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THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES:
O A , ,   re-
ported that the new one–dollar bill would be
di...
was a seminal and significant part of the cre-
ation of the United States, evolving along
with the Constitution itself.
Con...
featuring Franklin’s vision of Pharaoh in
pursuit of the Children of Israel and being
engulfed by the Red Sea. This graphi...
and the now familiar one-dollar bill.
The New Dollar Bill
I , H W, then Secretary of
Agriculture, sat while...
image was on the left or first in order—the
proper way for the seal to be displayed. Yet,
Roosevelt reversed the sides putt...
Declaration [of Independence], with a firm
reliance on the Protection of divine Providence,
we mutually pledge to each othe...
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Great Seal Article

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Great Seal Article

  1. 1. THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES: O A , ,   re- ported that the new one–dollar bill would be distinguished by an unfamiliar but appropri- ate design. The new bill would show, “…the little known reverse of the Great Seal…” Where did the Great Seal come from, what happened to its “little known reverse”, and how did the complete Great Seal finally ap- pear on the one dollar bill in ? The short, simple answer is that Franklin Delano Roosevelt found a way to put it there. But that would keep us from the larger story of where the original symbols came from, their meanings, and a  year old intrigue to keep the second side—the reverse with its eye and pyramid—hidden from the public and miss- ing from our Official Seal. So, what is The Great Seal? The Great Seal of the United States is the principal seal of our nation used for authen- ticating the President’s sig- nature on state documents. It was first used on Septem- ber ,  on a treaty with the British to exchange pris- oners. Other early uses in- cluded Presidential pardons, patents for land and inven- tions, and other applications that are now authenticated by an agency seal such as the U.S. Patent Office. Since its very first use the Seal, in the form of a die and press, has been housed in the Department of State and under the control of the Keeper of the Seal. How- ever, the Official Seal as conceived by the founders of our nation has never been used in its complete form. To this day, only the front or obverse with its eagle is impressed onto official state documents. The reverse of the Great Seal only appears on our one-dollar bill. The most recent attempt to complete the Official Seal came on June ,  when the U.S.Senate passed   . Introduced by Senator John Warner and co- sponsored by Senators Barry Goldwater, Sam Nunn and Claiborne Pell, it quickly ac- quired over  other senators as cosponsors.    commemorated the Bicentennial of The Great Seal of the United States. It resolved, “That the week beginning June , , be proclaimed Great Seal Bicentennial Week, and that a die be cut and appliances be made for making an impres- sion of the reverse of the Great Seal to complete the Official Seal, to be ready for the bicenten- nial of its first use, September , . In order to promote and enhance efforts to inform the American people of the will of the Founding Fathers and of the meaning and purpose of our national Seal…” In his introduction on May , , Sena- tor Warner noted that the Founding Fathers, via the Continental Congress, had adopted on June ,  a two-sided design for the Seal, but that only a die of the obverse or eagle side was struck and used. And that in , “Congress ordered that dies be cast for both sides of the Seal for official use. Yet, America remained with only half of her vision manifest in the Official Seal.” He concluded, “By this resolution the Senate will pro- claim its intention to finally have the wishes of the Founding Fathers fulfilled. I know that 200 years is a long time to complete the mandate of Con- gress, but let it be done this year. By this action, let the world know we still believe and adhere to the principle embodied in the Declaration of Indepen- dence, the Constitution, and visually embodied in the Great Seal.” In , this resolution quickly passed the Senate. As President of The Great Seal Foundation, my colleagues and I had initi- ated the resolution. One of my colleagues, Barbara Honneger, a White House staffer, then guided the passed resolution through nearly all of the necessary officials on its path to the desk of President Ronald Reagan. However, at the last check point, the White House Counsel would not sign off claim- ing that only joint congressional resolutions should be put before the President. Thus once again the completion of America’s Of- ficial Seal was thwarted. Of the three instances in ,  and  that the eye and pyramid side could have become part of the Official Seal, one stands out:The plot of  directly subverted an act of Congress passed on July th of that year. The successful subterfuge set the stage for its appearance a half century later on the one- dollar bill. Although the images on the back of the one-dollar bill are now so common to us, their histories and meanings have remained completely unknown to most Americans. The bald eagle as our national symbol and “E Pluribus Unum” as our motto come directly from these early Congressional commit- tees. And the Seal of the President and that of Congress are derived from these earliest heraldic symbols of America.The Great Seal                  . by Paul Zamarian Senator John Warner The 1782 Great Seal of the United States The masthead from Senate Resolution 394 of 1982.
  2. 2. was a seminal and significant part of the cre- ation of the United States, evolving along with the Constitution itself. Congress Creates the Seal B   J , , the Continental Congress appointed three men to design a seal to commemorate the cre- ation of the new nation. The Declaration of Independence had just been adopted and Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams were nominated to be the first seal committee. By the time the Revolution was over, two additional committees would be formed. Each committee selected its own artist. Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, a well-known portrait artist, drew the original committee’s designs. The front contained a shield, the eye of providence in a radiant triangle, and the motto, “E Pluribus Unum”; elements that remain in the final design. It is said that du Simitiere may have taken “E Pluribus Unum” from the well-known Gentleman’s Magazine, the predecessor of today’s Gentlemen’s Quar- terly (GQ). The first committee eventually submitted a two-sided design, the reverse The descriptions of the complete design and meanings behind the Great Seal as quoted from the JOURNALS OF CONGRESS for June , . “T S   U S  C -                 ,   , : T  D  A A  R       U S  C -    — ARMS—Paleways of thirteen pieces Argent and Gules: 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. “  ”— 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— REVERSE—A Pyramid unfinished. In the Zenith an Eye in a triangle sur- rounded with a glory proper. Over the Eye these words “A C”. On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters  & underneath the following motto, “  ” R  E The Escutcheon is composed of the chief and 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 and 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 & the strength resulting from it for its support, to denote the Confederacy of the United States of America & the preservation of their union through Congress. The colours 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 colour 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 born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own Virtue— Reverse. The pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: The Eye over it & the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause. The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Indepen- dence and the words under it signify the beginning of the New American Era, which commences from that date— The motto and the “eye of providence” from the First Seal Commitee. First Seal Commitee of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams & Benjamin Franklin
  3. 3. featuring Franklin’s vision of Pharaoh in pursuit of the Children of Israel and being engulfed by the Red Sea. This graphic scene complete with the guiding pillar of fire is en- circled with the motto, “Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” Even with the influence of these three men, the full Congress did not adopt their designs. A second committee was appointed in March of  with three new members: James Lovell, John Morin Scott, and Wil- liam Churchill Houston. Francis Hopkin- son who also designed the American flag became their artist. Again their two-sided design was not fully adopted, although their motifs of  red and white stripes, and a con- stellation of  stars with an olive branch would survive. Finally, in May of , the Congress ap- pointed a third committee. Its members, John Rutledge, Arthur Middleton and Elias Boudinot elicited the services of Charles Barton, the nephew of the famous scientist, David Rittenhouse. Barton was a find. As a lawyer with artistic talent and versed in her- aldry, he made significant contributions. He drew an unfinished pyramid under the first committee’s “radiant eye”and introduced an eagle as part of the front side. The committee quickly submitted these new designs, but Congress, still dissatisfied, turned the designs of all three committees over to Charles Thomson, the perennial Secretary of the Continental Congress and owner of the second signature after John Hancock’s to grace the Declaration of Inde- pendence upon its adoption on July , . In about a week, Thomson, in collaboration with Barton, synthesized the ideas submit- ted by the three committees. Together they created a final design that was approved by the Continental Congress.On June ,, the new nation adopted a two-sided design for its Great Seal. In the Journals of Congress for June ,  the designs and meanings for both the ob- verse and reverse are fully described in the antique language of heraldry (see sidebar). On September ,  the new nation’s Great Seal was used for the first time—on a treaty to exchange prisoners with the Brit- ish. However, only the eagle side was used. It had been fashioned into a die from the description in the Journals of Congress. Why the reverse side was not struck is not clear. The use of two-sided pendant seals was still common although on the wane. But the full seal design could have been made into a sin- gle die with a double image similar to South Carolina’s Great Seal. Except for a few ren- ditions in publications, the eye and pyramid reverse side was never revealed to the public as an integral part of the symbol of the new nation. In contrast, the eagle and the shield appeared everywhere; on furniture, edifices, bowsprits and numerous graphic images. The eagle and shield quickly became the sole symbol of the new American nation. In its official capacity the die of the seal’s ob- verse was housed in the Department of State under its first Secretary,Thomas Jefferson. It was used on state documents that required the President’s signature.That use in its lim- ited, incomplete form continues to this day. It was not until the approach of the Cen- tennial of the Seal’s adoption that an effort took root to complete its official form. John D. Champlin, Jr., a prominent New York author and editor was most responsible for awakening the public to the incompleteness of the Official Seal. His article in the May,  issue of The Galaxy, charged that the State Department had neglected the seal’s reverse by not using it officially. Then in January of , Assistant Secretary of State, John Hay, requested an estimate from Theo- dore F. Dwight, the department’s librarian, for cutting a die of the reverse.The eagle side of the seal had gone through a few design re- visions and the most recent one had drifted out of compliance with the heraldic descrip- tion in the Journals of Congress. Infamously referred by some as the Illegal Seal, it was worn and needed replacement. The Centen- nial presented an ideal opportunity to rectify the errors and complete the Official Seal. In  an outspoken and mildly eccentric military expert, First Lieutenant Charles A.L. Totten, joined the effort. Having acci- dentally discovered that the seal had a reverse side, he convinced the State Department to issue a commemorative medal displaying the front and back side of the seal. For most Americans, it was their first view of the eye and pyramid reverse. On February , , Totten wrote the Sec- retary of State Frederick T. Frelinghuysen offering details on new seal designs and ad- vising that both sides should be struck as dies and used. He suggested that the integrated design could be merged into a figure- form with the obverse at the top and the reverse on the bottom and impressed on the same wafer. He said the incomplete seal was tech- nically illegal and a part could not do for the whole when the law was clearly set forth in the Journals of the Continental Congress. In the fall of , Dwight who was now Chief of the Bureau of Rolls and Library in the State Department, began to look into striking this new seal for official use. He made contact with James Horton White- house, Chief Designer of Tiffany & Co. in New York. In December he wrote to solicit an estimate and designs for dies and press 1782: Thompson’s suggestion for the Obverse along with Barton’s Reverse design. James Horton Whitehouse and his Tiffany designs of 1884.
  4. 4. and the now familiar one-dollar bill. The New Dollar Bill I , H W, then Secretary of Agriculture, sat while waiting to meet with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, and dis- covered Gaillard Hunt’s History of the Great Seal in Hull’s waiting room. As he browsed through it the color prints of Whitehouse’s designs caught his attention, especially the pyramid and eye of the reverse side. He im- mediately showed the images to the Presi- dent, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Both Wal- lace and FDR were members of the Masonic Fraternity, Freemasons, and for the first time were viewing the Seal’s reverse side. Wallace later described FDR’s reaction in two letters written in : “Roosevelt as he looked at the colored reproduc- tion of the Seal was first struck with the represen- tation of the ‘All-Seeing Eye”, a Masonic repre- sentation of the Great Architect of the Universe. Next he was impressed with the idea that the foundation for the new order of the ages had been laid in 1776 but that it would be completed only under the eye of the Great Architect.” Roosevelt decided to put it on the back of a new dollar bill and referred the matter to Henry Morgenthau, his Treasury Secretary. The dollar bill at that time was like ours with George Washington on the front but with variations of the word and numeral “one” on the back. When the draft of the new dol- lar bill came to FDR from the Treasury, the Whitehouse designs were on the back of the dollar bill. The obverse with the eagle before him, Whitmore on December ,  to Dwight adds: “As to the reverse..It is a thankless task to ar- range it & as Prof. Norton says, use it as little as possible.” On January , , Dwight responds to Whitmore apologizing for the delay due to work pressure from his current duties. This letter not only conveys agreement with the comments of Norton, Winsor and Whit- more as to the reverse, it also gives some in- sight into the pressures on Dwight that in- fluenced his decision not to have the reverse die cut. Specifically: “Unfortunately owing to the delay of Congress in providing the requisite means for the work, only a few weeks remain in which the new die or dies can be executed under the present admin- istration. For the present purposes we shall not order the reverse, as Mr. Winsor remarks, it has been so long kept in the dark, a few months more of shade will do it no harm.” However,he goes on with some ambivalence saying that although the law does call for the reverse to be cut, it would be inconvenient to use it for sealing documents and he was under some time duress. Noting that it was originally left uncut in , presumably because the Founders also urgently needed a die and that the country had simply lost sight of it since, Dwight decided he could do the same. Independently of Dwight, on January , , Secretary Frelinghuysen wrote Tiffany and formally ordered dies of the obverse and reverse to be cut pursuant to the act passed on July , . On the following Sunday, January , Dwight was in New York to likely meet with Whitehouse, but records of any meetings are not available. All we do know is that, on March , , Dwight wrote Whitehouse, “…in reply to your in- quiry as to whether you should proceed with the reverse of the seal, that you need not do so until you hear further from me.”The Eagle and the Shield indicates that no further cor- respondence was found. Four men, Dwight, Norton, Winsor, and Whitmore have judged the Founders con- ception to be an inferior aberration best kept in the dark. Thus a die of only the obverse side was struck in  and put into official use despite the rule of Congress mandating the cutting of a complete seal including the official reverse. In  due to wear, a new die with the same design was restruck— would the Founder’s full conception ever see the light of day? It is this single-sided die with the Whitehouse design for the eagle that brings us finally to , the New Deal, implements for both sides of the seal. It was Whitehouse’s designs that formed the ref- erence point for all further correspondence from -. The enduring legacy of Charles Totten, be- yond his striking of the Centennial Medal, was his successful pressing of Secretary Frel- inghuysen to have Congress draft a law man- dating that dies of both the front and back of the seal and implements for their use be made. This new law supporting the original mandate of  was passed on July , . And again the will of Congress would never be carried out. The Plot T - , and the actual plot to sub- vert the law of July ,  are described in detail in the two authorities on The Great Seal: Gaillard Hunt’s, History of the Great Seal, published in  and The Eagle and the Shield by Patterson and Dougall, published in . Both were State Department publi- cations. From -, Theodore Dwight consulted with several experts concerning the new seal designs, these included: Asa Gray, the fore- most botanist of the time, concerning the ol- ive branch; and William S. Appleton on her- aldry. However it was not until after the  law was passed that he contacted Charles El- iot Norton of Harvard, a notable editor and author. Norton was extremely critical of the entire seal design and even questioned the judgment of the original Congress. On De- cember ,  he wrote Dwight in part: “It is greatly to be regretted that the device ad- opted in 1782 is of so elaborate and allegorical a character. The most skilful treatment of it could not make it satisfactory as the design for the seal of a great nation. It is little better than a very complex totem.” “As to the reverse, the device adopted by Congress is practically incapable of effective treatment; it can hardly, however artistically treated by the designer, look otherwise than a dull emblem of a masonic fraternity.” With the table set with his arrogant critical sarcasm, Norton quickly confers with Justin Winsor, the Harvard Librarian and Wil- liam Henry Whitmore, a heraldic scholar, both who have previously been mentioned to Dwight. On December , , Winsor wrote Dwight that he agreed with Norton entirely and added: “The design (reverse) of the original order is both unintelligible and commonplace. If it can be kept in the dark as it seems to have been kept, why not keep it so.” And with Norton and Winsor’s comments Franklin D. Roosevelt
  5. 5. image was on the left or first in order—the proper way for the seal to be displayed. Yet, Roosevelt reversed the sides putting the pyramid and eye side first, on the left, add- ing The Great Seal under it.The obverse eagle side was now on the right with of The United States under it. He signed the proof in this form and the  Series E One Dollar Bill was issued by the Mint. The New York Times on October ,  quoted Treasury Secretary Henry Morgen- thau describing the new dollar bill as,“…the handsomest ever…” For the first time since its adoption in , The Great Seal of the United States is seen as a whole:The obverse with the well-known eagle and the reverse with the newly revealed pyramid and eye. However, our Official Seal as displayed and used by the State Depart- ment remains half finished, even now. Conclusion SOSU S be completed? I think so. Although there are practical aspects of redesigning the die in the Department of State, the comple- tion of the Founders’ vision is worthy of our efforts as expressed by John Warner in intro- ducing Senate Resolution . The eye and pyramid was not an after thought merely re- lated to the use of two-sided pendant seals. Rather, it was an integral part of the whole design—an allegorical description of the na- tion’s founding. A perspective that has stayed with me over the three decades I have lived with the Seal’s story, is that the eagle obverse is our na- tionalistic image: the defiant bird with the piercing gaze balancing the powers of war and peace;  arrows and the olive branch’s  leaves and berries. Above the eagle’s head, a constellation of  stars representing the original colonies coalescing denotes a new state taking its place among sov- ereign powers—e pluribus unum (out of the many came one enti- ty). As a model for the Presiden- tial and Congressional Seals, the unfinished Official Seal is the image of America that is pro- jected to the world. However, it presents only half of our found- ing story. The pyramid reverse does not have that nationalistic feel. It puts forth a vision for all hu- manity; the Founders knew that the nation’s creation was a transforming occurrence in the history of mankind. A symbol of their humble recognition that under the guidance of di- vine providence the Republic was birthed in a world of mon- archies; that the Declaration of Independence and our nation were concrete manifestations of the Age of Reason, incorporat- ing the highest of human ideals. The ancient, long-lived pyramid stands for the enduring quality of the American experiment that began in  () and heralds a new order of the ages, Novos Ordo Seclorum. The un- finished apex leaves room for the continu- ous work and advancement of the American people under the guiding eye of divine prov- idence. Such powerfully moving metaphors should be reintroduced to America and the world as reminders of our Founder’s inspira- tional ideals. How could the Great Seal be completed? I have known two of the previous Keepers of The Great Seal in the State Department, meeting Bernice Renn in  and Jane Mos- solem in . It was Jane Mossolem who expressed her concern about Senate Resolu- tion  and it sums up the current position against completing the Official Seal. She explained that it would be inconvenient to make double impressions, one for each side, on thousands of documents a year. This was echoed by Carol Bisbee, the Keeper in  in a letter to me. Perhaps there is another less imposing so- lution. Charles Totten had suggested a fig- ure- form in  and there are precedents for a two-sided seal impressed as a combined image.The oldest in our country isThe Great Seal of South Carolina with its obverse and reverse side-by-side. The cost of redesign- ing the Official Seal with the integration of both sides into a single die is small and its use would not impose undue burden on the Keeper’s office. Just as in , inertia and resistance to change are timeless roadblocks. But is not change and renewal what this country and its creation are all about? A historical perspective is needed. The plot- ters against completing the seal are nearly unknown and relatively insignificant in our history.We should not allow the shadowy ac- tionsofDwightandhisthreecollaboratorsto keep our Official Seal half complete in viola- tion of the Founders’vision and the statutory law passed on July ,.The eye in a radiant triangle came from the original seal commit- tee of Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson. Three men amongst our nation’s Founders who all sacrificed so much and risked even more in  to sign themselves in, “…support of this The embossing press and the Keeper of The Seal, Jane Mossolem The Great Seal of South Carolina displaying its obverse and reverse side-by-side. The back of the dollar prior to  and the early draft of the Series E dollar with FDR’s notations to invert the obverse and reverse of the Great Seal on the new dollar’s back.
  6. 6. Declaration [of Independence], with a firm reliance on the Protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Completing the Official Seal to the original specifica- tions of the original Congress would be an appropriate monument to all past and future great Americans; a metaphorical reminder to all citizens of good faith that our contin- ued humble work and sacrifice are the mor- tar and stone that add stability to humanity’s forever “unfinished pyramid”. Now that The Great Seal has past its th birthday, the time has come to make its for- mal form whole in the State Department and for it to be fully impressed on all docu- ments that require our Great Seal. It is time for a proper and complete recognition of the Founder’s revolutionary vision and a re- newal of our country’s “self evident” yet still uncommon heritage. A possible solution for a complete side-by-side striking of both the Obverse & Reverse of The Great Seal of the United States. The author, Paul Zamarian, as President of the Great Seal Foundation was instrumental in the effort to initiate, pass and implement Senate Resolution  in . He is now an attorney living in Santa Rosa, California.

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