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As is the case with most state seals, the state seal of Kansas reflects the culture, politics, history, and concerns of Kansans. There have been several versions of the seal, with the current version as of 2011 first being mandated by the Wyandotte Constitution of 1859. Upon submission and approval of a preliminary design by a state senator in 1861, a joint resolution of the legislature was passed describing all the text and pictorial elements that it contained. This adoption of the design of the the state seal of Kansas was one of the first pieces of legislation passed by the Kansas state legislature. When a Kansas state flag was adopted in 1927, the state seal was included in the design.
The original version of the the state seal of Kansas was somewhat simpler than its current 2011 version. When the newly-created legislature met in May 1861, the governor, Charles Robinson, noted in a speech the legal requirement for a state seal. A committee was formed and soon presented a resolution to the legislature at-large describing the design. Within a braided circular border appeared the words, "THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF KANSAS," in the upper portion, with the date of Kansas' admission the the U.S. — "January 29, 1861" — occupying the lower portion. A rising sun symbolizes the influence of the East on Kansas affairs, while a steamboat on a river is emblematic of commerce.
With agriculture representing the greatest part of the Kansas economy, a number of related symbols are shown on the seal, including a landscape with the prominent figure of a farmer plowing and the image of a settler's cabin. In the distance, a wagon train is seen headed into the West, reflecting the rapid expansion of the country caused by easterners migrating to the West. A herd of buffalo is also shown in retreat, chased by a pair of Indians. At the top of the the state seal of Kansas appears the Latin motto Ad Astra per Aspera, translated as, "To the Stars through Difficulty." Beneath the motto are 34 stars representing the number of states that existed at the time of Kansas' admission into the U.S.
Between 1927 and 1961, the state flag of Kansas prominently displayed the state seal of Kansas at its center with the image of the state flower, a sunflower, above it. Since 1961, the name of the state has appeared in large gold text beneath the seal. During the first half-century of Kansas' existence as a state, the state seal and sunflower were its only two official symbols. Since then, the western meadowlark and the ornate box turtle have also been officially proclaimed as official symbols of Kansas.