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What Is the History of the State Seal of Indiana?

N. Swensson
N. Swensson

The overall design of the state seal of Indiana has been in use since it was a territory, and the first constitution specified that it should be used on official documents. The main elements of the artwork include the sun shining over mountains behind a field of bluegrass with a buffalo and a woodsman chopping down a tree in the foreground. An official description of the state seal, however, was not written into law until 1963, resulting in a great deal of inconsistency in its use. The state seal of Indiana has also been criticized for not accurately representing the state’s geography. In 2004 and 2005, motions were filed with the legislature to change the official description of the setting sun on the seal to a rising sun in response to criticism of this element in the artwork.

When Indiana was the Northwest Territory of the United States, a seal was used to designate official documents, but there was no written documentation to legitimize its use. The design, which has remained largely the same over the years, was encircled by the words, “The Seal of the Territory of the U.S. N.W. of the River Ohio.” It also contained the motto, “Meliorem lapsa locavit!" which means, “He has planted a better than the fallen.” These words illustrate the symbolic meaning of the state seal of Indiana, which is to show a better civilization arising from chaotic and wild origins.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

In 1801, a provision was added to the written laws of the Northwest Territory requiring the use of an official seal, but a description still was absent. This omission persisted throughout the process of Indiana becoming a state, and again the official laws of the state called for the use of a state seal with no standardized description of its appearance. Over the years, different versions of the seal were used for this reason, and the artwork was repeatedly changed to reflect the preferences of the time. In the early 1900s, critics of the state seal of Indiana asserted that the setting sun behind the mountains was inaccurate because there are no mountains in western Indiana and the Rocky Mountains are not visible from the state.

Despite the criticism of the setting sun on the state seal of Indiana, this description was included in the official law that standardized the seal in 1963. Some who have written about the seal believe that the sun is meant to be rising in the east, signifying the birth of a new society in Indiana. It has also been suggested that the mountains are actually hills and that the orientation of the sun is therefore not inaccurate. The controversy has persisted into the current decade, however, with motions appearing before the Indiana legislature in 2004 and 2005 to change the legal description to that of a rising sun.

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