Dakota Datebook

The Great Seal

Monday, December 1, 2008

  After the creation of Dakota Territory in 1861, the new territory had to be organized … and it turned out to be a rough and tumble process. The newly elected territorial legislature had to tackle a wide variety of issues including a code of civil procedures, ferry charters and future election dates. As legislators debated, discussion sometimes reached a fever pitch. For instance, the debate regarding the location of the new territorial capital grew so heated, the governor ordered armed US troops from Company A, Dakota Cavalry to the legislative hall. They stood behind the speaker’s podium for the remainder of the first legislative session; their presence preventing any riot or disorder.
But not all early decisions were wrought with such political strife. Shortly after the second Territorial legislature convened on this date in 1862, they were presented a bill establishing a Great Seal for the Territory of Dakota. After debating difficult and divisive issues, the legislators finally found an act they could rally around. The Great Seal bill passed without any opposition and the governor signed it into law on January 3, 1863.

The territorial seal featured an imposing tree in an open field; its trunk, surrounded by a bundle of rods, bound with three bands. To the right of the tree stood a plow, anvil, sledge, rake and fork. On the left, a bow crossed with three arrows and an Indian on horseback chasing a buffalo towards the setting sun. Above the tree, thirteen stars arched in a half circle around the tree’s foliage. A quote from Daniel Webster was included, reading, “Liberty and Union, one and inseparable, now and forever.” At the bottom of the seal, the words “Dakota Territory” were inscribed on the left, and “March 2, 1861” on the right.

If the description of the territorial Great Seal sounds familiar, it should. When North Dakota ratified its new state constitution in 1889, it described a new state seal very similar to the territorial seal. The words “Dakota Territory” were updated to read “State of North Dakota” and the territorial admission date was replaced by October 1, 1889; the date voters approved the state constitution. The bundle of rods was replaced by three bundles of wheat and the thirteen stars became forty-two. But much of the seal remained the same.

Since statehood, the actual design of the North Dakota Great Seal has varied through the years; the most recent design approved in 1987. But the general content has remained much the same as originally imagined by the territorial legislators over a century ago.

Written by Christina Sunwall

Sources:
“Great Seal of the State of North Dakota”, North Dakota Secretary of State http://www.nd.gov/sos/seal/greatseal.html.
Kingsbury, George W. History of Dakota Territory. Vol. 1 South Dakota: Its History and Its People, ed. George Martin Smith. Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1915.
Trinka, Zena Irma. North Dakota of Today. 3rd ed. Saint Paul: Louis F. Dow Co., 1920.

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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