Discover the Georgia State Seal: History, Symbolisim, and Meaning

Great Seal of Georgia
iStock.com/Danica Jovanov

Written by Justin Zipprich

Updated: April 10, 2023

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The friendly and gorgeous state of Georgia has a lot to offer. In addition to being known for peaches, old cities, southern hospitality, and being the birthplace of many influential people, like Martin Luther King, among others, this state is also beloved for its state seal. It’s a sign of law and justice, and it means a lot to the people that call Georgia home. Let’s look into the history of the Georgia state seal and other facts about this historical icon.

What is the Georgia State Seal?

US state Georgia seal flag painted on concrete hole and cracked wall facade structure

The Great Seal of Georgia is double-sided and it shows their pride in law and justice.

The main face of the Georgia state seal shows the state’s coat of arms. This is shown as the three pillars of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government. In between two of the pillars is a man holding a drawn sword. He is there to defend the Constitution and the principles of “wisdom, justice, and moderation.” At the bottom of the seal is the year 1776, which is when the United States declared independence.

On the back of the state seal is a display of a scene of agriculture and commerce in the form of a ship with cotton and tobacco and a man plowing. 

History of the Georgia State Seal

In 1732, after the first settlement of Georgia, a charger was granted by the trustees that ordered an official seal to be designed and presented for approval. The mission of the people in that day was to produce agricultural commodities that they could export to England. Early exports were silk, indigo, and wine. The idea of agriculture and trade greatly influenced the early designs of the seal. In 1752, the first designs for the seal were pitched.

The original Georgia state seal was created in 1777. The idea then would be that the seal of the state would have one side with a scroll that should say “The Constitution of the State of Georgia” along with the motto “Pro bono publico.” 

On the other side of the seal, they said there would be buildings, including an elegant house, fields of corn, a meadow covered with cattle and sheep, a river, and a ship with a full sail riding upon it. Included on this side would be the motto “Deus nobis haec otia fecit.”

The Official Design in 1799

An act of legislature pushed through on February 8, 1799, stated that the seal should instead feature a view of the seashore that includes a ship with the flag of the United States. The ship would be riding near a wharf that is receiving bales of cotton and tobacco. Also, at a small distance, there would also be a boat that is landing from the interior, which resembles internal traffic.

On the back part of that side of the seal, there would be a man pushing a plow, and from a small distance, there would be a flock of sheep that is shaded by a flowering tree. Finally, that side would feature the motto of agriculture and commerce. 

On the other side, there would be three pillars that support an arch with the word “constitution” supported by the three departments of the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government. There would be words at the bottom of each pillar. On one, it would say “wisdom,” on another “justice,” and on the third one, “moderation.” On the right, there would be a man standing and holding a sword with his right hand. He represents aid of the military in defense of the Constitution. Finally, it would say “State of Georgia 1799.”

With the design finalized, a “great seal” would be produced that would be used to mark official documents until the present day.

1867 to 1871

There’s a bit of additional history starting in 1867. During the years of 1968 to 1871, there was a time in Georgia known as the period of reconstruction. This was when a combination of negative events, including wartime damage, a post-slavery hit to the workforce, and bad weather almost destroyed the state’s crops, and there was much death, so a new Reconstruction government was formed. 

Because of all this drama, the Georgia Seal was not used for state business from 1868 to 1871. The physical great seal was hidden to prevent its use by Federal forces. Since they couldn’t use it, the Restriction government created a fake seal. It looked almost identical to the real one with the exception of one minute detail: the soldier kept the sword in his left hand instead of his right. Many people of the time called this period the “Period of the False Seal.”

In 1871, when local rule resumed in Georgia, they returned the original seal to the capital and continued its use.

Three Governors Controversy

More drama ensued in December 1946. Before assuming office, the man who was elected as the new Governor, Eugene Talmadge, died right before assuming office. His son, Herman Talmadge, was then appointed to be Governor by the state legislature.

The decision was challenged by Lieutenant Governor-elect Melvin Thompson. He maintained that the state constitution said that he should be Governor as second in command. At the same time, outgoing Governor Ellis Arnall decided that he would not relinquish the responsibilities of Governor until it was made clear who would be Governor going forward. History would know this as the “three Governors controversy.”

With no decision set in stone, all three potential Governors stayed at the State Capital and occupied different offices in the building. Knowing this was madness, the Secretary of State, Ben W. Fortson, Jr, took the great seal and hid it. The reason was that, without it, none of the three gentlemen could execute any official business until the Supreme Court of Georgia ironed things out. Eventually, the legislature ruled that the son, Herman Talmadge should be made Governor, and the seal was restored.

Even until this day, it’s still the responsibility of the Secretary of the State to act as the keeper of the great seal of Georgia.

Other Uses of the Georgia State Seal

Historic steel archway on the campus of the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia, USA.

This The Arch that sits at the University of Georgia. It is a recreation of the arches on the Georgia state seal.

Many people and institutions have used elements of the Georgia State Seal in their designs and architecture. In 1857, the University of Georgia created a cast iron recreation of the architectural elements featured on the seal. Known as “The Arch,” and crafted from existing materials, it sits at the north entrance of the campus. While not an exact match, it’s close enough. In addition to being a symbol of justice, the arch also helped to keep cows from entering and roaming over parts of the campus back when that was an issue. 

The students also have a bit of fun with The Arch. As a superstitious joke, they say that it’s bad luck for freshmen to walk under it. They also joke that students who go under the arch during that time will never graduate. 

Permission to Use

The officials in Georgia do not take their seal lightly. There are strict rules that say that the seal cannot be used for marketing and advertising purposes. Any requests to use the seal must be submitted in writing to be reviewed by the Office of the Governor. Even if someone were able to use it, the state requires the right to remove the seal immediately if they deem it necessary. 

Conclusion

This is the wild history of the Georgia state seal. While there weren’t many twists and turns during the design of the seal, once it was produced, it had an interesting journey. Visit the Georgia State Capitol, and you’re sure to see this great seal in all its glory.


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About the Author

Justin Zipprich is a writer at A-Z Animals, where his primary focus is travel, state facts, pets, and mammals. Justin has been writing and editing animal content for over 7 years, though he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Instructional Technology from Western Illinois University, which he earned in 2005. As a resident of Texas, he loves discovering local animals and spending time with his wife and two kids.

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