffs steer clear of the nickname Land of Lincoln. Representing an individual on a flag is problematic for a number of reassons.

First, Lincoln was a white male, similar to just about every U.S. pResident and most members of Congress. A new flag could depict a black female instead, but that might rile some Native Americans.

Second, no one is perfect, and Lincoln was far from it. Believe it or not, he was a racist. After the Civil War, Lincoln presided over the biggest mass execution in American history; the victims were Native American. If you do a little research on Lincoln, you may discover even more skeletons in his closet.

Finally, flag designs featuring people tend to be a little complex. One of the cardinal rules of flag design is “Keep it simple.”

Born and raised in rural West Dakota, I learned to love the prairie with I was growing up. My Illinois flag proposal is inspired by the nickname Prairie State. On the left is an ear of corn, a species of grass that was domesticated by Native Americans. The stylized lily (fleur de lis) represents European culture and the origin of the state’s name.

Should Illinoisans change any other symbols? It should be easily to come up with an idea for a more inspirational state seal, not to mention a more distinctive state motto. On the other hand, the current motto offers an interesting perspective on the Civil War, which may have been a war over states’ rights that was simply sugar-coated with anti-slavery rhetoric. How else could Abe Lincoln motivate Northern youths to risk their lives to support his lust for power?

I’ll have more to say about Illinois’ new flag campaign in my book Flag Quest and website

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