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  • Our National Portrait: The Great Seal of the United States

    The decision to adopt a national seal was made on July 4, 1776, the same day that the Continental Congress declared America’s independence from Great Britain. As a practical matter, America needed an official emblem to affix to diplomatic and official documents in order to signify its sovereignty as a new nation. And yet our Great Seal would become so much more than a mark of sovereignty; the symbolism of the Great Seal reflects America’s universal, timeless ideas.

    As opposed to the state seals of European nations, the imagery of America’s seal would not represent historical experience or the heraldic symbols of a ruling monarchy. Instead, the Great Seal of America would embody the ideas that had inspired the American Revolution and would guide the American people as they established a new government in order to secure the blessings of liberty.

    And so Congress appointed a committee to design the Great Seal. At a deliberative speed, with which subsequent generations would become familiar, the Congressional process involved three committees and the contributions of fourteen men over six years. The final design was based on a sketch by Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson (original sketch pictured above) and was adopted by Congress on June 20, 1782.

    E Pluribus Unum – “Out of Many, One”

    The obverse side of the seal features an American bald eagle, symbolizing liberty and independence, behind a shield of 13 alternating red and white stripes. The eagle holds 13 arrows in its left talon, representing the military preparedness of the U.S., and an olive branch in its right talon denoting peace. The shield and arrows illustrate that America is ever prepared for war in the defense of its liberty. The eagle’s head, however, is turned towards the olive branch signifying America’s preference for peace. The importance of the number 13 is represented throughout, signifying the unity of the 13 states without which no political achievement would have been possible.

    Novus Ordo Seclorum – “A New Order for the Ages”

    The seal’s reverse shows an incompletely built pyramid with 13 levels. Charles Thomson explained that the “pyramid signifies Strength and Duration…The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence [1776] and the words under it [novus ordo seclorum] signify the beginning of the new American Era, which commences from that date.” Yet the pyramid, like America, is incomplete.

    More states would be added and the liberty of some Americans was yet to be realized. Despite the deeply saturated stain of slavery, the American Founders had philosophically committed themselves to the proposition that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” – a seed of truth that once planted, would come to full fruition for all Americans.

    The British author G. K. Chesterton profoundly observed that “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” That creed, or political philosophy, is represented by our Great Seal. The “new American Era” would represent a new age where liberty was honored over tyranny, self-government over dependency, and virtue over power.

    Annuit Cœptis – “God Approves”

    Atop the unfinished pyramid, there is a heavenly, all-seeing eye accompanied by the Latin phrase annuit cœptis, meaning “God approves.” Thomson explained that the “Eye over it and the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause.” Regardless the earthly accomplishments of the new young nation, the symbol of the divine would forever remain above, at the “zenith” of America’s political experiment. The representatives in Congress believed that the United States had been blessed with divine approval. On the Great Seal, they intended to recognize the existence of a higher moral order to which politics, individuals, and states are accountable.

    The average American often sees the Great Seal since it appears on military insignia, U.S. passports, the one-dollar bill, and other official government documents. It is a visual reminder of the essence of this nation. America was not founded primarily in opposition to tyranny, but in favor of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

    In 2010, we still live in that “American Era” initiated in the year 1776. America is an idea, and the Great Seal is our portrait. Do you see the resemblance?

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Our National Portrait: The Great Seal of the United States

    1. Pingback: Our National Portrait: The Great Seal of the U.S. by Marion Smith | Libertas Scriptor

    2. Billie says:

      I saw the resemblance more so in my youth. I am younger then the president. Not sure when this hatred for America and it's (unknown to me) racism, infiltrated in the mind set of Obama, his administration, society and it's youth. I see it driven only by government and some, especially the youth, are sucked into it. We've seen proof from the gorernment proposed, resented race of "white privilege."

      The biggest concern is the provocation of this hatred by government leaders speculation of personal perception with no facts to base their complaints. Alot of antagonistic push for it though.

      A dangerous path my government educated children were almost victims of. My youngest still struggling, but now observing truth and reality over what's being taught. Learning how to reason as an individual and not a “community.”

      I was looking forward to a stronger resemblance, a Greater Seal of America, as i thought the principles and freedoms and strengths of America, were why immigrants were coming here. Something they didn't have in their countries of origin, like many of our parents, great and grand. Little was known of the goal of government to victimize immigrants today, into entitlement and dependency and to the level of expectation of the immigrant, for votes and government growth.

      Instead of government leadership upholding the American way for immigrants to gain their true freedom and independence, government has and continues to violate America's principles, freedoms and strengths behind the backs of American people and the American way accustomed to.

      The Great Seal of America is only weakened upon leadership but can be strengthened upon the will of the people.

    3. Ann Kitay Fulton, Tx says:

      Thank you – this reminder is a tonic for this weary hearted warrior.

    4. DIANE PIZZO says:

      It is so sad for me to think that our great Nation of America is being attracted from within. I believe it is because the truth is not being taught in our public (government) run schools. Most students do not know our history. The ideas behind our Great Seal isn't even taught in most schools. I wonder if even those in Congress know it's history and the philosophy behind the symbols.

      I think every person in the Federal government should have to pass a test on the subject and should have to memorize the Constitution of the United States of America before being sworn into office. We require so little of them to hold office, it is no wonder they take it for granted and abuse the office mostly for money and the perks they get over the average citizen. Just about any job a person applies for has certain requirements to meet before they are eligible to even apply. If they don't meet the requirements after being hired they are fired and someone else is hired.

      Why is it so hard to get people out of office when everyone can see they are not fit for the job? Why let them destroy what so many value and have worked to build in just a year or two? The process seems way to difficult to overcome, to remove those from office who are tearing down our country ignoring the rules of our US Constitution. God help us to wake up in time to save our Great Nation of the United States of America.

    5. Dennis Georgia says:

      The GREAT SEAL was and still is a symbol of AMERICA. It does not have the pride associated with it. This pride is something that belongs to the PEOPLE, not the "guvment" as so many think. We the people must re-learn how to think for ourselves, how to make our own decisions, how to care for one another and most of all how to care for GOD in this world of lawless people.

      America was and is a NATION built by each of us, with one goal, all for one and one for all. It is not a nation that will be ruled by a single person, or a"guvment" that is bent on socialism. communism, marxism, or a king.

      We the people must make the GREAT SEAL what it is supposed to be, not a nation of people willing to give up all to one person or group of people. The founding Fathers drew up the Constitution for all of us, set up a government that was and will be again "of the people, for the people and by the people". We the people must make this country great again.

    6. Janice - Mobile, AL says:

      My heart begins to swell and I stand a little taller every time I see a symbol of THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. No matter what the politicians and the america haters do to sully our name and our country, they will never succeed. We are Americans, we are strong, we will overcome! God bless America!

    7. Spiritof76, NH says:

      OK. Are we ready to restore it? Are we ready to fight for it?

      What I see now is that ther are more Ameicans(be they citizens or organizations) putting their hand outs to collect the loot from the government. Are we ready to pull our hands back and require each of us to endeavor and keep what we have earned to our own welfare first? Are we ready to get rid of all the entitlements- farm subsidies to Medicare? That kind of scarifice is what it will take. I hear crikets chirpping!

    8. Seven Star Hand, USA says:

      A very interesting and informative piece. There is still much about the symbolism of the Great Seal though that is about to surprise and enlighten the world. In my new book Finishing the Mysteries of Gods and Symbols, I provide a course in the symbology used to build the Great Seal, and then I prove what it has always secretly encoded. Hint, the Great Seal is round to match the corrected ancient zodiac, and it encodes a very specific star-time-code. which is the same used by the ancient Hebrew sages, and others. There is much more though…

      Bet I can surprise and enlighten you more than you might expect.

      Peace and Wisdom,


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