Transcribed from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar.

Seal of State.—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, and in some monarchies, England for example, the king has his privy 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.

Wilder (Annals of Kansas. p. 55) quotes from the Easton (Pa.) Argus, early in Jan., 1855, the following description of the territorial seal of Kansas:

"We have just seen the seal of the Territory of Kansas, engraved by Robert Lovett, of Philadelphia, according to the design of Gov. Reeder. It consists of a shield with two supporters, surmounted by a scroll motto, and is emblematic of the life of the pioneer and the agriculturalist. The lower compartment of the shield contains the buffalo and the hunter; the upper contains the implements of agriculture. The left-hand supporter is a pioneer with his smock frock, leggins, rifle and tomahawk; whilst on the right is the goddess Ceres with her sheaf; at their feet, and between them, lie a fallen tree and an axe. The motto is a beautiful allusion to the principle on which the territory was organized, and consists of 'Populi voce nata,' thus translated—Born of the popular will."

Hay says this seal was two inches in diameter, and that in addition to the above description it had around the margin the legend: "Seal of the Territory of Kansas, erected May 30, 1854."

Article I, section 8, of the Wyandotte constitution provided 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 his message to the first state legislature, which met on March 26, 1861, Gov. Robinson called attention to this constitutional provision, and on April 9 the following resolution was introduced in the senate and referred to the committee on ways and means: "Resolved, That a committee of three be appointed on behalf of the senate to act with a like committee on the part of the house to draw and recommend a design for the great seal of the State of Kansas." The resolution was subsequently adopted, the house took similar action, and the joint committee began its work. Numerous devices and mottoes were considered and more than a month passed before a design was finally selected, On May 17 the senate amended the house joint resolution relating to the seal, the house refused to concur in the amendment, and a conference committee was appointed, which on the 20th reported the design that was ultimately adopted. On the 22nd both houses adopted the report of the conference committee and the following resolution:

"Be it resolved by the governor and legislature of the State of Kansas, That the secretary of state be and he is required to procure, as soon as possible, the great seal of the State of Kansas, the design and device following, to-wit:

"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.'"

Although the constitution placed the great seal in the custody of the governor, to be "used by him officially," section II of the act of June 3, 1861, relating to state officers, provided that the secretary of state should, "at all times, have access to the great seal of the state, and may use the same in verification of his official acts, in all cases when such use may not be in conflict with the constitution of the state or prohibited by law."

There has been some controversy as to who suggested the design for the seal, particularly the motto "Ad astra per aspera." Richard Cordley made the claim that the motto was selected by Josiah Miller, who was a member of the joint committee to select a design, and the inscription on Mr. Miller's monument so states. Others claim the honor for the late John J. Ingalls, who was secretary of the state senate at the time the great seal was adopted. Under date of Oct. 10, 1888, Mr. Ingalls, then United States senator, wrote from Washington to F. D. Coburn a letter regarding the seal, in which he said: "A joint committee was appointed to present a design for the great seal of state, and I suggested a sketch embracing a single star rising from clouds at the base of a field, with the constellation (representing the number of states then in the Union) above, accompanied by the motto, 'Ad astra per aspera.' . . . The clouds at the base were intended to represent the perils and troubles of our territorial history; the star emerging therefrom, the new state; the constellation, like that on the flag, the Union to which, after a stormy struggle, it had been admitted. The motto 'Ad astra per aspera' means, literally, 'To the stars through difficulties.' Had my original design been adopted without modification, its significance would have been apparent."

Concerning the motto, Mr. Ingalls said on another occasion: "The first time I ever saw it was on an old brass seal in the office of the gentleman with whom I read law in Haverhill, Mass., in 1857. The same thought is expressed in many different ways, but 'Ad astra per aspera' seemed the most melodious, and so I selected it for my sketch. With a motto, as with a proverb, the question is not whether it is original, but whether it is appropriate."

In an address before the Kansas Historical Society on Jan. 17, 1883, Robert Hay said: "John H. McDowell, of the state library committee, suggested a design with a landscape, something like that afterwards adopted, and the emphatic motto 'We will.' The design as submitted to the committee by Mr. Ingalls consisted of a blue shield at the base of a cloud, out of which was emerging one silver star to join the constellation in the firmament, comprising the thirty-four then in the Union, with the motto 'Ad astra per aspera.' The cloud symbolized the struggles through which we had passed; the star, the state; the constellation, the Union. The motto was both descriptive and suggestive, and the entire design simple, unique and satisfactory. It was so satisfactory to the committee that they adopted it entire. But after that some of the 'wild heralds of the frontier' altered it by mixing a steamboat and plowing with buffalo hunting, etc., till really nothing but the motto is Mr. Ingalls,' and the landscape is probably substantially the one submitted by Mr. McDowell. 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. John J. Ingalls is now United States senator from Kansas, and his life has not been unmarked by usefulness, but in years to come he will probably be most proud of the fact that he gave our prosperous state its noble motto, which has been the text of many a sermon and the starting-point of many a career."

Great Seal of Kansas


From the foregoing, it would appear that the preponderance of evidence supports the claim of Mr. Ingalls. But, whoever designated the seal and suggested the motto, both design and motto are appropriate and tell in symbolism the story of Kansas' struggles and the perseverance of her pioneers.

Late in the year 1869 there was some agitation in favor of changing the design of the great seal of state. No good reason could be assigned, however, for the change, and the movement came to naught. The Atchison Champion and Press for Jan. 22, 1870, in discussing editorially the proposition to alter the design, paid the following tribute to the great seal as it stands "It is, in print, the most beautiful design for a seal ever adopted. It is suggestive, tasty, appropriate. It is associated with the most thrilling events in the history of our young state. It is on the commission of every officer who went out from Kansas to do battle for the imperiled country. It is on the certificate of eletcion[sic] of every civil officer who served the state during the struggling years of its infancy. To change it would not only involve unnecessary expense, but create confusion."

Pages 657-660 from volume II of Kansas: a cyclopedia of state history, embracing events, institutions, industries, counties, cities, towns, prominent persons, etc. ... / with a supplementary volume devoted to selected personal history and reminiscence. Standard Pub. Co. Chicago : 1912. 3 v. in 4. : front., ill., ports.; 28 cm. Vols. I-II edited by Frank W. Blackmar. Transcribed July 2002 by Carolyn Ward.