The special commission tasked by the Mass. Legislature with rethinking Massachusetts' state seal and motto is wrapped its work Tuesday without recommending specific replacements for either.
Still, Brian Boyles — the commission's co-chair and the executive director of Mass Humanities — said he and his colleagues have made significant progress on a contentious issue.
"This has been a powerful experience," Boyles said. "I want to thank you all for what you brought to the table ... The respect that you've shown for each other I think has modeled how, I hope, we move and work together in public spaces all around the Commonwealth."
In its final report, the commission reiterated its May 2022 recommendation that the state jettison it's existing seal and motto, which contain symbolism many deem offensive.
The current seal, which dates to the late 19th century, portrays a Native American holding a bow and arrow standing beneath an arm holding a sword modeled on one used by the colonial military leader Myles Standish, that is poised as if to strike. A motto in Latin accompanies the imagery and is generally translated as: “By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty.”
The report also recommends that Massachusetts create "a new seal and motto that are aspirational and inclusive of the diverse perspectives, histories and experiences of Massachusetts residents," and identifies some possible visual and verbal ingredients that could be used for that purpose.
For the seal, the report suggests using imagery involving local plants, animals, and/or geographic features such as hills or the ocean. For the motto, the report suggests phrases such as "Hope," "Liberty," and "Equality," as well as the names of Massachusetts tribal nations.
In addition, the report details the results of a public survey conducted at the commission's request in August and September 2023, in which certain possible seal and motto components proved especially popular — e.g., the right whale, cranberries, and terms including "peace" and "justice."
However, the report is agnostic on one key question — namely, whether a new seal should also feature a visual representation of a Native American. It notes that, in the public survey, a majority of Native respondents backed that idea, and calls it an "important choice" the Legislature will need to make moving forward.
The report also sketches out a framework for a new body that would be tasked with creating a new seal and motto, co-chaired by the Secretary of the Commonwealth and featuring artists, educators representatives from various state agencies as well as Native American leaders.
If ultimately created, this so-called working group would have a hefty to-do list, including choosing symbols and terms for a new seal and motto, hiring a seal designer, and supervising that person's work.
Whether the commission's final report meets the expectations established in the law that created it depends on how one reads that legislation. It states that the commission "shall make recommendations for a revised or new design of the seal of the commonwealth and a revised or new motto of the commonwealth," but not how decisive or specific those recommendations should be.
In 2022, the commission discussed the possibility of creating multiple options for new state seals and mottos and presenting them for feedback, but instead chose to seek broader public input.
The law that created the commission also tasked it with creating an educational program on the history of the state seal and motto, and the final report offers a possible framework, including mandatory learning modules for K-12 students and a public education campaign aimed at adults.
The commission, which was created in 2020, was originally supposed to complete its work by October 2021, but received several extensions from the Legislature.