World Civic Heraldry Guide,

World Civic Heraldry Guide: coats of arms and flags of cities, regions, states

World Civic Heraldry Guide, World Civic Heraldry Guide,

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Unrecognized countries


Kentucky, state seal

Kentucky, state seal

The official seal of the Commonwealth was described in a bill passed by the General Assembly on December 20, 1792, shortly after Kentucky joined the Union. The original seal shows two friends embracing each other, with the words "Commonwealth of Kentucky" over their heads and around them the words "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." By custom (and now in conformity with the description of the flag contained in the statutes), two sprigs of goldenrod in bloom are shown in the lower portion of the seal. The official colors of the seal are blue and gold.

Most historians believe that the patriotism of Kentucky's first governor, Isaac Shelby, was the inspiration for the state's choice of the motto "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." Shelby, a hero of the Revolutionary War for his victory at the Battle of Kings Mountain, was fond of "The Liberty Song," written 1768 by John Dickinson. The chorus of song includes: "They join in hand, brave Americans all, By uniting we stand, by dividing we fall." Another song that was popular at the time was "The Flag of Our Union," written by George Pope Morris, that also contained a similar line: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall." But most historians believe that the song by Dickinson was the ultimate source.

The origin for the concept of strength in unity can be traced all the way back to the one of the fables of Aesop, in which he shows that sticks one by one may be readily broken, but cannot when several are bound together in a bundle. The moral being, "Union gives strength."

The state's seal has undergone several changes throughout its 200+ years of existence. The original seal was commissioned to engraver David Humphries for price of 12 pounds sterling. Although Isaac Shelby's initial conception of the seal depicted two pioneers in buckskins, with their hands clapsed as they stood on a precipice, Humphries' version imposed the men, dressed in swallowtail coats, embracing in a bear hug so tight that one of the men's heads is obliterated by the other's. After developing both a seal and press for the Commonwealth, Humphries' work was destroyed in 1814 when a fire burned down the state capitol.

Other versions of the seal include that of one man in breeches and another in a frock coat. Rather than embracing, they clasp hands in an awkward stance. Some historians/humorists attribute this version to the rumor that all Kentuckians, at the time, drank excessively, and that these two men found it necessary to support each other in their effort to stand: "United We Stand, Divided We Fall."

In order to keep the design of the seal consistent in the future, the Kentucky legislature passed an act in 1962 (KRS 2.020) which described the official seal as a pioneer meeting a gentleman in a swallowtail coat. The formally dressed man on the right represents England coming to Kentucky. The man in buckskin, on the left, is from the frontier. Shaking hands, they are uniting the colonial and pioneer aspects of the "Commonwealth." This seal was on Kentucky's representative flag for the Apollo moon mission, as well as being on current historical markers throughout the state.

In 1942, state's official seal was placed under the responsibility the Kentucky Secretary of State. (KRS 14.030)
/Source: Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives,

adopted ( 20.12.1792

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