The current state seal of Illinois has been in use since 1868 and was preceded by two state and two territorial seals. The first seal was that of the Northwest Territory adopted in 1788, which was followed in 1809 by that of the Illinois Territory. Once Illinois became a state in 1818, the first Assembly ordered state officials to design a seal. This first state seal of Illinois was in use until it was redesigned in 1839. The second state seal of Illinois yielded to the current third state seal design in 1868.
The first state seal of Illinois was authorized by the Assembly in February 1819, just two months after joining the Union. Its design mimicked that of the official seal of the United States. An eagle bared a red and white striped shield and held 13 arrows in its left talon and an olive branch in its right talon. The eagle was encased by a border that included the date of Illinois statehood. This design was re-cut but essentially unchanged for the second state seal of Illinois used from 1839 to 1868.
In early 1867, then Secretary of State Sharon Tyndale decided that the second state seal should be retired in favor of a new design. The secretary wanted a design that was dissimilar to the national seal that would set Illinois apart as a state. He lobbied State Senator Allen C. Fuller to introduce a bill that would call for a new design and entrust the secretary of state with carrying out this task.
Although the bill was passed in March 1867, it was not without some controversy. The Illinois state motto was, and remains, “State Sovereignty, National Union.” Secretary Tyndale wanted to reverse the motto on the redesigned seal to read “National Union, State Sovereignty.” The American Civil War had ended two years prior in 1865, and the secretary wanted to emphasize union over state. The bill kept the original syntax, but did not limit the secretary’s flexibility with regard to seal design.
The redesigned third state seal of Illinois kept the eagle bearing a shield, but the bird of prey now stood atop a rock with a rising sun in the background. It is clutching the shield in its talons with the olive branch on the ground beneath it. The rock bears the dates 1868 and 1818, the dates of the adoption of the new seal and of Illinois statehood, respectively.
The eagle holds a banner in its beak with the state motto. Although Secretary Tyndale did not change the syntax, he did arrange the motto in such a way that “National Union” is emphasized as he wanted. The phrase “State Sovereignty” is first, but below “National Union.” Additionally, the banner is twisted in such a way that “Sovereignty” is upside down and therefore harder to read.
The seal is shaped like a circle. Surrounding the design is the date of adoption of the first Illinois Constitution on 16 August 1818 in Kaskaskia. The top arc of the circle reads, “Seal of the State of Illinois.” Although this third seal has been modified several times since 1868, the design remains intact.
Use of the state seal of Illinois or the reproduction of it is allowed only in those circumstances described in Chapter Five of the Illinois Compiled Statutes. In the State Designations Act, the secretary of state is the designated keeper of the state seal of Illinois. He or she can allow others to inspect and reproduce the seal.
State seals are the official emblems of the individual American states. They are symbols that represent unique facets of each state and commemorate important dates. State seals are often used on official state government documents as proof of their authenticity and authority.