Illinois bicentennial: The story behind that quirk-filled state seal

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The Illinois state seal | State of Illinois

Why does the Illinois state seal have the date of Aug. 26, 1818? What’s with the year 1868 on the rock? And why is the word “sovereignty” upside down?

The first answer is easy: Aug. 26, 1818, marks the signing of the first of Illinois’ four constitutions. Shortly thereafter, on Dec. 3, 1818, President James Monroe signed the congressional resolution making Illinois the 21st state.

As for 1868 and that upside-down sovereignty, those questions require a little more explanation. The first Illinois General Assembly decided to use the Great Seal of the United States as the main artwork for the state’s seal.

But by January 1867, Secretary of State Sharon Tyndale thought the old seal was ‘‘too worn,’’ so he asked state Sen. Allen C. Fuller to sponsor a bill to create a new one. “But a controversy arose when the Senate discovered that Tyndale planned to use Fuller’s bill to change the wording [on the seal from] ‘State Sovereignty, National Union’ to ‘National Union, State Sovereignty’ in light of the Civil War,” according to state records.

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The Legislature rejected the change. Though Tyndale played by its rules, he modified the banner’s placement on the seal so that “national union” was more prominent, and he turned the word “sovereignty” upside down — a clear dig at the Legislature. The “1868” on the rock marks the year the redesigned state seal was used on a document for the first time.

Tyndale didn’t get to enjoy his design for long. Two years after he left office, on April 29, 1871, he was shot to death in an apparent robbery outside his home in Springfield. His murder was never solved.

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