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The term “state seal” refers to both a design incorporating specified symbolic or artistic elements created for use by the state government and a device that embosses, prints, or otherwise affixes replicas of the design onto official documents. Affixing the official seal to a document is meant to signify its authenticity as a document of state, in lieu of or in addition to the signature of the issuing official or officials. Seals were once commonly embossed into “sealing wax” (a heat-softened compound of shellac, other resins, chalk or plaster, and pigment) but today are more usually embossed into the document’s surface or affixed as a gold-foil sticker.
The present official state seal of Arkansas derives from the territorial seal designed and drawn in 1820 by Samuel Calhoun Roane, engrossing clerk of the state House of Representatives. When Arkansas became a state in 1836, the legislature ordained that the seal be altered by substituting “Seal of the State of Arkansas” for its original territorial designation. An 1856 enactment specified the “impressions, emblems and devices” to be included in all renderings of the state seal. The law named sixteen separate elements, plus the words and phrases “Regnant Populi” (Latin for “the people rule”), “Mercy,” “Justice,” and “Seal of the State of Arkansas.” This seal remained in use until 1864, when the legislature adopted a new design that survives to this day. The only substantial alteration since 1864 occurred in 1907, when Regnant Populi, the Latin motto on the 1864 seal, was changed to Regnat Populus. This change was apparently the result of recognition that populi indicates a plurality of groups—that is, “peoples” rather than “people.”
Today’s state seal retains many of the symbolic elements of its territorial predecessor. Arkansas Code 1-4-108 requires the governor to procure a seal bearing the following elements: an eagle at the bottom, holding a scroll in its beak inscribed Regnat Populus, with a bundle of arrows in one claw and an olive branch in the other; a shield covering the breast of the eagle, engraved with a steamboat at the top, a beehive and plow in the middle, and a sheaf of wheat at the bottom; the Goddess of Liberty at the top, holding a wreath in her right hand, a pole in the left hand, surmounted by a liberty cap, and surrounded by a circle of stars outside of which is a circle of rays; the figure of an angel on the left, inscribed “Mercy;” and a sword on the right hand, inscribed “Justice” and surrounded with the words “Seal of the State of Arkansas.”
The Arkansas Code does not specify the uses of the seal, but stipulates that it “shall be kept by the Governor, used by him.” The secretary of state, auditor, and treasurer each employ a seal of office embodying the same design elements presented by the state seal. The words surrounding the emblems indicate the respective constitutional offices.
For additional information:
Herndon, Dallas. Centennial History of Arkansas. Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1922.
Jenkinson, Sir Hilary. Guide to Seals in the Public Record Office. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1954.
Shearer, Benjamin F., and Barbara Smith Shearer. State Names, Seals, Flags and Symbols—A Historical Guide. New York: Greenwood Press, 1989.
Ware, David. It’s Official! The Real Story behind Arkansas’s State Symbols. 2nd ed. Little Rock: Butler Center Books, 2017.
Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office
Last Updated 2/14/2018
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