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The Seal and Flag of the Vice President of the United States

by Tom Carrier (02/25/08).
Coat-of-arms of the vice president, patch, 1948 to 1975
Coat-of-arms of the vice president, patch, 1975 to present
Flag of the Vice President of the United States
Seal of the Vice President of the United States

Much has been written about the seal of the president of the United States. It is a more powerful, more visible office, of course, but in many ways the influence of the vice president can be just as significant. Yet, recognizing the symbols of the office isn’t that high on a collector’s radar. It should be, though, since many of the items of the vice president are in fact more difficult to obtain than those of the president, particularly the flag.

In fact, the seal of the vice president itself was an afterthought. When it was decided by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to create a new unifying presidential flag, it was determined that the seal of the president he had been using was never codified. He insisted that a new design similar to a new flag be created, but died before it was completed. President Harry Truman took up the challenge and created the design of the presidential flag and seal and officially adopted it by Executive Order on October 25, 1945, the one we are all familiar used on the podium and as a backdrop during press conferences.

When the presidential seal and flag were adopted in 1945, Truman didn’t have a vice president. He had moved up from the vice presidency to the office of president upon Roosevelt’s death and the Constitution didn’t have a provision to appoint a new vice president. That would later change under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution in 1967. Gerald Ford became vice president under this Amendment in 1974.

It wasn’t until 1948 when a new vice president would take office that a seal for the office was proposed and ratified by Executive Order. It was meant to be designed as a complete contrast to the seal of the president and in that succeeded very well. So well, in fact, that vice presidents universally disliked it. The eagle was smaller, held one arrow, had its wings in a submissive position and was surrounded by 13 blue stars. It was Vice President Hubert Humphrey who was supposed to have said that the eagle looked like a wounded quail.

And so it was that in 1974, upon being appointed by President Gerald Ford under the same constitutional amendment that also made him vice president, Nelson Rockefeller took it upon himself to have the seal of the vice president changed to reflect a more robust eagle design and perhaps a subtle improvement on his own constitutional role. He succeeded admirably. With a few minor stylistic differences and color variations, the vice presidential eagle is more striking than its predecessor, while still being noticeably different from that of the president.

The most striking difference is that the eagle is placed on a white background instead of the dark blue of the president. It is much larger than the earlier version, but is surrounded by no stars at all unlike the 50 stars that surround the seal of the president, although the flag of the vice president has a dark blue star in each of its four corners.

Many collectors mistake the vice presidential patch, for example, as that of the Great Seal of the United States even though the eagles, particularly the glory at the top, are noticeably different. Even official presidential gift items or the official state china ordered by Nancy Reagan utilized the coat-of-arms of the vice president rather than that of the president. You see, the seal and coat-of-arms of the president must include the 50 stars around the eagle.

Recently, certain Ebay sellers, in order to avoid the restrictions of selling official vice presidential items for commercial purposes, have taken to surrounding the vice presidential eagle with 50 gold stars on a white background. This is incorrect as there has been no change to the Executive Order ordering the design of the seal of the vice president at this writing (Dec 2007).

For more detailed information on the seal of the vice president, visit:

http://www.tioh.hqda.pentagon.mil/SealsEmblems/VicePresidentOfTheUnitedStates.htm

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