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The history of the state seal of Mississippi goes back to the 18th century. The image that would become the official seal was first chosen in 1798, when it was adopted as the seal of the Mississippi Territory. The territorial seal officially became the state seal of Mississippi when Mississippi gained statehood in 1817 and has kept the same design since that time. The imagery of the seal is even older and was likely influenced by sources predating the existence of the state of Mississippi and the United States of America itself by centuries.
The state seal of Mississippi depicts a gold bald eagle on a white background. The eagle holds arrows in one of its talons and an olive branch in the other, representing war and peace. On the eagle's chest is a shield, with a group of white stars on a blue field in the upper area of the shield and a series of vertical red and white stripes below it. The eagle is surrounded by a blue circle, with the words “The Great Seal of the State of Mississippi” wrapped around it in gold letters and surrounded by a second, larger blue circle.
The seal's history actually extends beyond the state of Mississippi as it exists today. At the time of the seal's original adoption as the seal of the Mississippi Territory, that territory's boundaries encompassed not only the modern state of Mississippi, but Alabama as well. When Mississippi became a state in 1817, the territorial seal was adopted by the newly established state of Mississippi while the remainder of what had been the Mississippi Territory was re-designated by Congress as the Alabama Territory until the state of Alabama was admitted to the Union in 1819.
The principal feature of the image, the bald eagle holding arrows and an olive branch in its claws and bearing a red, white, and blue shield on its chest, is based on the similar eagle eagle depicted on the Great Seal of the United States. The US seal, in which the eagle holds an olive branch and 13 arrows to represent the original 13 states, was adopted by Congress in 1782 after a series of committees spent six years considering various designs. Bald eagles clutching arrows also appear on the seals of the states of New Mexico and Utah, and the seals of Illinois and Pennsylvania also depict an eagle supporting a shield.
The image of an eagle bearing a shield, or of an eagle or some other animal holding or located near a group of arrows or an olive branch, goes back even further. An eagle supporting a shield appears in some heraldry and coins from continental Europe, though the use of a bald eagle, a species native to North America, was an innovation. The coat of arms of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, commonly known simply as the Dutch Republic, depicted a lion holding a sword in its front right paw and seven arrows, one for each of the seven provinces. The Dutch Republic was the world's foremost example of a republican government formed through a confederation of individual states at the time the US seal was adopted, and the Dutch constitution was an influence on the political thought of many of America's founders. Thus, this image may also have been an inspiration for the Great Seal of the United States and consequently the state seal of Mississippi.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the significance of the eagle in the Mississippi state seal?
The eagle in the Mississippi state seal represents American strength and independence. It is a national symbol of the United States, embodying freedom and the country's ideals. The eagle holds an olive branch and a bundle of arrows in its talons, symbolizing a nation's desire for peace but readiness for war. This imagery is consistent with the Great Seal of the United States, reflecting Mississippi's identity as part of the Union.
When was the current Mississippi state seal officially adopted?
The current Mississippi state seal was officially adopted on July 1, 2014, after Governor Phil Bryant signed Senate Bill 2681. This legislation updated the design to reflect the seal that had been in use unofficially for many years, ensuring consistency in the state's branding and legal documents. The design includes the words "The Great Seal of the State of Mississippi" around the perimeter.
Has the Mississippi state seal undergone any changes throughout its history?
Yes, the Mississippi state seal has undergone several changes throughout its history. The original seal, adopted in 1818, featured an eagle with a shield, an olive branch, and arrows. Over the years, variations occurred due to inconsistencies in manufacturing and lack of official specifications. The most recent change, in 2014, standardized the design to match the seal that had been used in practice for many years.
What do the stars and stripes on the shield of the Mississippi state seal represent?
The stars and stripes on the shield of the Mississippi state seal represent the original thirteen colonies of the United States. This imagery is a nod to the nation's history and Mississippi's place within it. The shield is held by the eagle, which is a common element in American heraldry and signifies the state's allegiance to the country and its foundational principles.
Where can one view the official Mississippi state seal?
The official Mississippi state seal can be viewed on various state documents, government buildings, and official publications. It is used to authenticate documents issued by the state and is a symbol of the authority and sovereignty of Mississippi. For those interested in seeing the seal in person, visiting the Mississippi State Capitol in Jackson would provide an opportunity to see the seal displayed prominently.