When Kansas was accepted into the Union, the state constitution declared that a seal would be necessary. Governor Charles Robinson brought this requirement to public attention on March 30, 1861. Committees in both the State House and the State Senate were appointed to draw up a design.
But for several months, nothing could be decided. What would the seal look like?
Different designs were proposed, but the state seal as we know it was probably an imaginative combination of two ideas.
The first idea was that of John H. McDowell, and it was fairly simple. McDowell proposed just a fitting landscape scene and a motto, which he suggested should be We will.
The second idea was proposed by John J. Ingalls, one of the most famous state senators in Kansas history. He envisioned something a little more elaborate:
…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.”
This idea was officially adopted in committee, but somehow the final design looked nothing quite like what Ingalls originally proposed. Still, some of the basic elements were there, set off by McDowell’s landscape and embellished with the visionary symbolism of the state’s earliest enthusiasts. The state seal in its present form was finally adopted on May 25, 1861.
- The East: In the words of the joint resolution which established the seal, “The east is represented by a rising sun.” It was to the East that Kansas owed its settlement.
- The West: “Beyond this is a train of ox-wagons, going west.” It was Westward Expansion which brought the Easterners to Kansas in the first place.
- The Indians: “In the background is seen a herd of buffalo, retreating, pursued by two Indians, on horseback.” Even in that early day, the Indians and the bison were recognized as part of the heritage of the state.
- Commerce: “Commerce is represented by a river and a steamboat.” Trade along the Missouri and Kansas rivers was an important part of the state economy in those days.
- Agriculture: “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.” Agriculture always has been important to Kansas, and still is today.
- The Landscape: McDowell’s landscape did make it onto the seal. No one is entirely sure what hills are portrayed in the background, but some think that they represent the rolling landscape around present-day Fort Riley.
- The Motto: Ingalls’s motto was included, too. Ad astra per aspera means, “To the stars through difficulties,” reflective of the hardships the people faced prior to statehood.
- The Stars: Just as on the American flag, the 34 stars on the seal represent states, Kansas being the 34th state.
Uses of the Seal
The state constitution explained the purpose of the seal:
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.
In 1879, the state legislature added further directions:
[The seal] shall be used only in attestation of the proclamations, commissions and executive warrants issued by the governor.
When the state flag was adopted in 1927, the seal appeared as the centerpiece of the design.