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History of the Motto

The popular motto “United we stand, divided we fall,” often shortened to “United We Stand” is commonly used to express unity and collaboration. The phrase is used to encourage and inspire, and sends the message that working together is easier, as there is strength in numbers, whereas doing things alone is harder and invites failure.  Its core concept lies in the collectivist notion that if individual members of a certain group with binding ideals – such as a union, coalition, confederation or alliance – work on their own instead of as a team, they are each destined to fail and will all be defeated.  This phrase has been used time and again throughout history to rally groups together and you will still hear it used today where the message remains the same.


Use in U.S. History

The first attributed use in modern times is to Founding Father John Dickinson in his pre-Revolutionary War song “The Liberty Song”, first published in the Boston Gazette in July 1768. In the song Dickinson wrote: “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall!” Kentucky entered the Union on June 1, 1792. A little over six months later, on December 20, 1792, the first Kentucky General Assembly adopted the official seal of the Commonwealth, including the state motto, United We Stand, Divided We Fall.

United We Stand’ license plate designed by Troy Wingard for the South Carolina Department of Public Safety in 2002

Patrick Henry used the phrase in his last public speech, given in March 1799, in which he denounced The Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. Clasping his hands and swaying unsteadily, Henry declaimed, “Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter.

United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.” At the end of his oration, Henry fell into the arms of bystanders and was carried, almost lifeless, into a nearby tavern. Two months afterward, he died.

During his unsuccessful campaign (technically speaking) against Stephen Douglas in 1858, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech centered on the House divided analogy to illustrate the need for a universal decision on slavery across all states.

Since 1942, this phrase has been the official non-Latin state motto of Kentucky.[3] The U.S. state of Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby, was particularly fond of the stanza from “The Liberty Song”.

On the Missouri flag, the phrase is also written around the center circle.


Modern Political Uses Outside the U.S.

Examples of political uses outside the U.S. include the following:

  • This statement was also a common phrase used in India to garner political support during struggle for independence from the British Empire.
  • The motto is also used by Ulster loyalists, and can be seen in some loyalist Northern Irish murals.
  • The Economist edition that appeared during Brexit was entitled “Divided we fall”.
  • The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, used the motto in his letter of invitation to the heads of state and government of the EU, for their informal summit in Valletta, Malta, on February 3, 2017. Tusk addressed the motto to the leaders of the 27 member states of the future EU without the United Kingdom.

UNITED WE STAND CAMPAIGN

The United We Stand campaign has been in popular use since the time of the American Revolution. It originated in the fourth verse of a 1768 patriotic ballad, The Liberty Song, by John Dickinson.

During the Civil War, the phrase became a rallying cry for the Union cause. By the early 20th century, labor unions had taken up the slogan as a call for solidarity in the struggle for better working conditions.

In World War II, United We Stand invoked not just American patriotism but unity among the Allied nations, as expressed by Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands in her address to the U.S. Congress on August 5, 1942: “United we stand, and united we will achieve victory.”

Most recently, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the phrase United We Stand reemerged along with the flag as Americans confronted a new national crisis.

UNITED WE STAND FLAG COVER PUBLISHERS CAMPAIGN

DURING JULY 1942, seven months after the United States entered World War II, magazines nationwide featured the American flag on their covers. Adopting the slogan United We Stand, some five hundred publications waved the stars and stripes to promote national unity, rally support for the war, and celebrate Independence Day.

FOR MAGAZINE PUBLISHERS, displaying the flag was a way to prove their loyalty and value to the war effort. For the U.S. government, the campaign was an opportunity to sell bonds and boost morale. The magazines brought home a message of patriotism and ideals worth fighting for.

THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AMERICAN HISTORY presents this exhibition to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the United We Stand campaign. We hope you enjoy touring the virtual exhibit, and we also invite you to visit the Museum, where nearly one hundred original flag covers will be on view from March 22 to October 27, 2002.

TODAY, IN LIGHT OF THE TERRORIST ATTACKS OF SEPTEMBER 11, 2001, the flag and the slogan United We Stand have a renewed meaning for many Americans. As the home of the Star-Spangled Banner, the National Museum of American History is a place to explore the history of our national symbol and the ideals for which it stands.


Popular Culture

Examples in popular culture include the following:

  • The lyrics “United we stand, divided we fall” are featured in the song “United We Stand” performed by The Brotherhood of Man (written by Tony Hiller and Peter Simons). This song was also performed by Sonny and Cher and Elton John.
  • Geraldo Pino used the phrase in the song “Shake Hands”.
  • In the song “Hey You” performed and written by the band Pink Floyd, a similar term with the same meaning, “Together we stand, divided we fall”, is used.
  • Tupac Shakur used the line “united we stand, divided we fall..” in the song “Last Wordz” of his second album Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. featuring Ice Cube and Ice-T.
  • Wilbert Harrison used the similar “Together we’ll stand, Divided we’ll fall” in his song “Let’s Work Together”.
  • In the Sum 41 song “Confusion And Frustration In Modern Times”, the phrase “Divided we stand, Together we fall” is used. New York Hardcore punk band Agnostic Front use the lyrics “United we stand, divided we fall, Gotta gotta go” in their song “Gotta Go”, which was featured on Punk-O-Rama Vol. 3. Punk band Smoke or Fire also used the reverse lyric “United we stand, divided we’ll fall” in their song “What Separates Us All”, from their 2007 album This Sinking Ship.
  • The Dutch band Heideroosjes use the lyrics in their song “Time is Ticking Away”. It is also used in The Dropkick Murphys’ “Boy’s on the Docks”. The 3rd Mission in Operation Flashpoint Dragon Rising is called “United we stand”. A slightly different version is mentioned by the heavy metal band Judas Priest in his song “United” (“united we stand, united we never shall fall”). 3T also used the exact words on their debut album Brotherhood, the song being entitled “Brotherhood” also.
  • Australian artist Kid Mac used the phrase in his song titled “My Brothers Keeper” on his album titled No Man’s Land.
  • The reverse was also used by Def Leppard in the song “When Love & Hate Collide”, “..divided we stand, baby, united we fall” and in The Strokes song “Someday”, “See, alone we stand, together we fall apart”.
  • It also appears in the song “United”, by the Finnish power metal group Stratovarius.
  • In the album Nero from Two Steps from Hell, one of the tracks is titled “United We Stand, Divided We Fall”. It was also included on their subsequent album Archangel.
  • The phrase “United stand! Divided fall!” appears in the Norwegian folk metal/viking metal group Glittertinds song “Longships and Mead”.
  • “Together we stand, divided we fall” is repeated various times in the song “Killing ground” by longtime English metal band Saxon.
  • Divided We Fall and United We Stand are events in the Marvel Comics series Ultimate Comics: The Ultimates.
  • The phrase also appeared in the “United We Stand” episode of Power Rangers Megaforce.
  • “United We Stand” and “Divided We Fall” are sequential songs in the Thomas Was Alone soundtrack.
  • Deathcore band Bring Me the Horizon uses the phrase “United we fail, divided we fall.” in their song “Anti-vist.”
  • J. K. Rowling in her book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire says “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”[5]
  • In the C.G.I. Transformers show Transformers Prime, this phrase is played upon. As Megatron succeeds in destroying the Autobot base and chasing out the Autobots after an intense war, he and Starscream visit the ruins with Starscream commenting. “United we stand, divided they fall.” Rather than attributing both values to one party, each is shown to have a respective value at that time, especially given Starscream has recently rejoined the Decepticons.
  • The statement is used in videos released in 2012[6] by the “hacktivist” group Anonymous.
  • S Club 7 said it in their TV shows Miami 7, L.A.7 and Viva S Club and when they did it they would get hurt by the lightning.
  • “For together we stand, divided we fall” is mentioned in the opening line of the chorus for the Donna Cruz song “Yesterday’s Dream”.
  • Asian Dub Foundation said in their song called “The Judgement”: “Present and the future we will never fall/Realize united we stand and divided we fall”
  • The 2013 video game Grand Theft Auto V features a variant of the phrase; ‘United We Stand, Together We Fall – Thanks for the bailout America’ in an in-game commercial for the car manufacturer Bravado.
  • Marvel Studios repeated the phrase, “United We Stand, Divided We Fall,” during their Super Bowl 50 ad for Captain America: Civil War.
  • In Fallout 4 while gaining entrance to the armory room at the Castle, the password for the terminal is “United We Stand”. “United We Stand” is also the name of the perk the player gets for reaching the highest rank of character affinity with Preston Garvey, a key member of the Commonwealth Minutemen faction. The perk makes the player deal 20% more damage and provides +20 damage resistance when fighting against three or more enemies.
  • Norwegian Black Metal band Darkthrone named one song on their album Hate Them “Divided We Stand”.
  • The verse is used repetitively in British cabaret trio Fascinating Aïda’s Brexit reaction song.

 United We Stand Biblical References

Matthew 12:25Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.Mark 3:25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.Corinthians 1:10I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.


 Sixth Century B.C. Aesop United We Stand Fables

The Four Oxen an the Lion

A LION used to prowl about a field in which Four Oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to one another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in a separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

“UNITED WE STAND, DIVIDED WE FALL.”

The Bundle of Sticks

AN OLD man on the point of death summoned his sons around him to give them some parting advice. He ordered his servants to bring in a faggot of sticks, and said to his eldest son: “Break it.” The son strained and strained, but with all his efforts was unable to break the Bundle. The other sons also tried, but none of them was successful. “Untie the faggots,” said the father, “and each of you take a stick.” When they had done so, he called out to them: “Now, break,” and each stick was easily broken. “You see my meaning,” said their father.

“UNION GIVES STRENGTH.”

Quotes About Unity

J.K. Rowling

“We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire


Stephen Chbosky

“And all the books you’ve read have been read by other people. And all the songs you’ve loved have been heard by other people. And that girl that’s pretty to you is pretty to other people. and that if you looked at these facts when you were happy, you would feel great because you are describing ‘unity.”
― Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower


Gwendolyn Brooks

“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
― Gwendolyn Brooks


Bob Marley

“One love, one heart . . .
Let’s get together and feel all right”
― Bob Marley, Bob Marley – Legend


John Lennon

 “Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peaceYou may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”
― John Lennon, Imagine


C. JoyBell C.

“We are all equal in the fact that we are all different. We are all the same in the fact that we will never be the same. We are united by the reality that all colours and all cultures are distinct & individual. We are harmonious in the reality that we are all held to this earth by the same gravity. We don’t share blood, but we share the air that keeps us alive. I will not blind myself and say that my black brother is not different from me. I will not blind myself and say that my brown sister is not different from me. But my black brother is he as much as I am me. But my brown sister is she as much as I am me.”
― C. JoyBell C.


“The most dangerous people in the world are not the tiny minority instigating evil acts, but those who do the acts for them. For example, when the British invaded India, many Indians accepted to work for the British to kill off Indians who resisted their occupation. So in other words, many Indians were hired to kill other Indians on behalf of the enemy for a paycheck. Today, we have mercenaries in Africa, corporate armies from the western world, and unemployed men throughout the Middle East killing their own people – and people of other nations – for a paycheck. To act without a conscience, but for a paycheck, makes anyone a dangerous animal. The devil would be powerless if he couldn’t entice people to do his work. So as long as money continues to seduce the hungry, the hopeless, the broken, the greedy, and the needy, there will always be war between brothers.”
― Suzy Kassem


Winston S. Churchill

 “When there is no enemy within, the enemies outside cannot hurt you.”
― Winston S. Churchill


Alexandre Dumas

“All for one and one for all.”
― Alexandre Dumas, The Three Musketeers


A.W. Tozer

“Has it ever occurred to you that one hundred pianos all tuned to the same fork are automatically tuned to each other? They are of one accord by being tuned, not to each other, but to another standard to which each one must individually bow. So one hundred worshipers met together, each one looking away to Christ, are in heart nearer to each other than they could possibly be, were they to become ‘unity’ conscious and turn their eyes away from God to strive for closer fellowship.”
― A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God: The Human Thirst for the Divine


“When two brothers are busy fighting, an evil man can easily attack and rob their poor mother. Mankind should always stay united, standing shoulder to shoulder so evil can never cheat and divide them.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem


Amit Ray

 “You are never alone. You are eternally connected with everyone.”
― Amit Ray, Meditation: Insights and Inspirations


Carla Jo Masterson

“Love does not cost anything. Kind words and deeds do not cost anything. The real beauty of the world is equal for everyone to see. It was given by God equally to all, without restrictions.

Everyone, was given a beautiful vehicle in which to express love to others. Feelings are free to express and give to ourselves and each other through our willingness to give and care.

What is complicated about this… Why have we made others feel they have to climb mountains and swim oceans in order to make a difference.

All we need to understand my friends, is that human life was given equally to us all, not partially but in totality.

The sun was given to all. It does not shine on the few. So, just has nature is indifferent to our station or situation, we need to know that we are all equal. We need to focus on the things that are constant and not place our values on things that can be blown away with the next, great, wind.

Value life in what ever house it dwells. For when it comes time that we are all stripped to bare bones before the divine and facing eternity, we will understand that the only law we were meant to follow, was to love ourselves and each other. Nothing more…nothing less.”
― Carla Jo Masterson


T.H. White

“The Destiny of Man is to unite, not to divide. If you keep on dividing you end up as a collection of monkeys throwing nuts at each other out of separate trees.”
― T.H. White, The Once and Future King


C. JoyBell C.

“The downfall of the attempts of governments and leaders to unite mankind is found in this- in the wrong message that we should see everyone as the same. This is the root of the failure of harmony. Because the truth is, we should not all see everyone as the same! We are not the same! We are made of different colours and we have different cultures. We are all different! But the key to this door is to look at these differences, respect these differences, learn from and about these differences, and grow in and with these differences. We are all different. We are not the same. But that’s beautiful. And that’s okay.In the quest for unity and peace, we cannot blind ourselves and expect to be all the same. Because in this, we all have an underlying belief that everyone should be the same as us at some point. We are not on a journey to become the same or to be the same. But we are on a journey to see that in all of our differences, that is what makes us beautiful as a human race, and if we are ever to grow, we ought to learn and always learn some more.”
― C. JoyBell C.


“If everyone helps to hold up the sky, then one person does not become tired.”
― Askhari Johnson Hodari, Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs


Hermann Hesse

 “Whether it is good or evil, whether life in itself is pain or pleasure, whether it is uncertain-that it may perhaps be this is not important-but the unity of the world, the coherence of all events, the embracing of the big and the small from the same stream, from the same law of cause, of becoming and dying.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha


Thomas Merton

“The deepest of level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless … beyond speech … beyond concept.”
― Thomas Merton


“ONE BUT MANY

One God, many faces.
One family, many races.
One truth, many paths.
One heart, many complexions.
One light, many reflections.
One world, many imperfections.
ONE.
We are all one,
But many.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem


Marcus Aurelius

 “And in the case of superior things like stars, we discover a kind of unity in separation. The higher we rise on the scale of being, the easier it is to discern a connection even among things separated by vast distances.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


“Let us dedicate this new era to mothers around the world, and also to the mother of all mothers — Mother Earth. It is up to us to keep building bridges to bring the world closer together, and not destroy them to divide us further apart. We can pave new roads towards peace simply by understanding other cultures. This can be achieved through traveling, learning other languages, and interacting with others from outside our borders. Only then will one truly discover how we are more alike than different. Never allow language or cultural traditions to come between brothers and sisters. The same way one brother may not like his sister’s choice of fashion or hairstyle, he will never hate her for her personal style or music preference. If you judge a man, judge only his heart. And if you should do so, make sure you use the truth in your conscience when weighing one’s character. Do not measure anybody strictly based on the bad you see in them and ignore all the good.”
― Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem


 Who Said “United We Stand Divided We Fall”?

While it seems like “United we stand, divided we fall” would be the war cry of a famous soldier, its actual first recorded use dates back to Aesop and his fables. This quote can be found as a direct statement in “The Four Oxen and the Lion.” It can also be found indirectly in “The Bundle of Sticks.”   Popular biblical references Matthew 12:25 and Mark 3:25 convey the common message that a house divided against itself will not stand.  This quote can also be associated with a variety of public figures throughout history as well as writers and musicians who have used it to make an impact on their audience.

Aesop Quote Examples

The phrase “United we stand, divided we fall” has been traced back to the Greek story teller Aesop, who lived during the 6th Century B.C. Most people know him for the fables that have been handed down through time in his name, although as storytelling was an oral tradition, the true authorship of all these fables cannot be confirmed. Aesop may have penned some of the fables, but others have just been told in his name.

The Four Oxen and the Lion

The fable reads as follows:

A lion used to prowl about a field in which four oxen used to dwell. Many a time he tried to attack them; but whenever he came near they turned their tails to warn another, so that whichever way he approached them he was met by the horns of one of them. At last, however, they fell a-quarrelling [sic] among themselves, and each went off to pasture alone in the separate corner of the field. Then the Lion attacked them one by one and soon made an end of all four.

United we stand, divided we fall.

The Bundle of Sticks

The phrase, “United we stand, divided we fall,” is not used directly in this fable. However, the moral of the story is the same.

This short fable tells of a man whose sons often quarrel among themselves. To show them the benefit of working together, he brings them a bundle of sticks. He asks them to break the bundle of sticks. As expected, the brothers cannot break the sticks when they are bundled together. However, they can easily be broken individually. The moral of this story is written:

“My sons, if you are of one mind, and unite to assist each other, you will be as this bundle, uninjured by all the attempts of your enemies; but if you are divided among yourselves, you will be broken as easily as these sticks.”

Although his sentiment can be found in two of his fables, Aesop was certainly not the last one to use this quote. It has endured for thousands of years and remains an important life lesson to learn.

You can find more quotes form Aesop’s fables here.

Biblical Reference

Matthew 12:25Knowing their thoughts, he said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and no city or house divided against itself will stand.Mark 3:25And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand.Corinthians 1:10I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.

Historical Examples

There are many examples and variations of the phrase “united we stand, divided we fall” used throughout history. Some of these examples include:

  • “The Liberty Song” by John Dickinson, written in 1768.  One line in the song is: “Then join hand in hand, brave Americans all! By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall.”
  • “The Flag of Our Union” written by poet and journalist George Pope Morris in 1853. It uses the phrase in this verse: “A song for our banner! The watchword recall which gave the Republic her station: ‘United we stand, divided we fall!’ It made and preserves us a nation!”
  • Patrick Henry used the phrase in his last public speech, given in March 1799, where he said, “Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”
  • This phrase is Kentucky’s state motto and can also be found on the Missouri state flag. The flag displays two grizzly bears around a shield which has “United We Stand, Divided We Fall” written around it.

Examples in Modern Culture

There are also many references to the phrase “United we stand, divided we fall” in modern culture. While the phrase may vary in wording, the meaning remains the same. Some examples include:

  • J.K. Rowling uses a variation of the phrase in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, when Albus Dumbledore says, “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.”
  • Pink Floyd’s song “Hey You” contains the following lyric: “Hey you, don’t tell me there’s no hope at all, Together we stand, divided we fall.”
  • Def Leppard‘s song “When Love & Hate Collide” switches up the phrase in the following lyric: “I got your number on my wall, but I ain’t gonna make that call, When divided we stand baby, united we fall.”
  • Brotherhood of Man uses the phrase in their song “United We Stand” as seen in these lyrics: “For united we stand, divided we fall, And if our backs should ever be against the wall, We’ll be together, together, you and I.”
  • During Super Bowl 50, the phrase was used as part of Marvel Studio’s ad campaign for Captain America: Civil War. This phrase was a theme in the movie as well.

United We Stand… Meaning

The popular motto “united we stand, divided we fall,” often shortened to “united we stand,” is commonly used to express unity and collaboration. The phrase is used to encourage and inspire, and sends the message that working together is easier, as there is strength in numbers, whereas doing things alone is harder and invites failure. This phrase has been used time and again throughout history to rally groups together and you will still hear it used today where the message remains the same.