The Great Seal of the United States of America designed by three
different Committees from 1776 to 1782. Adopted June 20, 17782.
From the Library of Congress: On July 4, 1776, Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John
Adams "to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America."
Franklin's proposal adapted the biblical story of the parting of the Red Sea
(left). Jefferson first recommended the "Children of Israel in the Wilderness,
led by a Cloud by Day, and a Pillar of Fire by night. . . ." He then embraced
Franklin's proposal and rewrote it (right). Jefferson's revision of Franklin's
proposal was presented by the committee to Congress on August 20. Although not
accepted these drafts reveal the religious temper of the Revolutionary period.
Franklin and Jefferson were among the most theologically liberal of the
Founders, yet they used biblical imagery for this important task.
Benjamin Franklin's Noted
Thomas Jefferson's Notes
Rendering of the Proposed Seal
other committees were formed, but they too could not agree on a final design.
Secretary of the United States in Congress Assembled, Charles Thomson combined
the ideas of all three committees and drew the seal for the Delegates
June 20, 1782 President John Hanson’s Congress passed Thomson's final design of
the Great Seal of the United States in Congress Assembled:
The device for an armorial achievement
and reverse of the great seal for the United States in Congress assembled, is as
ARMS. Paleways of thirteen pieces,
argent and gules; a chief, azure; the escutcheon on the breast of the American
bald eagle displayed proper, holding in his dexter talon an olive branch, and in
his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows, all proper, and in his beak a scroll,
inscribed with this motto, "E pluribus Unum."
For the CREST. Over the head of the
eagle, which appears above the escutcheon, a glory, or, breaking through a
cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent,
on an azure field.
REVERSE. A pyramid unfinished. In the
zenith, an eye in a triangle, surrounded with a glory proper. Over the eye these
words, "Annuit Coeptis." On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters
MDCCLXXVI. And underneath the following motto, "Novus Ordo Seclorum."[i]
Seal as described in 1782:
"The Escutcheon [shield] 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."
September 16, 1782 Thomson used these matrices for the first time, to verify
signatures on a document, signed by President of the United States, John Hanson
that authorized George Washington to negotiate an exchange of prisoners. Thomson
held the Seal until the U.S. Constitution of 1787 installed the new
federal government in 1789. Thomson, whose confederation government was
headquartered at Fraunces Tavern in NYC turned it over to Secretary of State,
Thomas Jefferson short after George Washington's inauguration at Federal Hall in
the same city. . All subsequent Secretaries of State have been responsible for
applying the Seal to diplomatic documents.
June 20, 1782, still in use today; and had it engraved into
The first brass matrices of the brass matrices 2.25 inches in diameter seal were
replaced in 1841 when they became too worn to be effective.
There have been a total of seven re-engravings of the Seal since the original,
which is now on display in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The seal
went through three different committee designs with various adaptations
from 1776 -1782.
Ibid, Great Seal of the United States in Congress Assembled, June 20, 1782
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