NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Two East Tennessee lawmakers would like the governor to change the state seal to include the phrase “In God We Trust.”
Rep. John Holsclaw (R—Elizabethton) and Sen. Rusty Crowe (R—Johnson City) have introduced a bill that “requests the governor to submit a new design of the great seal of the state of Tennessee” by July 1, 2025, that would include the phrase. Currently, the state seal only contains the words “Agriculture” and “Commerce” in the center and “THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE” circling the outer edge of it.
According to the Secretary of State’s office, the current iteration of the seal was adopted in 1987 by the 95th General Assembly, but the history of a state seal actually predates the establishment of the state itself.
“Reliable historians have assumed that as early as 1772 the Articles of the Agreement of the Watauga Association authorized the use of a seal,” the secretary’s office says.
The Tennessee Constitution of 1796 made provision for the preparation of a seal, as did subsequent revisions of the Constitution:
There shall be a seal of this state, which shall be kept by the governor, and used by him officially, and shall be called “The Great Seal of the State of Tennessee.”(Article II, Section 15, Constitution of 1796; Article III, Section 15, Constitution of 1835; and Article III, Section 15, Constitution of 1870)
However, despite the initial Constitution containing that clause, it appears to historical action was taken on creating the seal until Sept. 25, 1801, when committees from both the Tennessee Senate and House of Representatives were appointed. One committee was to “prepare a device and motto” for a while, while the other was to find and contract with someone to cut and press the seal for the state.
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The first committee outlined the following items must be included as part of the seal:
- Must be a circle 2.25 inches in diameter
- Circumference must contain the words THE GREAT SEAL OF THE STATE OF TENNESSEE
- The lower part of the circle contains Feb. 6th, 1796 – the date of the original Constitution
- The upper part of the circle be set with numerical letters XVI – representing Tennessee becoming the 16th state in the union
- Under the base of the upper semicircle should contain the word AGRICULTURE, and above that should have a figure of a plough, a sheaf of wheat and cotton plant
- In the lower part of the lower semicircle could contain the word COMMERCE as well as a figure of a boat and boatman
According to the Secretary of State’s office, the first seal was cut and press by William and Matthew Atkinson and delivered to then-Gov. Archibald Roane in April 1802.
Throughout the state’s history, the seal has been redesigned and adopted three or four different times.
The second documented iteration of the state seal amended the date on it, removing “Feb. 6th” and leaving 1796. It was also smaller than the original seal at just one-and-three-quarters inches wide. It still contained an image of a boat, but the design of the boat was greatly different than the original and was also pointed in the opposite direction. This version of the seal was adopted in 1829 and remained in use for 40 years, until 1869 in the administrations of William Brownlow just after the Civil War.
Just before the second documented seal, however, a different seal came into use by Gov. William Carroll, though, according to the Secretary of State’s office, there is no record of its authorization, making it an unofficial seal.
A third version of the state seal was used only for one year—1865—by Gov. William Brownlow.
“Only one document, dated 1865, was found containing the seal attributed to the Brownlow administration,” the office says.
Instead, examination of documents of 1866 and 1867 showed two different seals used “evidently simultaneously.” They were “only slightly different from each other.”
The larger of the two seals is the one Tennessee uses today.
Hundreds of bills will be up for debate during the 113th General Assembly. Tennessee lawmakers shared their thoughts on some of the major issues up for discussion at this year’s legislative session.
What lawmakers had to say about: Abortion Ban Clarification | Marijuana Reform | Transgender Therapy and LGBTQ+ Rights | Dept. of Children’s Services | Education | Crime/Public Safety | More
You can also find daily coverage from the session here.