Church of God, New World Ministries

Ascent To Greatness - Part 8

The U.S. Coat of Arms, Seal, Flag and Motto

Why did the U.S. think it necessary even to have a national coat of arms? When did America adopt her present Great Seal?

At the time when the U.S. declared independence in 1776, it was the prevailing practice in much of the civilized world – in Europe especially to have a national coat of arms.

On the very day the U.S. declared its independence, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee of three (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson), “to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America.”

But the task of providing a suitable “Great Seal” proved to be a difficult one. For six weeks Franklin, Jefferson and Adams searched, discussed and debated what would make a suitable “seal” for their newborn country. They considered many different symbols, coats of arms and various devices. They even considered the national shields of England, Ireland, Scotland, Germany and France.

They also looked at mythological symbolism, such as Hercules choosing between virtue and sloth. And they seriously considered biblical representations such as Moses crossing the Red Sea.

What, according to John Adams, America’s second President, were some of the important details of this committee’s attempt to arrive at a suitable coat of arms? Some of their suggestions are revealed in the Familiar Letters of John Adams to His Wife:

“For the seal, he (Du Simit ere) propose the arms of several nations from whence America has been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German, etc., each in a shield.

“On one side of them, Liberty with her pileus, on the other a rifler in his uniform, with his rifle-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 They spent over six weeks debating various proposals, but could not agree on what form the seal should take. Their committee report to the Congress was finally tabled.

Congress appointed two further committees before a satisfactory Great Seal was devised and adopted – six full years later!

The final design which was presented to, and adopted by, the Continental Congress on June 20, 1782 incorporated the suggestions of several people. It was, however, primarily the creation of William Barton and Charles Thomson (both of Philadelphia).

The official description (or blazon) of this coat of arms is still part of the law of this land, and reads as follows:

“ARMS. Paleways (vertical lines) of thirteen pieces argent and gules; a chief, azure; the escutcheon (shield) on the breast of the American eagle displayed proper, holding in his dexter (right) talon an olive branch, and in his sinister (left) a bundle of thirteen arrows, all proper, and in his beak a scroll, inscribed with the motto, ‘E Pluribus Unum.’

“REVERSE. A pyramid unfinished. In the zenith, an eye in a triangle, surrounded with a glory proper. Over the eye these words ‘Annuit Coeptis.’ On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters MDCClXXVI. And underneath the following motto, ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum.’

What does all this heraldic jargon mean? What does it symbolize? The design on the “obverse” side (the fact) of the Great Seal is, in the main, the work of the American heraldist, William Barton, and of the secretary of Congress Charles Thomas, who made certain modifications in Barton’s plans.

This modified seal was presented to the third committee appointed to select a design for a U.S. Seal. They worked with Thomas to arrive at the final result. This final design of the Great Seal of the United States was then presented to, and approved by, the Continental Congress on June 20, 1782. Since that time the Great Seal has never been officially modified. It has, however, had certain unauthorized artistic variations made in it, which were later corrected.

It should also be noticed that the “eagle” which appears on the Great Seal is specified to be the American bald eagle, also called the white-headed eagle. Eagles are known for their strength, endurance, vision, grace, and their martial qualities. They are also known for their independence, and for the exemplary care which they bestow on their young.

Furthermore, it should be noted that the eagle clutches an olive branch (containing 13 leaves and 13 olives) in its right talon. And the face of the eagle is turned toward the olive branch – symbolizing that this “king of birds” desires peace rather than war.

In the left talon, this bald eagle on our Seal clutches thirteen arrows – symbolizing her power to make war. It is also significant that during a period of declared war, the official seal of the U.S. is already in such a way that the eagle turns its head toward the arrows – showing that the nation is engaged in mortal combat.

The following quote clearly explains the overall symbolism of the Great Seal:

“The symbolism of the obverse (face) of the Great Seal is conventional and well known: the American bald eagle: the motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ (One from many); the olive branch of peace and the arrows of war; and symbols of the 13 colonies. That of the reverse (back side) is less familiar. The design incorporates the date of the founding of the nation 1776; an unfinished pyramid, suggesting the firm and durable building of the new nation, not complete, however, and having room for other states; a single eye surrounded by the sun’s rays, suggesting the eye of providence surrounded by the light of the universe; and two mottoes, ‘Annuit Coeptis’ (He {i.e., God} has favoured our undertaking) and ‘Novus Ordo Seclorum’ (A new order of the ages), both adapted from Virgil” (Ency. Brit. Vol. 20, 1973 ed.)

It is of interest to understand the symbols which are on both sides of the Great Seal. When the original committee was appointed to devise a seal, its members, Franklin, Jefferson and Adams, all thought seriously about using the Red Sea episode, the biblical symbols of the cloud-and-pillar-of-fire which led the infant nations of Israel.

When the nation of Israel was released from its Egyptian bondage, was led into the wilderness of Sinai and was on the eve of receiving the Ten Commandments at the foot of Mt. Sinai, the Eternal One told them: “Ye have seen that what I did unto the Egyptian, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself” (Ex. 19:4).

Did the Founding Fathers – Franklin, Adams and Jefferson – influence the Continental Congress to adopt these symbols of the eagle, the cloud and the glory (or golden radiance) and the pyramid because of their having drawn a parallel between Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage, and their own deliverance from colonial bondage to Britain?

It is certainly a matter of the record that men like Washington, Franklin and Jefferson repeatedly acknowledged the Supreme Being, and appealed to Him for guidance and for His Providential care.

In Washington’s farewell address to the Congress in 1783, he said: “I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them to his holy keeping!”

There is certainly much more behind the artistic symbolism of the Great Seal of the United States of America than most American ever remotely dreamed of. The Great Seal can only be used by the President of the United States, but numerous other seals and coats of arms are based on this Seal and have been used both by civil and military authorities, and have long appeared on flags, uniforms, in architectural motifs and on stationery. U.S. diplomats abroad use the coat of arms above the entrances to their offices.

The Great Seal is a work of art, of beauty – having great symbolical significance for our great nation!

Surely every patriotic American has been cheered by the majestic fluttering of “Old Glory.” What is the symbolism behind this beautiful flag? The original flag of the U.S. was adopted during the Revolutionary War. On June 14, 1777, John Adams introduced the following resolution to the Second Continental Congress:

“In God We Trust” first appeared on certain U.S. coins in 1864.This slogan later disappeared from U.S. coins. Then reappeared and continued until 1955, at which time Congress ordered it placed henceforth on all coins and paper money. That is how America came to adopt her “national motto.”

More will follow in this amazing series…

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