The Great Seal

THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES
 
"E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of Many, One")
 
Obverse (front)
The design of the obverse (front) of the Great Seal, which is the coat of arms of the United States, is used by the government in many ways. It appears in some form on coins, postage stamps, stationery, publications, flags, military uniforms, public monuments, public buildings, passports, and other items the U.S. government has issued, owns, or uses. The Seal can be affixed only by an officer of the Department of State, under the authority of its custodian, the Secretary of State.
 
Symbolically, the Seal reflects the beliefs and values that the Founding Fathers attached to the new nation and wished to pass on to their descendants. The most prominent feature is the American bald eagle supporting the shield, or escutcheon, which is composed of 13 red and white stripes, representing the original states; and a blue top which unites the shield and represents Congress. The motto "E Pluribus Unum" ("Out of Many, One") alludes to this union. The olive branch and 13 arrows denote the power of peace and war, which is exclusively vested in Congress. The constellation of stars denotes a new state taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers.
 
 
Reverse (back)
 
The 1782 resolution adopting the seal blazons the image on the reverse as "A pyramid unfinished. In the zenith an eye in a triangle, surrounded by a glory, proper." The pyramid is conventionally shown as consisting of 13 layers of blocks to refer to the 13 original states. The adopting resolution provides that it is inscribed on its base with the date MDCCLXXVI (1776) in Roman numerals. Where the top of the pyramid should be, the Eye of Providence watches over it. Two mottos appear: Annuit Cœptis signifies that Providence has "approved of (our) undertakings." Novus Ordo Seclorum, freely taken from Virgil, means "a new order of the ages." It is incorrectly rendered as "New World Order" by some theorists, and "a new secular order" by others. The word seclorum does not mean "secular," as one might assume, but is the genitive (possessive) plural form of the word saeculum, meaning (in this context) generation, century, or age. Saeculum did come to mean "age, world" in late, Christian, Latin, and "secular" is derived from it, through secularis. However, the adjective "secularis," meaning "worldly," is not equivalent to the genitive plural seclorum, meaning "of the ages." The reverse has never been cut (as a seal) but appears, for example, on the back of the one-dollar bill.
 
The only official explanation of the symbolism of the great seal was given by Charles Thomson upon presenting the final design for adoption by Congress. He wrote:
 
The Escutcheon is composed of the chief & pale, the two most honorable ordinaries. The Pieces, paly, represent the several states all joined in one solid compact entire, supporting a Chief, which unites the whole & represents Congress. The Motto alludes to this union. The pales in the arms are kept closely united by the chief and the Chief depends upon that union & the strength resulting from it for its support, to denote the Confederacy of the United States of America & the preservation of their union through Congress.
 
The colours of the pales are those used in the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red, hardiness & valor, and Blue, the colour of the Chief signifies vigilance, perseverance & justice. The Olive branch and arrows denote the power of peace & war which is exclusively vested in Congress. The Constellation denotes a new State taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers. The Escutcheon is born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own Virtue.
 
Reverse. The pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: The Eye over it & the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause. The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence and the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra, which commences from that date. The Government of the United States its coat of arms, which were created by an Act of Congress of Jun 20, 1782:
 
Some might note that 1782 is before the adoption of the Constitution, and therefore the Congress of 1782 is not the Congress of the United States, but an act of Sept. 15, 1789 specified that "the seal heretofore used by the United States in congres assembled, shall be, and hereby is declared to be, the seal of the United States." (4 USC 41)
 
 
 

 

 
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