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The history of the state seal of South Carolina is tied to a historic battle of the Revolutionary War. The Provincial Congress of North Carolina established an independent government on 26 March 1776. On 2 April 1776, the General assembly authorized the state’s new president, John Rutledge, to have made a Great Seal of the State of South Carolina. Less than three months later, on 28 June 1776, South Carolina patriots handed the British military its first major loss in the war, repulsing its naval fleet at Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s island off the South Carolina coast. The victory came to seem emblematic of the new state’s resolve and optimism, and these characteristics are symbolically displayed in the state seal.
The state seal of South Carolina is made up of two ovals side by side within a circle. Each oval is joined to the other by palmetto tree branches. Fort Moultrie was constructed of palmetto logs, and the state tree of South Carolina is the palmetto. The left oval is symbolic of the victory at Fort Moultrie, while that on the right symbolizes the state’s hope for its future.
Within the left oval of the state seal of South Carolina, the state name is inscribed in the top of a thin banner area that rings the oval. "Animis Opibusque Parati," a Latin phrase which means “Prepared in Mind and Resources,” appears in the bottom of the banner. In the center of the oval is a large palmetto tree. Bound to the trunk of tree are 12 spears, one for each of the new states. The banner binding the spears to the palmetto shows the states’ solidarity in the fight for independence, asking in Latin,"Quis Separabit?" or, "Who Will Separate?"
At the foot of the palmetto lies a fallen oak, symbolic of the defeated British forces. Beneath the oak is a legend in Latin meaning “Having fallen it has set up better.” Two shields hang beneath the branches of the tree and are inscribed with the dates of the Declaration of Independence and North Carolina’s adoption of its first constitution.
Spes, the goddess of hope in Roman mythology, is pictured in the right oval. She stands on a beach littered with discarded swords, her name appearing below her. Facing the palmetto tree, she holds a laurel branch as the sun is beginning to rise. Above her, in the banner ringing the oval is the Latin inscription "Dum Spiro Spero," meaning “While I Breathe I Hope.” An important symbol in the state seal of South Carolina, Spes represents the hope for peace and continued freedom.
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