The Great Seal
of the United States
American bald eagle is the most prominent feature of the Seal of the United States.
Across the breast of the eagle is a shield with 13 alternating red and white stripes (the
pales) representing the 13 original States. Note that the stripes alternate in
opposite fashion from the stripes on our flag. On the seal the stripes begin and end
with a white stripe, while on the flag the first and last stripe are red. Across
the top of the shield is a blue field (chief) that unites all the stripes into one.
The blue chief represents the United States Congress. In his talons the eagle grasps
an olive branch representing peace, and 13 arrows representing war. These
demonstrate our desire for peace but our willingness to defend with might, the Nation the
the eagle are thirteen stars inside a circular design, representing a "New
Constellaton", the same constellation referred to in the blue union of the of the
United States Flag. In his beak the eagle grasps a flowing ribbon
bearing the first MOTTO of the United States:
E Pluribus Unum
These Latin words are translated "Out of many, One",
reminding us that out of many States was born One new Nation.
between the Great Seal and the United States Flag are no accident. Francis Hopkinson
of New Jersey is generally credited with the design for our first flag, the Congress
Colors of 1775. He was Chairman of the Continental Navy's Middle Department at the
time the Flag Resolution was adopted on June 14, 1777 establishing the "Stars and
Stripes" flag, and most historians believe that he was responsible for replacing the
British Union Jack of the Congress Colors with the 13 stars of the new flag. He is
also generally credited with the design for the Seal of the United States.
**(Years later Francis Hopkinson sent a
petition to the Continental Admiralty Board seeking reward for his services in design of
these and other early American symbols. In that letter he asked if "a Quarter
Cask of the public wine will not be a proper and reasonable reward for these labours of
fancy and a suitable encouragement to future exertions of a like nature." His
request was denied because he was considered a "public servant", and was
ineligible for payment for such services.)
On July 4, 1776, our first Independence Day, the
Continental Congress passed a resolution authorizing a committee including Benjamin
Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams to research and devise a National Motto as well
a seal for their new Nation. On September 9th Congress gave that new Nation a name,
calling it the "United States". During that meeting the motto "E
Pluribus Unum" was generally accepted as the Nation's motto, though the official vote
did not occur until later. Likewise, the adoption of a National Seal would not occur
until much later.
In 1782 Charles Thompson, Secretary
of the Continental Congress, introduced this design for the new Seal of the United States.
He told the members of Congress:
"The colors of the pales are those used in
the flag of the United States of America; White signifies purity and innocence, Red,
hardiness and valour, and Blue, the color of the Chief signifies vigilance, perseverance
On June 20, 1782 Congress approved the design, and
the Great Seal of the United States was born. The image of the eagle within the seal
became our National "Coat of Arms".
Heraldic devices such
as our Great Seal have been in use for centuries. Some of the earliest seals were
carved into the face of a ring worn by a monarch. Official documents were
quickly recognized by the impression of the king's seal in soft wax applied to the
The OBVERSE FRONT of the Great Seal of the United
States authenticates the President's signature on many official documents. The
Great Seal die, counter die, press and cabinet that contains them are located in the
Exhibit Hall of the Department of State. Nearly 3,000 times a year the Department of
State receives official documents ranging from ratification of treaties to communications
from the President to officials of foreign governments. When these have been duly
signed by the President and counter-signed by the Secretary of State, an officer from the
State Department's Presidential Appointments Staff affixes the Great Seal of the United
States to authenticate the signatures.
The preceding information introduces you to a term
that might be new in your study of the Great Seal..."The Obverse Front".
The word "Obverse" identifies an object as a COUNTERPART of another
object. By referring to something as the OBVERSE you are indicating two things about
1) There is a second, or REVERSE side, and
2) The OBVERSE side is the front or principle side of the two-sided object.
REVERSE OF THE GREAT SEAL
The main feature of the reverse
side of the Great Seal is a pyramid representing strength and duration. At the
of the pyramid is an eye and the words "ANNUIT COEPTIS" meaning
"He has favored our undertakings". The "HE" refers to GOD, and
is in reference to the Founding Father's belief that God had favored our Nation and
provided providentially for our success during the struggle for freedom. (During the
Revolution, prayer was held daily in the halls of the Continental Congress.) At the
base of the pyramid are the Roman numerals for the year 1776, the year of our Nation's
birth. The scroll at the bottom contains the words "NOVUS ORDO
SECLORUM" meaning "A new order of the ages" and referring to the new
The reverse of the
Great Seal is NEVER used as a seal for official documents, though it can be found from
time to time on some official papers. The reverse of our One Dollar Bills contain
images of BOTH the Obverse of the Great Seal of the United States, and the Reverse of the
On July 30, 1956 the words "In God we
Trust" were designated as our National Motto (Title 36, Chapter 10, §186).