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The history of the state seal of Georgia illustrates the state's plentiful natural resources, its dedication to equity, wisdom and the United States Constitution. Georgia's state seal was adopted in 1799 and has changed very little. The original seal stated "1799," but the date was changed to "1776" in 1914. This change to 1776 more accurately reflects Georgia's ardent dedication to the cause of independence and reliance on the Constitution for wisdom, moderation and justice for all.
A state seal is more than a representation of the state's history and patriotism. The seal is the binding sign of official state documents and enactments, which the Georgian government takes very seriously. According to state law, the secretary of the state is steward of the state seal of Georgia. The secretary oversees the use of the seal and ensures that the seal retains its authority as the official insignia of Georgian state business. Twice, the seal was stashed away by a member of Georgian government to protect the seal and its legal, binding authority.
In 1868, after the American Civil War and throughout the Reconstruction era, Georgia was ruled by an occupying, unelected military government led by Union General Thomas Ruger. General Ruger drafted an executive order and required the state seal of Georgia to authorize the act. Georgian Secretary of State, Nathan Barrett, refused to certify the order with the state seal and was removed from office for insubordination. Secretary Barrett confiscated the seal and hid it under his home until 1873 when Georgians regained control of their state government.
In 1947, the state seal of Georgia was again stashed away during the Three Governor's Controversy. Eugene Talmadge, newly elected as Georgia governor, unexpectedly died, sparking a power struggle for the position. The Georgia legislature voted for Talmadge's son, the new lieutenant governor believed he should fill the position, and the current governor refused to vacate office. Secretary of State Ben Fortson Jr. confiscated the state seal and hid it until the Georgia Supreme Court settled the matter in favor of Melvin Thompson, lieutenant governor.
The year "1776" on the seal illustrates Georgia's contribution to American independence as that same year the Declaration of Independence was signed. The reverse side of the seal depicts the state motto "Agriculture and Commerce, 1776." A ship bearing an American flag receives cargo of tobacco and cotton, representing the abundant commercial exports of the state. A farmer plowing the rich Georgia fields amongst a flock of sheep depict the bountiful agricultural exploits.
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