California – The Great Seal Of The State

The following official statement has been published under authority of an Act of the State Legislature of California :

At the time when the question of designing the great seal for the new State was being agitated in the Constitutional Convention which met in Monterey in 1849, there happened to be sojourning temporarily in that little town an accomplished and cultivated officer of the United States Army, Major Robert Selden Garnett. He was a gentleman of modest demeanor, and excelled in the use of his pencil. One evening he sketched a design for a seal of the State, and it was exhibited to various members of the Convention. One of the delegates asked leave to present it to the body, but the quiet Major declined, upon the ground that he believed that a knowledge of the source whence it had come would prevent its adoption. There existed at that time quite a hostility between the military authorities and the nascent civil powers, and there was an especial distrust of the secret mission of Thomas Butler King, with which Garnett was understood to be connected. Caleb Lyon, one of the clerks of the convention, learned of the design, and readily obtained the consent of Garnett to appropriate it and present it as his own production. As the design came from the hands of its author, it was chaste and beautiful, and somewhat different from the present seal. It represented the figure of Minerva, with the Golden Gate, and a ship in full sail in the foreground, and the Sierra Nevada range in the background, with the word “Eureka” above. The design was referred to a committee, and on September 29, 1849, the report of the committee was considered by the convention. W. E. Shannon deemed the design a most happy one, but more appropriate for a coat of arms than for a seal. He said that it was unusual for a State seal to contain a motto, and that it ordinarily comprehended the main emblems, and the words “Great Seal of the State.”

An explanation accompanying the design was entered in the Journal, as follows :

“Around the bend of the ring are represented thirty-one stars, being the number of States of which the Union will consist upon the admission of California. The foreground figure represents the Goddess Minerva, having sprung full grown from the brain of Jupiter. She is introduced as a type of the political birth of the State of California, without having gone through the probation of a territory. At her feet crouches a grizzly bear feeding upon the clusters from a grapevine, emblematic of the peculiar characteristics of the country. A miner is engaged with his rocker and bowl at his side, illustrating the golden wealth of the Sacramento, upon whose waters are seen shipping, typical of commercial greatness; and the snowclad peaks of the Sierra Nevada make up the background, while above is the Greek motto “Eureka” (I have found it), applying either to the principle involved in the admission of the State, or the success of the miner at work.”

After various amendments had been suggested, the matter was laid on the table. On October 2nd the report of the committee was again considered. Rodman M. Price submitted a resolution that the design for the seal reported by the committee be accepted. O. M. Wozencraft submitted the following, which was rejected: “That the seal be amended by striking out the figures of the gold-digger and the bear and introducing instead bags of gold and bales of merchandise.” M. G. Vallejo submitted an amendment that the bear be taken out of the design; or, if it do remain, that it be represented as made fast by a lasso in the hands of a vaquero.

After the debate, the amendment proposed by Vallejo was rejected by a vote of sixteen to twenty-one. Price’s resolution was then adopted. W. S. Sherwood moved that the seal be the “coat of arms” of the State of California, and the motion was then carried by a vote of twenty-one to sixteen. Price then submitted a resolution that Lyon be authorized to superintend the engraving of the seal ; that he furnish the same, in the shortest possible time, to the Secretary of the Convention, with a press and all necessary appendages, and that the sum of $1000 be advanced to him in full compensation for the design and seal. This resolution was not considered until the 11th, when a substitute was adopted, authorizing Lyon to superintend the engraving and to furnish the seal as soon as possible to the Secretary of the Convention, to be delivered to the Secretary of State under the Constitution : and the sum of $1000 was to be paid, in full compensation for the design, seal, press, and all appendages. It was also resolved that the words “The Great Seal of the State of California” be added to the design. Henry W. Halleck inquired if any gentleman present knew what had become of the original design, and said the gentleman by whom it was designed (Major Garnett) requested that it should be found if possible and handed to the gentleman who occupied the chair. Mr. Sherwood said that he believed the seal was not the entire production of the gentleman who had been authorized to have it engraved, and that Lyon did not claim it as such. He said that the original design had been given to Lyon by a gentleman who did not wish his name to be made public, but expressed a desire, in a confidential letter to Lyon, that he (Lyon) might be known as the author.

The bear was added chiefly to gratify Major J. R. Snyder and the men of the Bear Flag revolution. Then was added the figure of a man with an uplifted pick-ax, as an emblem of the great mining interests of the country.

There is some dispute as to whether Lyon ever got the $1000 voted him by the convention. The following article was published in the Alta California of February 19, 1850, and presumably written by Edward Gilbert, the editor, a member of the Constitutional Convention, and one of the two Congress-men elected from California at the first election of 1849:

THE STATE SEAL—We observe that a petition has been made to the Legislature, on behalf of Caleb Lyon, for $1000 for the State Seal, “designed and executed by him.” It may as well be understood at once that if any credit belongs to any person for the design of the seal, it is not to Caleb Lyon, of Lyonsdale. The original design for the seal was made by an officer of the army, sojourning temporarily at Monterey during the time the convention was in session. When the subject of a seal was mooted, this design was shown to various members of the Convention, who suggested some amendments and the insertion of other matters. These were drawn in by the original designer, who did not wish it to be known who was the author, and the seal was presented by Mr. Lyon. After a pretty hard fight it was adopted, and $1000 appropriated to Mr. Lyon to procure a die and proper press. This duty he performed after a fashion. The design was marred in the engraving; the die was not sunk near deep enough, and the press was not sufficiently powerful for the purpose. The commissions of the congressional delegation were without the slightest impress of the seal before they left the country. If we are not very much mistaken, Mr. Lyon, of Lyonsdale, received his money out of the Civil Fund, and is now conveying it to the sylvan retreats of Lyonsdale. But this has nothing to do with the paternity of the seal. All we wish to state, and that most distinctly, is that Mr. Lyon has no right or title to the honor of either designing or executing the seal any more than the Khan of Tartary.

The Legislature of 1850 did not make any appropriation in response to the petition mentioned.

In October, 1855, a peculiar complication occurred between Governor Bigler and the Secretary of State, James W. Denver. Under the Constitution, as it then stood, the Secretary of State was the appointee of the Governor. Denver had been appointed by Bigler on February 19, 1853. Afterwards a difference arose between the Governor and Secretary of State. Denver had been elected to Congress in 1854, and on October 5, 1855, Bigler addressed a letter to Denver demanding the great seal of the State, and said that he desired to keep it in his own office, where he claimed the Constitution contemplated that it should be kept. On the same day Denver replied, declining to permit the seal to pass out of his possession, and immediately departed for Washington to attend his congressional duties, leaving his deputy in charge of the Secretary’s office. He also left a resignation to take effect November 5th. On the 6th of October the Governor again visited the office of the Secretary, demanded the seal of the deputy, and was again refused its possession. He then handed to the deputy the commission of Charles H. Hempstead as Secretary of State, and directed the deputy to affix to it the seal, but the deputy refused to do so, on the ground that it was a constitutional office, and could not be vacated except by death, resignation, or impeachment. The deputy of Denver held possession of the office for a month, during which time his acts were not recognized as valid by the Governor, and it is said that the latter caused a duplicate great seal to be made, with which his official acts were attested by his newly appointed Secretary. Years afterwards it was stated that forged patents for State lands were in circulation, and that one of these old seals had been stolen and used for attesting them. However this may be, two dies of the State seal remain in the possession of the Secretary of State.

In 1858 the State seal was damaged so that it failed to give a true impression, and a bill was introduced in the Senate by Mr. Thom to authorize the Secretary of State to procure a new seal, to be engraved on steel, and to be substituted for and used instead of the seal then in existence; and requiring him to destroy the then State seal in the presence of the Governor and Controller. The bill was accompanied with a design which reduced the size of the seal a twelfth part of an inch, and to admit of this contraction some of the details of the original design were omitted. The bear was made to crouch submissively at the feet of Minerva, the miner’s cradle was left out, and the miner was brought nearer the water. On March 10, 1858, the Senate amended the bill by providing that the design and size should be the same as the seal then in use, and on April 16th another amendment was adopted that “the design of the present seal shall be preserved intact in the new one, but the size thereof shall be reduced six-tenths of an inch in diameter.” The bill with this amendment passed the Senate on April 21st, but was not considered in the House.

Garnett, the designer of the original seal, was born in Virginia about 1821; entered West Point 1837; graduated twenty-seventh in his class July 1, 1841, and appointed Brevet Second Lieutenant of artillery; was assistant instructor of infantry tactics at the military academy from July, 1843, to October, 1844; was Aid-de-camp to General Wool in 1845, and distinguished himself in the battles of Palo Alto and Reseca de la Palma ; was promoted to first lieutenancy August 18, 1846; was Aid-de-camp to General Taylor during the Mexican War and until 1849: Brevetted Captain and Major for gallant and meritorious conduct at Monterey and Buena Vista; transferred to the infantry in 1848; promoted to a captaincy in 1851; from 1852 to 1854 was commandant of the corps of cadets and instructor in 1855, and Major of the Ninth Infantry in the same month ; was commander in the operations against the Indians on Puget Sound in 1856, and commanded the Yakima expedition in 1858. At the breaking out of the Rebellion he took the side of the Confederates, was promoted to a brigadier general-ship and assigned to the Department of West Virginia. Here General McClellan attacked him, and after several days of alternate fighting and retreating, at the battle of Carrick’s Ford, on July 15, 1861, Garnett was killed and his forces routed. His body was carefully cared for by the Federal commander, and after being embalmed was forwarded to his friends.

Caleb Lyon was appointed Consul at Shanghai, China, by President Polk in 1845. On his return to New York he served in both branches of the Legislature, and in 1853 was elected from that State to Congress. In 1864 he was appointed Governor of Idaho Territory, and retained the office three years. He died at Rossville, New York, on September 9, 1875.

Albrecht Kuner, a native of Lindau, Bavaria, a member of the California Pioneers, was the engraver of the original seal as designed by Caleb Lyon. Mr. Kuner died on January 23, 1906, at his home in San Francisco.