Michigan’s Flag Month starting June 14th and ending July 14th is a time to celebrate the history of Michigan’s banner and how its design represents the statehood pride of Michiganders.
The state flag’s design is iconic and recognizable to all residents: a coat of arms featuring an elk, a moose, an eagle, a shield, and three Latin phrases atop a dark blue background.
Elk and moose are two animals common to Michigan, and they hold up a shield that reads “Tuebor,” Latin for “I will defend.”
On the shield a man can be seen waving from a shoreline with a long gun in his opposite hand. According to the state website, the man waves as a symbol of peace but holds a weapon to represent that “we are ready to defend our state and nation.”
Above the shield is a bald eagle, the United States national bird, clutching 3 arrows and 13 olive branches, representing the readiness to defend and the original 13 colonies, respectively.
The flag’s other two Latin phrases are “E Pluribus Unum,” the national motto meaning “from many, one,” and “Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam Circumspice,” which translates to “If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you.”
The splendor of Michigan’s peninsula is referenced in the pledge of allegiance to the state flag, approved by the Legislature in 1972:
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of Michigan, and to the state for which it stands, two beautiful peninsulas united by a bridge of steel, where equal opportunity and justice to all is our ideal.”
The coat of arms on the flag actually predates Michigan statehood. The emblem was designed by Michigan’s second territorial governor Lewis Cass and patterned after the seal of the Hudson Bay Fur Company. The symbol was approved at Michigan’s Constitutional Convention of 1835, two years before Michigan was granted statehood on January 26th, 1837, and one year before Congress passed the Northern Ohio Border Bill, which gave Michigan 9,000 acres of land on the state’s now famous Upper Peninsula.
Michigan did not have an official state flag until 1865, and in the years following statehood, local communities and groups across Michigan flew a variety of flags, many of which featured the coat of arms.
The first official flag, unfurled July 4th, 1865, during a ceremony at the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, featured a dark blue background and included both the state and national coat of arms. The design was recommended by Adjutant General John Robertson and approved by Governor Henry Crapo.
This flag served as the official banner of Michigan for almost 50 years until the Legislature updated the flag in 1911, removing the national coat of arms. The flag has since been unchanged to this day, though former State Senator Steven Bieda introduced a bill in 2016 that would assemble a commission to update the flag by holding a public contest, but the bill did not pass.
The state flag encapsulates the key features of Michigan: the beauty of its land and wildlife, and the peoples’ welcoming and steadfast nature.