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What Is the History of the State Seal of Arkansas?

Terrie Brockmann
Terrie Brockmann

In 1820, Samuel Calhoun Roane designed the forerunner to the current state seal of Arkansas. Later, when Arkansas became a state in 1836, the seal became the "Seal of the State of Arkansas" and contained many of the elements of Roane's design. The state legislature passed a law in 1856 that required several elements on the seal, including the words Regnat Populi, which means "The People Rule." Like many state seals, the state seal of Arkansas has undergone several changes, but the current design is very similar to the one adopted in 1864. Populi was changed to Populus in 1907 because the word more accurately describes "people."

Roane's design for the territorial seal has many similarities to the current state seal of Arkansas, such as featuring the liberty staff or pole topped with a liberty cap. This symbol of liberty and freedom has been on each of the state's seals. Another common element is the shield, although Roane decorated his shield with steamboat in the top section, a plow and a beehive in the middle one as well as a star in the third section. Later designers changed the star to a sheaf of wheat to symbolize the state's agricultural production. His territorial seal and all subsequent seals also feature Goddess of Liberty holding the liberty staff and cap in one hand and the wreath of victory in the other.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

Some of the earlier territorial seals spelled the state's name as "Arkansaw," which was the original spelling. One of these seals, designed in 1832, had two flags flanking a shield. This is similar to Roane's design which has two eagles holding the shield. Modern versions of the seal feature one eagle with the shield covering his breast.

There are other differences between Roane's original design and the current state seal of Arkansas. Whereas the modern design features only 13 stars, his had 26 encircling the goddess of liberty. In the border on the left side, Roane placed the scales of justice and a sword. On the right side, he had a shield, the liberty staff and cap, and a gun. His design incorporated the staff and cap twice, which designers dropped to only one in subsequent designs.

As is typical of symbols, such as state seals, the designs often reflect popular elements or designs. An example of this in the state seal of Arkansas is that the 12 stars with fine lines in the 1876 design are more pronounced with heavier, more decorative lines in the 1889 design. The 1889 design also introduces a larger, decorative wreath of victory in the goddess of liberty's hand. Over the years, the legislature instigated other design changes to improve the seal, including adding the name "Mercy" onto the angel, adding "Justice" to the sword, and changing the Latin word Populi to Populus. Populi means "a group of people" whereas Populus means "people," which is more indicative of the state motto.

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