Friday, August 26, 2011

The Great Seal of the United States of America

After the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Continental Congress passed the following resolution:

“Resolved, that Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson be a committee to prepare a device for a seal of the United States of America.”

This group of illustrious patriots had the same members of the committee who created the Declaration of Independence although Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston were omitted.

The purpose for creating a seal was to be an act of finalizing the independence of the American colonies from Great Britain. Creating an official Sign of Sovereignty and a National Coat of Arms was evidence of the colonies independence. The members of the committee desired to create a seal in the form of an allegorical picture that would illustrate the fortunes and destiny of the United States.

Eugene Pierre Du Simitiere, a West Indian Frenchman living in Philadelphia had writing and artistic abilities. Du Simitiere was engaged by the committee since the three patriot members of the committee did not have any artistic ability. In 1769, Du Simitiere became a naturalized citizen in the city of New York.  He was a passionate student of every facet of the history concerning the American colonies. He collected books, hand-bills, newspapers, pamphlets, and various political publications. This naturalized American endeavored to record the history of the colonies and their fight for independence. As a professional painter and artist, he was called upon to draw designs for various state, local, and institutional seals.

The committee met together to consult with each other between July 4th and August 13th, 1776; each of the members submitted their suggestions for evaluation to the other members of the committee. We can read of Du Simitiere’s suggestion to the committee in “Familiar Letters of John Adams to His Wife:”

“(Du Smiitiere)…a painter by profession, whose designs are very ingenious, and his drawings well executed. He has been applied to for his advice. I waited on him yesterday, and saw his sketches…For the seal he proposes the arms of the several nations from whence America has been peopled; as England, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German, etc., each in a shield. On one side of them, Liberty with her pileus (cap), on the other a rifler in his uniform, with his rifled-gun in one hand and his tomahawk in the other. This dress and these troops with the kind of armor being peculiar to America- unless the dress was known to the Romans…”

It is of significant interest that most of the suggestions for a Great Seal were Israelitish symbols. John Adams comments about Benjamin Franklin’s suggestion:

“Dr. F. proposes a device for a seal: Moses lifting up his hand dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh in his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. This motto, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” “…Mr. Jefferson proposed: the children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar by night; on the other side  Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.”

The notes preserved by Thomas Jefferson, which are now in the Library of Congress, corroborate the report of John Adams.

“Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand passing thro’ the divided waters of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites; rays from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the divine presence and command, reaching to Moses who stands on the shore and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh. Motto, Rebellion to tyrants is obed…”
Furthermore, Jefferson takes note of Franklin’s design of the Children of Israel crossing the Red Sea:

 “Moses standing on the shore, and extending his hand over the sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh, who is sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand, Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the clouds reaching to Moses to express that he acts by Command of the Deity. Motto, Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
I find it fascinating that two ‘freethinkers’, Franklin and Jefferson, expressed Biblical themes for the Great Seal. The three committee members went to the Bible, their fountain source for radiant symbolism. The suggestion of the depiction of the struggle between Hebrew slaves and tyrannical Egyptians on the Great Seal should not be overlooked.

On August 20, 1776, the committee made its first report to the Continental Congress. They contained Du Simitiere’s suggestions for the Obverse of the seal although modified. The center Shield was divided into six quarters. Each quarter contained a symbol of the six principle countries from which the American colonists originated.

Those symbols were: the Rose of England, the Thistle of Scotland, the Harp of Ireland, the Fleur de Lis of France, the Eagle of Germany, and the Lion of Holland.

Furthermore, the Goddess of Justice and the Goddess of Liberty supported the Shield which was centered on the seal. Simitiere’s suggestion was that the Goddess of Liberty would rest her left hand on an anchor. The anchor was omitted and she used her left hand to support the shield. The Rifler was replaced with the Goddess of Justice who bore a “Sword” in her right hand and a “Balance” in her left hand.

The whole image was surrounded by a border which contained thirteen smaller shields containing the initials of the original thirteen colonies. A “Radiant Triangle” containing “Eye of Providence” was placed above the shield between the two goddesses.

The Reverse side of the seal was Franklin’s design with a few modifications by Thomas Jefferson.

The Journal of the Continental Congress (v.691) records the outcome of the committee’s report.

“Ordered, to be on the table.”

 Consequently, this act had the effect of killing the proposal of the committee. Unfortunately, the original report has been lost and no reason is available to determine the reason for rejecting the design. Evidently, the majority of Congressmen were dissatisfied with the proposal.

The Congress responded to the need for a seal by appointing a second committee on March 25, 1780. James Lowell of Massachusetts was appointed as chairman. The other members of the committee were: John Morin Scott of New York and William Churchill Houston of New Jersey. The services of Francis Hopkinson, a previous member of the Continental Congress were acquired. Hopkinson was noted for his interest and knowledge of heraldry. He helped design the Great Seal of New Jersey in 1776. Furthermore, Hopkinson designed the American flag that Congress adopted on June 14, 1777.

The record indicates that Hopkinson with the help of some clerical assistance performed most of the work of the second committee. Two sets of drawings were created each one containing an illustration of an obverse and a Reverse of the proposed seal. Although both sets are similar, there are perceptible differences. The obverse of both sets contains a shield with a female figure and a military figure supporting a shield. In this regard the image was similar to the proposal of the first committee. A major difference was the introduction of fifteen white and red diagonal stripes which fill the shield between the male and female characters. A blue field, above and below, in the corners of the shield was on the second illustration.
There were other differences between the two obverse designs Hopkinson submitted. The first set of illustrations has at the ‘dexter’ (right) supporter a ‘naked savage’ holding a bow and arrow in the right hand while carrying a quiver of arrows upon his back. The second set of illustrations has a soldier, wearing antiquated clothes while carrying a drawn sword in his right hand.

The motto of the obverse on the first illustration is “Bello vel Pace Paratus” ["prepared in war or in peace"] whereas; the motto on the obverse on the second illustration is “Bello Vel Paci" [‘For war or for peace’]

A constellation of thirteen six-pointed stars is above the shields on the obverses of both sets of illustrations although the constellation of the first obverse is smaller than the second obverse. The addition of thirteen stars as well as the white and red stripes was undoubtedly inspired by the American flag which Congress adopted on June 14, 1777.

Hopkinson used a female figure representing Liberty for both sets of reverses. Please take notice of several differences between the two sets of reverses. Liberty holds a sword in her left hand on the first reverse while on the second reverse; she holds an olive branch. The motto in the upper part of the circle of the seal reads: “Aut Haec aut Nullus;”[“Either this or nobody” is in reference to Lady Liberty] while on the second reverse “Semper” is crossed out while “Libertas Virtute perennis” [“Liberty everlasting because of (or by reason of) virtue”] is written above the circle. The date on the bottom of the first reverse is “MDCCLXXX" [1780] and the date on the second reverse is “MDCCLXXVI" [1776].

The report was submitted to Congress on May 17, 1780, and was debated on but ordered back to the committee for further study. Congress took no further action on the report of the second committee even though additional work was done to modify the report.

In 1781, several resolutions relating to the seal were passed by Congress. On January 28, 1782, a resolution was passed which specified certain duties and responsibilities of the Secretary of Congress.

“6th. To keep the public seal, and cause the same to be affixed to every act, ordinance or paper, which Congress shall direct:" (Journals, XXII, 56-57.)

A need for a third committee was necessary since Congress had not adopted a Great Seal. The third committee was appointed on May 2, 1782. The members of the third committee were: Elias Boudinot of New Jersey (presiding President of the Congress), Arthur Middleton, and Edward Rutledge of South Carolina.

William Barton was the son of Reverend Thomas Barton Rector of St. James Episcopal Church in the city of Philadelphia. The committee consulted with William Barton who was an authority on heraldry. One of the two designs that Barton submitted to the committee retained ideas submitted by the preceding committees. He retained the thirteen stars, the blue field, and the thirteen red and white. His major original contribution to the design was the addition of an eagle.

His submission for the reverse side of the great seal was an unfinished pyramid of thirteen courses of masonry. Centered above the pyramid was the “Eye of Providence” which was surrounded by a circle of rays of sunlight. The motto “Deo Favents” [With the favor of God] was on the submission while below the pyramid appeared the motto “Perrennis" [Through the ages].

Apparently, the reverse side of the seal was acceptable to Congress but they were not satisfied with the obverse of the seal. The matter was referred to the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson.
Charles Thomson was given the final decision on modifying the pervious designs by order of the Congress on June 13, 1782.

Thomson chose to create an original design of his own. He studied the sketches and blazons which were presented to Congress by the three previous committees. He paid close attention to Hopkinson’s first proposal for the obverse. Thomson placed the American bald eagle in the center of attention as his central theme. He placed the symbols of peace - the olive branch and the symbol of war - the arrows in the talons of the eagle. The second committee used the olive branch in their submission; whereas the arrows were utilized for the first time. He took the motto, “E. Pluribus Unum” [out of many, one] from the report of the first committee. Although Barton’s reverse was the pattern which Thomson utilized; several changes were made. Thomson chose to surround the “Eye of Providence” in the zenith with a triangle which Barton had omitted.  The motto “Deo favente”  [With the favor of God ] which Barton proposed was omitted and replaced with “Annuit Coeptis” [Providence favors our undertakings].  

Furthermore, Thomson added a second motto, “Novus Ordo Seclorum” [A New Order of the Ages] and the year of independence in Roman numerals which was found on Du Simitiere’s design. The Roman numerals were added to the base of the pyramid.

Although Charles Thomson didn’t make any drawings of his reverse; his descriptions and sketches were given to Barton for final revision. On June 19, 1782, Barton rewrote Thomson’s description of the obverse in the precise language of heraldry which included the specification of colors. Barton made a major change in the design of the shield by removing Thomson’s chevrons and adding thirteen pales (vertical stripes) alternating white and red colors below a blue“chief” [the upper part of the shield].

Barton restored the reverse with his eagle of the original design which “displayed” its wings. Furthermore, Barton specified that the bundle of arrows the eagle held in its left talon would be thirteen in number. He described the crest more specifically and specified that it include thirteen stars. An exergue and a legend surrounding the margin was added to the reverse but was later discarded.

Charles Thomson submitted his report to Congress on June 20, 1782. His recommendation of a design for the Great Seal was adopted by Congress the same day. The Journals of Congress contain this record of his report:

“The Secretary of the United States in Congress assembled to whom were referred the several reports of committees on the device for a great seal, to take order, reports
That the Device for an Armorial Achievement & Reverse of the great seal for the United States in Congress assembled is as follows. – 
Paleways of thirteen pieces of Argent and Glues; 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, & in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this Motto, “E. Pluribus unum [out of many, one].”

          For the Crest

Over the head of the Eagle which appears above the Escutcheon, A Glory, Or, breaking through a cloud, proper, & surrounding thirteen stars forming a Constellation, Argent, on an Azure field.  
A pyramid unfinished. In the Zenith an Eye in a triangle surrounded with a glory proper. Over the Eye these words “Annuit Coeptis [Providence favors our undertakings].” On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters MDCCLXXVI & underneath the following motto:  “Novus Ordo Seclorum” ["A New Order of the Ages"].

An essential part of the statute as adopted by Congress - but not included in the “Journals of Congress”- are these “Remarks and Explanation” which are in Thomson’s handwriting and endorsed personally by him.

“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 on that union & strength resulting from it for its support, to denote the Confederacy of the United States of American & the preservation of their Union through 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 & valor, and Blue, the color 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 ought to rely on their virtue.
Reverse. The Pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: The Eye over it & the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor 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 Era which commences from that date.”

Consequently, it is clear from reading Thomson’s “Remarks and Explanation” that every device on the obverse and reverse of the Great Seal of the United States of America is symbolic – allegorical – it represents something else. Heraldry is a language of symbolism, and government publications explain the official intent of the symbolic meaning of different parts of the Seal.

Charles Thomson was the first and only clerk of the Continental Congress. He was a remarkable classicist and biblical scholar from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Charles Thomson was the first person to translate the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) into English. George Washington knew Thomson well and read portions of his translation. Thomson was invited to become a Mason to help keep the Christian witness alive and maintain Christian values in American Masonry but he refused!

Reverend G. W. Snyder wrote to Washington on September 25, 1798 sending the book “Proofs of a Conspiracy” written by John Robison. Robinson argued that the Illuminati had penetrated American taking refuge in the fraternities of Masonry.

Washington replied to Snyder that he had been so busy he was not aware of Robison’s book until Reverend Snyder sent a copy to him. Washington declared that to his knowledge the Illuminati had not made great inroads into Masonry in America. Although he had been a mason; Washington declared that he had been to a meeting once or twice in thirty years of his adult life.

“I have heard much of the nefarious, and dangerous plan, and doctrines of the Illuminati, but never saw the Book until you were pleased to send it to me. The same causes which have prevented my reading the Book, hitherto; namely, the multiplicity of matters which pressed upon me before, and the debilitated state in which I was left after, a fever had been removed. And which allows me to add little more now, than thanks for your kind wishes and favorable sentiments, except to correct the error you have run into, of my Presiding over the English lodges in this Country. The fact is, I preside over none, nor have I been in one in more than once or twice, within the last thirty years. I believe notwithstanding, that none of the Lodges in this Country are contaminated with the principles ascribed to the Society of the Illuminati.”

As I stated in a previous paragraph, Charles Thomson was invited to become a Mason but refused!

“…the Master of the Masonic Order in Baltimore… was determined…to unbosom [his] heart.” This man urged Thomson to become a Mason to help him bring the order (which had ‘deviated from the truth) back to the “first principles” of Christianity. “I am in, you are out,” wrote the Masonic Master. “Will you – can you - deem yourself called upon to lend your aid to do much good?” Thomson stayed out."

Charles Thomson, the primary creator of the Great Seal of the United States wasn't a Mason!

[Important definitions of the 18th Century from  American Dictionary of the English Language  by Noah Webster published in 1828.]


“In theology. The exercise and superintendence which God exercises over his creatures. He that acknowledges a creation and denies a providence, involves himself in a palpable contradiction; for the same power which caused a thing to exist is necessary to continue its existence. Some persons admit a general providence, but deny a particular providence, not considering  that a general providence consists of particulars. A belief in divine providence, is a source of great consolation to good men. By divine providence is often understood God himself.”


“Effected by the providence of God; referable to divine providence; proceeding from divine direction of superintendence; as the providential contrivance of things; a providential escape from danger.” 
“How much we are indebted to God’s unceasing providential care.” Woodward


“By means of God’s providence"

“Every animal is providentially directed to the use of its proper weapons.” Ray

 Glossary of Heraldic Terms

Argent - White or Silver

Armorial achievement - a (whole) coat of arms

Azure - blue

Banded - encircled with a band or riband

Bearing - applicapable to any charge or heraldic device

Charges - the bearings and emblems of heraldy

Chief - upper part of a shield, occupying one third thereof

Crest - an ornament for the head

Dexter - right hand sign of the design (not of the observer)

Displayed - applied to any bird of prey with its wings expanded

Escutcheon - shield

Field - whole surface of the escutcheon or shield upon which the charges or bearings are depicted

Glory - a series of rays surrounding or issuing from a change or ordinary (a common bearing
bounded by straight lines)

Gules - red

Motto - a word, saying or sentence borne on a scroll under the coat of arms and sometimes over
the crest

Or - metal gold

Paleway (Paly) - bands placed vertically on the face of a shield

Pileus - cap of liberty

Proper - applicable to all animals, trees, vegetables, etc., when borne of their natural color

Scroll - one of the ornaments which may accompany the shield, usually bearing a motto.

Sinister - Left hand side of the design (not of the observer)

Supporter - a figure of a living creature (although it may be mythical) represented as holding up or
standing beside the shield

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