Monday, December 13, 2010

Kansas State Seal

This week’s Kansas 150 blog provides links to information about the State Seal of Kansas.

For the first fifty years of statehood, Kansas only had two symbols: the sunflower and the state seal. Since then, these symbols have been joined by other statutory symbols such as the Cottonwood, the Western Meadowlark and the Ornate Box Turtle.

Our State Seal is provided for by the Kansas Constitution, article 1, section 9: “There shall be a seal of the state, which shall be kept by the governor, and used by him officially, and which shall be the great seal of Kansas. All commissions shall be issued in the name of the state of Kansas; and shall be signed by the governor, countersigned by the secretary of state, and sealed with the great seal.”

But why have a seal? Why would a governing body need this colorful graphic?

Frank Blackmar in his 1912 book, Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history..., tells us that “from the earliest period of history the seal has been used 'by individuals, corporate bodies and states, for making impressions on instruments of writing, as an evidence of their authenticity.' Every civilized country has its great seal, …. Prior to the Revolution, each of the American colonies had its seal, which in most instances, with some modifications, became the seal of state after the formation of the Federal Union. And almost the first act of every state, upon its admission into the Union, has been to adopt by suitable legislation a design for a great seal of state. Even before admission, and while under a temporary government as an organized territory, a seal has been found necessary as a testimony of official sanction or authority.”

Throughout its history Kansas has always had an official seal. During the territorial period a Seal was designed featuring a pioneer holding a rifle and hatchet opposite the goddess of agriculture, Ceres, encircled with a Latin motto translated as “Born by the voice of the people” or “Born of the popular will”. Encircling the border were the words: “Seal of the Territory of Kansas, Erected May 30, 1854." The Territorial Seal was designed by Governor Andrew Reeder and now resides at the Kansas Museum of History.

The Wyandotte Constitution of 1859, which was eventually adopted as the State Constitution, required that "There shall be a seal of state, which shall be kept by the governor, and used by him officially; and which shall be the great seal of Kansas."

In Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history Blackmar related the adoption of the State Seal as one of the first actions of state government soon after Kansas entered the Union:

"In his first message to the new State Legislature in 1861, Governor Charles Robinson called attention to the requirement for a seal. A committee was soon appointed and it drafted a resolution and the legislature approved a resolution which described the newly designed seal: 'The east is represented by a rising sun on the right hand corner of the seal; to the left of it, commerce is represented by a river and a steamboat; in the foreground, agriculture is represented as the basis of the future prosperity of the state, by a settler's cabin and a man plowing with a pair of horses; beyond this, is a train of ox wagons going west; in the background is seen a herd of buffalo, retreating, pursued by two Indians on horseback; around the top is the motto: 'Ad astra per aspera'—and beneath a cluster of 34 stars; the circle is surrounded by the words 'Great Seal of the State of Kansas, January 29, 1861'”. (General Laws of the State of Kansas. 1861, ch.78. )

John J. Ingalls is credited with being instrumental in designing the State Seal and is largely credited with choosing the motto, Ad astra per aspera. Suggestions for mottos that were not accepted: “We will”, countered with “We won’t”.

In 1927 a state flag was established with the seal as a basic element of the flag.

Often the term “Great Seal” is confused with the “State Seal”. The Great Seal is used only by the governor, is encircled by a double rope border with the date January 29, 1861, the date on which Kansas became the 34th state and includes the words “The Great Seal of the State of Kansas”. Other usage of the seal should not include the rope border with the described text.


In an address before the Kansas Historical Society on Jan. 17, 1883, Robert Hay said: “All the seal is historic, but suggestive of a fact that will be true forever, that the conquest of difficulties is the way to moral as well as to political success.”

“There’s No Place Like Home: Symbols and Images of Kansas”
(magazine article : Kansas History, vol. 8, no. 3 (Autumn, 1985), p. 138-161)
(An excellent article by James Nottage and Floyd R. Thomas, Jr. on Kansas symbols which can be purchased from the Kansas State Historical Society or requested via interlibrary loan from the State Library of Kansas.)

A picture of the Great Seal, suitable for coloring, can be found on the Secretary of State’s web site.

A detailed description on each of the elements found on the Seal and their meaning is provided on the Governor's website.

Kansas Statute Annotated 75-201 - 203
(The legal description of the State Seal)

Article by: Cindy Roupe
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