The Great Seal of the United States is a symbol of our independent Nation and self-government. It appears on official documents such as proclamations, warrants, treaties, and commissions of high officials of the Government. On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress appointed a committee consisting of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson “to bring in a device for a seal of the United States of America.” After many delays, a verbal description of a design by William Barton was finally approved by Congress on June 20, 1782. The seal shows an American bald eagle with a ribbon in its mouth bearing the device E Pluribus Unum (One out of many).
In its talons are the arrows of war and an olive branch of peace. On the reverse side, it shows an unfinished pyramid with an eye (the eye of Providence) above it. Although this description was adopted in 1782, the first drawing was not made until four years later, and no die has ever been cut. The Continental Congress first created a committee to design a seal for the United States on July 4, 1776, the same day that they adopted the Declaration of Independence. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams created a design that was eventually rejected, but one element was adopted: the motto E Pluribus Unum, which is Latin for “Out of Many, One.”
In 1780, James Lovell of Massachusetts and John Morin Scott and William Churchill Houston of Virginia developed a second design which was also rejected by Congress. Some elements, such as the olive branch, the thirteen stars, and the shield with red and white stripes on a blue field, were used in the final design. In 1782, a third committee used the eagle for the first time. The Secretary of the Continental Congress, Charles Thomson, created a fourth design that was then slightly changed by William Barton.
The Continental Congress approved this design on June 20, 1782. The design used the eagle that holds a scroll in its beak with the E Pluribus Unum motto; in one claw is an olive branch, a symbol of peace, and the other claw holds thirteen arrows, a symbol of war. The seal’s reverse side contains a thirteen-step pyramid with the year 1776 in Roman numerals at the base. At the top of the pyramid is the Eye of Providence and above is the motto Annuit Coeptis, which is Latin for “It [the Eye of Providence] is favorable to our undertakings” or “He favors our undertakings.” Below the pyramid, a scroll reads, Novus Ordo Seclorum, which is Latin for “New Order of the Ages.” It refers to 1776 as the beginning of a new era of the United States.