One of our revered national symbols–the Great Sea! of the United States–was impressed upon an official document for the first time Sept 16, 1782 … 200 years ago.
The Great Seal is the official impression affixed to foreign treaties, presidential proclamations, and other important documents. It is assigned to custody of the Secretary of State.
Colonial leaders adopted a resolution for an official seal shortly after signing the Declaration of Independence, but committee efforts were sidetracked because of the press of the Revolutionary War.
The design finally was adopted by the Congress of the Confederation June 20, 1782, three months before the first impression was stamped.
The Great Seal’s Bicentennial is a good time to brush up on the symbolism. On the face of the one-dollar greenback (the opposite side from the one with George Washington’s portrait) you’ll find a replica of the obverse (front) of the seal at right and the reverse side, left.
A number in the Revolutionary era contributed ideas for the design which makes repeated use of the “symbolic 13” for the original colonies.
The American eagle on the front side wears a breast shield having 13 stripes. Above the eagle’s head are 13 stars. Symbolic of the fight for independence and defense preparedness are the 13 arrows held in the eagle’s left talon. according to research by Major William High lander.
The hope for peace is depicted by the olive branch (13 leaves and 13 berries) in the right talon. The scroll in the eagle’s beak proclaims the union of states–E Pluribus Unum, meaning “out of many, one.”
On the reverse side, the unfinished pyramid (13 steps) stands for strength and duration and has space at the top for continued building. The Latin numeral MDCCLXXVI at the pyramid’s base translates to 1776.
The eye of Providence watches over the country from a triangle surrounded by a crown of light. The motto “Annuit Coeptis” means: He (the Lord) has favored our undertakings, and ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum” denotes a new order of the ages.
Some of those involved with the design were Masons, and the Masonic influence is implicit in the seal, including the pyramid, eye, and crown of light.
You might be interested to know the first die cast to imprint the Great Seal is on display in the National Archives.
Watch for the seal on important federal documents, cover pages of key government publications, and certain monuments. Stationery too … the President’s, for example. And if the seal’s in color, you can have one guess as to which ones, as long as you say “red, white and blue.”