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Cool Things - Kansas Territory Seal

Kansas' territorial seal

This was the official seal of Kansas' territorial government from 1854 until 1861.

Hundreds of people came to Kansas Territory to defend either the pro-slavery or anti-slavery causes in the years leading up to the Civil War. Everyone knew when Kansas became a state it would alter the balance of power between North and South, and for a time Bleeding Kansas was the focus of the nation. Hundreds of people came to Kansas Territory to defend either the pro-slavery or anti-slavery causes in the years leading up to the Civil War.

Despite (or perhaps because of) this conflict, Kansas Territory chose to represent itself as a stable and civilized place. One example is the image chosen by the territorial government for its official seal.

Seals have been used as emblems of authority throughout history. The impression of a seal attached to a document is a sign of the approval and power of the sender. Kansas' territorial seal supposedly was engraved by Robert Lovett of Philadelphia from a design developed by Andrew Reeder, the first Territorial Governor of Kansas. The Kansas Historical Society has documents in its collections affixed with this seal.

Deciphering the Seal's Symbols

Encircling the border of the two-inch brass die is the text, "SEAL OF THE TERRITORY OF KANSAS / ERECTED MAY 30, 1854." The face features a pioneer holding a rifle and hatchet opposite Ceres (the goddess of agriculture) who stands next to a sheaf of grain. At their feet lie a tree and the axe that felled it. Between these two figures is a shield with a plow in the top compartment and a hunter stalking a buffalo below. No doubt these symbols were carefully chosen to represent Kansas as brimming with nature's bounty and filled with promise.

Above the shield is a banner reading, "POPULI VOCENATA." This Latin motto has been translated to read "Born by the voice of the people" or "Born of the popular will." The motto speaks directly to the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, creating the territory and establishing popular sovereignty whereby voting residents would decide if Kansas became a slave or free state. Unfortunately, this resulted in sporadic acts of violence as both sides fought for control. Perhaps the most famous are the murders of five proslavery men by John Brown and his sons in 1856, and the Marais de Cygnes massacre in which five free-state men were killed in 1858.

The territorial period is terribly complex in terms of political history. At one time there were two separate legislatures, one proslavery and the other free-state. Four different constitutions were written. An anti-slavery document finally was adopted by popular vote and Kansas entered the union as a free state on January 29, 1861. About three months later, the first shots of the Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter, South Carolina. On May 20, 1861, Kansas' official state seal was adopted, thereby making the territorial seal obsolete.

The territorial seal remained in the custody of the Kansas Secretary of State's office for well over a century. It was transferred to the Kansas Museum of History in a public ceremony during the 1999 legislative session.

Learn more about Kansas' territorial period in the online exhibit, Willing to Die for Freedom.

Entry: Cool Things - Kansas Territory Seal

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: March 2001

Date Modified: May 2013

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.