Posted by: Democratic Thinker | January 21, 2016

Weekly Story: The Great Seal

Weekly Story

 
Naval Officer George Henry Preble documents the development of the Great Seal of the United States of America.


Dr. Franklin proposed for the device Moses lifting his wand and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh and his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. For a motto, the words of Cromwell, “REBELLION TO TYRANTS IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD.”


 

THE HISTORY OF THE SEAL AND ARMS OF THE
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

—————

“AS well might the Judas of treason endeavor
To write his black name on the disk of the sun
As try the bright star-wreath that binds us to sever,
And blot the fair legend of ‘Many in One.’”—0. W. Holmes.

 

Seal commonly used.
Seal commonly used.

DR. Franklin, Mr. John Adams, and Mr. Thomas Jefferson were appointed a committee to prepare a device for a great seal for the United States of America, July 4, 1776,* the very day of the Declaration of Independence.

* Journal of Congress.

Du Simitière, a French West Indian, a silhouette cutter of portraits, and painter of miniatures, water-colors, &c., was called to their assistance, and proposed a device showing on a shield the arms of the nations from whence America was peopled, with a figure of Liberty on one side and an American rifleman on the other for supporters.*

Du Simitière’s Design.
Du Simitière’s Design.

* The illustrations of designs for the great seal are reduced fac-similes of the designs on file in the State Department at Washington, excepting Jefferson’s design, which was drawn by Beason J. Lossing, LL.D., from the description of it reported to Congress. See an interesting article on the subject in ‘Harper’s Magazine,’ for 1856, by Mr. Lossing, also ‘Wells’s Illustrated Handbook,’ 1856, on the great seal of the United States, and the article on ‘The Seal of the United States’ in Nicholson’s Encyclopedia.

Dr. Franklin proposed for the device Moses lifting his wand and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh and his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. For a motto, the words of Cromwell, “REBELLION TO TYRANTS IS OBEDIENCE TO GOD.

Adams proposed ‘The Choice of Hercules,’ as engraved by Gribelin: the hero resting on a club; Virtue pointing to her rugged mountain on one hand, and persuading him to ascend; and Sloth, glancing at her flowery paths of pleasure, wantonly reclining on the ground, displaying the charms both of her eloquence and person to seduce him into vice.

Jefferson proposed ‘The Children of Israel in the Wilderness,’ led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and 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.

At the request of the other members of the committee, Jefferson attempted to combine the several ideas presented in one compact design, and on the 10th of August, 1776, the committee reported the following device and explanation thereof, which was ordered to lie upon the table:—

Jefferson’s Design, 1776.

Jefferson’s Design, 1776.*

* Du Simitière’s device.

“The great seal should on one side have the arms of the United States of America, which arms should be as follows:—

“The shield has six quarters, parti one, coupi two. The first or, an enamelled rose, gules and argent, for England; the second argent, a thistle proper, for Scotland; the third vert, a harp or, for Ireland; the fourth azure, a fleur-de-lis or, for France; the fifth or, the imperial eagle, sable, for Germany; and the sixth or, the Belgic crowned lion, gules, for Holland,—pointing out the countries from which the States have been peopled. The shield within a border, gules, entwined of thirteen escutcheons, argent, linked together by a chain or, each charged with initial sable letters, as follows: ‘1st, N. H., 2d, Mass., 3d, R. I., 4th, Conn., 5th, N. Y., 6th, N. J., 7th, Penn., 8th, Del., 9th, Md., 10th, Va., 11th, N. C., 12th, S. C., 13th, Ga., for each of the thirteen independent States of America.’*

* ‘The illustration is from a drawing by Benson J. Lossing, published in ‘Harper’s Magazine,’ July, 1856.

“SUPPORTERS, dexter, the Goddess of Liberty, in a corselet of armor, in allusion to the then state of war, and holding in her right hand the spear and cap, and with her left supporting the shield of the States; sinister, the Goddess of Justice, bearing a sword in her right hand, and in her left a balance.

“CREST, the eye of Providence in a radiant triangle, whose glory extends over the shield and beyond the figures; motto, ‘E Pluribus Unum.’

“LEGEND round the whole achievement, ‘Seal of the United States of America, MDCCLXXVI.’

“On the other side of the said great seal should be the following device:—

“Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head, and a sword in his right hand, passing through 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, beaming on Moses, who stands on the shore, and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overthrow Pharaoh.*

* Dr. Franklin’s suggestion.

“MOTTO, ‘Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.’”*

* Dr. Franklin’s suggestion. The shields of the States, connected by silver chain, seem to have been suggested by Jefferson, as also the motto. “E Pluribus Unum,” which was finally adopted, as were the eye of Providence on the reverse of the seal, instead of the obverse, as in this design.

On the 25th of March, 1779, it was ordered that the report of the committee on the device of a great seal for the United States in Congress assembled be referred to a committee of three, and Messrs. Lovell and Scott, of Virginia, and Houston, of Georgia, were appointed. On the 10th of May the committee reported that,—

“The seal be four inches in diameter; on one side the arms of the United States as follows: The seal charged in the field with thirteen diagonal stripes, alternately red and white.

“SUPPORTERS, dexter, a warrior holding a sword; sinister, a figure representing Peace bearing an olive branch.

“THE CREST, a radiant constellation of thirteen stars.

“THE MOTTO, ‘Bello vel pace.’

“THE LEGEND round the achievement, ‘Seal of the United States.’

“ON THE REVERSE, the figure of Liberty, seated in a chair, holding the staff and cap.

“THE MOTTO, ‘Semper;’ underneath, ‘MDOCLXXVI.’”

Design submitted in 1779.

Design submitted in 1779.

On the 17th of May, the report of the committees on the device of a great seal was taken into consideration, and, after debate, ordered to be recommitted, and the result was the following report:—

“The seal to be three inches in diameter; on one side the arms of the United States, as follows: the shield charged in the field azure, with thirteen diagonal stripes, alternate rouge and argent.

“SUPPORTERS, dexter, a warrior holding a sword; sinister, a figure representing Peace bearing the olive branch.

“THE CREST, a radiant constellation of thirteen stars.

“THE MOTTO, ‘Bello vel pace.’

“THE LEGEND round the achievement, ‘The Great Seal of the United States.’

“ON THE REVERSE, ‘Virtute Perennis,’ underneath, ‘MDCCLXXVI.’

The design reported was like the former, differing only in the mottoes and date, and the figure of the warrior, representing an American Indian instead of a Roman soldier. The sketches, preserved in the State Department, and from which our illustrations are taken, are believed to have been made by Du Simitière. The report proposed a miniature of the face of the great seal, half its diameter, should be prepared, and affixed as the lesser seal of the United States.

Congress, however, was hard to please. This report was not accepted, and the matter was allowed to slumber nearly three years, or until April, 1782, when Henry Middleton, Elias Boudinot, and Edward Rutledge were appointed a committee to prepare a great seal. They reported, on the 9th of May following, substantially as the committees of 1779 and 1780 had done, which was not satisfactory to Congress, who next referred the whole matter to its secretary, Charles Thomson, who, calling in the aid of Mr. William Barton, of Philadelphia, received from him the following elaborate and rather impracticable design and description of it. The reverse of the great seal was, however, finally taken from it.

Design submitted in 1780.

Design submitted in 1780.

Barton’s Design, 1782.
Barton’s Design, 1782.

“ARMS. Barry of thirteen pieces, argent and gules, on a canton azure, and many stars disposed in a circle of the first; a pale or, surmounted of another of the third; charged in chief with an eye surrounded with a glory proper, and in the fess point, an eagle displayed on the summit of a Doric column, which rests on the base of the escutcheon, both as the stars.

“CREST. Or, a helmet of burnished gold damasked, grated with six bars, and surmounted by a cap of liberty, gules, turned up ermine, a cock armed with gaffs proper.

“SUPPORTERS. On the dexter side, the genius of America (represented by a maiden with loose auburn tresses), having on her head a radiated crown of gold, encircled with a sky-blue fillet, spangled with silver stars, and clothed in a long, loose, white garment, bordered with green. From her right shoulder to her left side a scarf, semèe of stars, the tinctures thereof the same as in the canton, and round her waist a purple girdle, fringed or embroidered argent, with the word ‘Virtue,’ resting her interior hand on the escutcheon, and holding in the other the proper ‘Standard of the United States,’ having a dove argent perched on the top of it.

“On the sinister side, a man in complete armor, his sword-belt azure, fringed with gold, his helmet encircled with a laurel wreath, and crested with one white and blue plume; supporting with his dexter hand the escutcheon, and holding in the interior a lance, with the point sanguinated, and upon it a banner, displayed, vert in the fess point; a harp strung with silver, between a star in chief, two fleurs-de-lis in fess, and a pair of swords in saltire in basses, all argent. The tenants of the escutcheon stand on a scroll on which is the following motto:—

Deo Favente,’

which alludes to the eye in the arms, meant for the eye of Providence. “Over the crest, on a scroll, this motto:—

Virtus sola inricta.’

“The thirteen pieces barways, which fill up the field of the arms, may represent the several States; and the same number of stars, upon a blue canton disposed in a circle, represent a new constellation, which alludes to the new empire formed in the world by the confederation of those States. Their disposition in a circle denotes the perpetuity of its continuance, the ring being the symbol of eternity. The eagle displayed is the symbol of supreme power and authority, and signifies the Congress; the pillar upon which it rests is used as the hieroglyphic of fortitude and constancy, and its being of the Doric order (which is the best proportioned and most agreeable to nature), and composed of several members or parts, all taken together forming a beautiful composition of strength, congruity, and usefulness, it may with great propriety signify a well-planned government. The eagle being placed on the summit of the columns is emblematical of the sovereignty of the government of the United States; and, as further expressive of that idea, those two charges or, five and six azure, are borne in a pale which extends across the thirteen pieces into which the escutcheon is divided. The signification of the eye has been already explained. The helmet is such as appertains to sovereignty, and the cap is used as the token of freedom and excellency. It was formerly worn by dukes: says Guillien, they had a more worthy government than other subjects. The cock is distinguished for two most excellent qualities; viz., vigilance and fortitude. The genius of the American confederated republic is denoted by the blue scarf and fillet, glittering with stars, and by the flag of Congress which she displays. Her dress is white, edged with green, emblematical of innocence and truth. Her purple girdle and radiated crown indicate her sovereignty,—the word ‘ ‘virtue,’ on the former, is to show that that should be her principal ornament; and the radiated crown, that no earthly crown should rule her. The dove on the top of the American standard denotes the mildness and purity of her government.

“The knight in armor, with his bloody lance, represents the military genius of the American empire, armed in defence of its just rights. His blue belt and blue feathers indicate his country, and the white plume is in compliment to our gallant ally. The wreath of laurel round his helmet is expressive of his success.

“The green field of the banner denotes youth and vigor; the harp* [with thirteen strings], emblematical of the several States acting in harmony and concert; the star in chief has reference to America, as principal in the contest; the two fleurs-de-lis are borne as a grateful** testimony of the support given to her by France; and the two swords crossing each other signify the state of war. This tenant and his flag relate totally to America, at the time of her revolution.”

* The pen is run through the words, with thirteen strings, in the original.

** In the arms of Scotland, as manifested in the royal achievement, the double tressure which surrounds the lion is borne flory and counter flory (with fleurs-de-lis), which is in consequence of a treaty between Charlemagne, emperor and king of France, and Achias, king of Scotland, to denote that the French Miles should guard and defend the Scottish lion.”

Another device proposed by Mr. Barton at this time, and very nearly the one finally adopted, is thus described by him as “blazoned agreeably to the laws of heraldry:”—

“ARMS. Paleways of thirteen pieces argent and gules; a chief azure, the escutcheon placed on the breast of the American (the bald-headed) eagle, displayed proper, holding in his beak a scroll inscribed with the motto, viz. ‘E Pluribus Unum* and in his dexter talon a palm or olive branch, in the other a bundle of thirteen arrows, all proper.**

* Borrowed from Jefferson’s design. Aug. 10, 1776.

** As the paler or pallets consist of nn uneven number, they ought in strictness to be blazoned, argent 6 pallets gulex; but as the thirteen pieces allude to the thirteen States, they are blazoned according to the number of pieces paleways

“FOR THE CREST. Over the head of the eagle which appears above the escutcheon, a glory, or, breaking through a cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars forming a constellation argent, on an azure field.*

* This was borrowed from the designs submitted in 1770 and 1780.

“In the exerque of the great seal,—

‘Jul. IV, MDCOLXXVI.’

“In the margin of the same,—

‘Sigil, Mag. Repul. Confœd. Americ.’”

Mr. Barton explained the meaning of his device thus: “The escutcheon is composed of the chief, and pale, the two most honorable ordinaries; the latter represents the several States, all joined in one solid, compact entire, supporting a chief which unites the whole, and represents Congress. The motto alludes to the union; the colors or tinctures of the pales are those used in the flag of the United States. White signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness, valor; the chief denotes congress; blue is the ground of the American uniform, and the color signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

“The meaning of the crest is obvious, as is likewise that of the olive branch and arrows. The escutcheon, being placed on the breast of the eagle, is a very ancient mode of bearing, and is truly imperial. The eagle displayed is another heraldic figure; and, being borne in the manner here described, supplies the place of supporters and crest. The American States need no supporters but their own virtue, and the preservation of their union through Congress. The pales in the arms are kept closely united by the chief, which last, likewise, depends on that union, and strength resulting from it, for its own support, the inference is plain.”

June 13, 1782, Messrs. Middleton, Boudinot, and Rutledge reported a modification of Mr. Barton’s devices, which was referred to the Secretary of the United States; and a week later, on the 20th of June, 1782, the Secretary of the United States, in Congress assembled, to whom was referred the several reports of committees on the devices of a great seal to take order, reported the following device, which was adopted as—

THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

ADOPTED JUNE 20, 1782.

“ARMS. Paleways of thirteen pieces argent and gules; a chief azure; the escutcheon on the breast of the American eagle displayed proper, holding in his dexter talon an olive branch, and in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows, all proper; and in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this motto, ‘E PLURIBUS UNUM.’

For the CREST: over the head of the eagle which appears above the escutcheon, a glory breaking through a cloud proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent, and on an azure field.

“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.’*

* Mr. C. T. Lukens, of Philadelphia, in a letter to me, dated Oct. 25, 1871, says: “The armoristic lapses of this act are: First. The omission of ‘wings elevated’ [or tips in chiefl after displayed, as the bald eagle might be displayed, and yet have the wings ‘inverted’ [or tips in base]. Second. The tincture of the scroll or motto ribbon, which might be either red or blue, and yet harmonize with the tinctures of the shields, as arms is omitted. The motto itself would inevitably be gold, unless otherwise mentioned. Third. Denominating the stars over the head of the eagle a ‘crest.’ They are, instead, only approximately a crest, but are not a crest, except through great latitude in the use of the term, because they could not be tangibly represented as in nature, and attached to the top of a helmet. Theoretically, the crest must be something possible to represent in apparent solidity in carved or stamped work, which, being affixable to the helmet, can also be reasonably represented as resting upon the top of the shield.” Mr. Lukens’s letter is embellished with several elegant pen drawings, illustrating his views.

“The interpretation of these devices is as follows: The escutcheon is composed of the chief and pale, the two most honorable ordinaries. The thirteen pieces paly represent the several States in the Union, all joined in one solid, compact entire supporting a chief which unites the whole, and represents Congress. The motto alludes to the union. The pales in the arms are kept closely united by the chief, and the chief depends on that union, and the strength resulting from it, for its support, to denote the confederacy of the United States of America, and the preservation of their union through Congress.

“The colors of the pales and those used in the flag of the United States of America: white signifies purity and innocence; red, hardiness and valor; and blue, the color of the chief, signifies vigilance, perseverance, and justice.

“The olive branch and arrows denote the power of peace and war, which is exclusively vested in Congress. The crest or constellation denotes a new State taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers; the escutcheon is borne on the breast of the 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 and the motto alludes to the many and 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.”

The mottoes, “Annuit Caeptis” (“God has favored the undertaking”), “Novus Ordo Sedorum” (“A new series of ages”), denoting that a new order of things had commenced in the Western Hemisphere.

The eye of Providence in a triangle on the reverse of the seal as adopted, and the motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” formed part of the device reported by the committee, Aug. 10, 1776. The crest, a radiant constellation of thirteen stars breaking through a cloud proper, was on the devices and reports of 1779 and 1780. The thirteen red and white stripes on the shield were also then suggested, but placed diagonally. The State of New York had taken the eagle on the crest of its arms more than four years earlier.

The illustration is the full size of the great seal, which has been in use ever since its adoption. Only the side containing the arms of the Union is used.

Mr. Lossing* says, on the authority of Thomas Barrett, an antiquary of Manchester, England, that these arms were suggested to John Adams by Sir John Prestwick, who meant to signify by the blue chief, which in his design was spangled with stars, the protection of Heaven over the States; and that thus to a baronet of the West of England, who was a warm friend of America, as well as an accomplished antiquarian, we are indebted for our national arms. This legend is contradicted by the following paper in the autograph of William Barton, which passed into the possession of his son, Dr. W. P. C. Barton, U. S. N., and on his death in 1856, into the hands of his brother, J. Rhea Barton, M.D., and is now believed to be in the possession of his son, Francis Barton:—

“In June, 1782, when Congress was about to form an armorial device for a great seal for the United States, Charles Thomson, Esq., then secretary, with the Hon. Arthur Lee and Elias Boudinot, members of Congress, called on me and consulted me on the occasion. The great seal, for which I furnished those gentlemen with devices was certified by Charles Thomson, Esq.), was adopted by Congress on the 20th of June, 1782. Mr. Thomson informed me, four days after, that they met with general approbation.

(Signed) “W. BARTON.”

* Field-Book American Revolution, vol. 11.; also in article on the Great Seal of the United States, in Harper’s Magazine, July, 1856.

The following is the statement referred to by Mr. Barton, written four days after the arms were adopted, and still preserved in the Barton family:—

“Sir,—I am much obliged for the perusal of the ‘Elements of Heraldry,’ which I now return. I have just dipt into it so far as to be satisfied that it may afford a fund of entertainment, and may be applied by a State to useful purposes. I am much obliged for your very valuable present of Fortescue de Laudibus Legum Angliœ, and shall be happy to have it in my power to make a suitable return.*

“I enclose you a copy of the device by which you have displayed your skill in heraldic science, and which meets with general approbation.**

“I am, sir,
“Your obedient humble servant,
(Signed) CHARLES THOMSON.

“JUNE 24, 1782.”

* I am indebted to Medical-Director James D. Mlller, U. S. N., who married a granddaughter of William Barton, for these letters and for a copy of a description of the arms of the United States as adopted, taken from one in his autograph. (See note, page 700.) A copy of Thomson’s letter can be found in Nicholson’s Encyclopedia, under the heading ‘ Heraldry.’

** Heraldry, St. Paul’s Chapel in New York, ‘Genealogical and Biographical Record,’ July, 1872. In 1875, six hundred dollars was appropriated by the State of New York, for the purpose of having two copies of the arms of New York painted on a panel or metal, one to he placed in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, the other in the State library at Albany,—the object being to diffuse mid perpetuate a knowledge of the genuine State arms. For a heraldic description of these arms, see ‘The Correct Arms of the State of New York,’ by Henry A. Home. LL.D., 1880, p. 26.

On the north and south walls of St. Paul’s Chapel, New York, opposite each other, and half-way down the nave, hang the arms of the United States and the State of New York. These are supposed to mark the places which were occupied by the large square pews set apart for the President of the United States and the Governor of the State. At “some dreary day of modernizing and miscalled improvement” these canopied pews were destroyed, and the paintings consigned to unmerited obscurity. A few years ago they were restored, as nearly as could be determined, to their original positions.

The arms of the United States on the north side are believed to mark the place of the President’s pew, in which General Washington was accustomed to sit. The painting is evidently the work of a skilful painter, working from the device of an experienced herald. The blazon is as follows:—

Argent six palets gules, a chief azure. Borne on the breast of the American eagle displayed, in his dexter talon an olive branch, in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows, points upward, all proper, the last feathered or; his head surrounded with a circular sky, azure, charged with thirteen mullets 5, 4, 3, 1, argent, environed with clouds proper and beyond rays, or; in his beak a scroll, with the words “E Pluribus Unumor.*

* Heraldry, St. Paul’s Chapel in New York, ‘Genealogical and Biographical Record,’ July, 1872. In 1875, six hundred dollars was appropriated by the State of New York, for the purpose of having two copies of the arms of New York painted on a panel or metal, one to he placed in Independence Hall, Philadelphia, the other in the State library at Albany,—the object being to diffuse mid perpetuate a knowledge of the genuine State arms. For a heraldic description of these arms, see ‘The Correct Arms of the State of New York,’ by Henry A. Home. LL.D., 1880, p. 26.

The legal blazon of the arms is good, but this, describing the blazon of the arms in St. Paul’s, is more definite. It is a matter of regret that in the ordinary representation of the arms of the United States the chief is charged with three or more mullets.

The question from whence our fathers derived the motto “E Pluribus Unum” is often asked, but has never been satisfactorily answered. The motto of the ‘Spectator’ for Aug. 26,1711, is “Exempta Juvat E Pluribus Una” (Hor. 2 ep. ii. 212), which is the earliest use of it I have found. It was suggested by Dr. Lieber that as at the time of the Revolution the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine’ had a popular circulation in the colonies, the motto may have been adopted from the motto on the title-page of that serial. The title to the first volume of the ‘Gentleman’s Magazine,’ 1731, forty-five years previous to the adoption of the motto on our arms, has the device of a hand grasping a bunch of flowers, and the motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” And on the title to the first or January number, and all subsequent numbers of the first volume, is the motto, “Prodesse et Delectare.” The title of the magazine says that its contents are collected chiefly from the public papers, by Sylvanus Urban.

On the title to the second volume (1732), the two mottoes are united thus:—

Prodesse et Delectare [device of a hand grasping a bouquet], E Pluribus Unum.”

And these united mottoes are continued on the title-pages of the magazine a hundred years later, in 1833, after which they were discontinued. There were, however, changes in the intervening years. From 1786 to 1788, the volumes bore the mottoes, without the device. From 1789 to 1794, the device without the mottoes. Again, in 1798, the mottoes without the device. In 1808 the device was changed from a hand grasping a bouquet, to a vase filled with fruit and flowers; and this device, with the mottoes of 1732, was on the title of all the volumes from 1808 to 1832. In 1834, a new series of the magazine was commenced, and the old mottoes abandoned. The motto placed on our coins is ascribed to Colonel Reed, of Uxbridge, Mass. It first appeared on a copper coin struck at Newburg, N. Y., at a private mint. The pieces are dated 1786. The legend on the New York doubloon of 1787 is, “Unum E Pluribus,” and of the ‘Immunis Columbia’ copper of the same year, “E Pluribus Unum;” and a Washington cent of 1791 has the same motto,—but all these were after it was adopted for the arms.

A writer in ‘Lippincott’s Magazine’* traces the origin of our motto to a Latin poem, ascribed to Virgil. He says: “Perhaps in the minds of those who first chose it to express the peculiar character of our government it had no definite origin. It may have been manufactured for the occasion. Certainly, when it was first used in the report of the Committee of congress, Aug. 7, 1776, as the epigraph of the public seal, it was a phrase too familiar or too plain to need explanation or authority. But whether remembered, or reinvented on that occasion, almost the exact words occur in a Latin poem called ‘Moretum,’ ascribed to Virgil, but which is not usually found in his collected works. It is a vivid description of an ancient Italian peasant’s morning meal, with incidental suggestions of his mode of life generally. The moretum is a species of pottage made of herbs and cheese, which, with the help of his servants, he concocts before dawn; he grinds up the various materials with a pestle. Then says the poet:—

‘It mat us in gyrum, paullatum aingula vivres,
Dependunt propries; color est E PLURIBUS UNUS.’

* Lippincott’s Magazine for February, 1868.

This poem has been seldom noticed.”

A writer in the ‘Overland Monthly’ says:—

“In choosing a national motto, they [our fathers] derived it from a modest metrical composition in Latin, written by John Carey, of Philadelphia,* entitled, ‘The Pyramid of Fifteen States,’ in which occurs the following verse:—

‘Audax inde cohors stellis e pluribus unum.
Audax pyramidos tollit ad astra caput.’”**

* I can find no mention of John Carey, or Cary, Philadelphia, in any of the American Biographical Dictionaries.

** Picking Historical Marrowbones, by Stephen Powers, in ‘Overland Monthly,’ San Francisco, Cal., March, 1871.

Its title, ‘The Pyramid of Fifteen States,’ is evidence that the poem was written after the admission of Vermont and Kentucky to the original thirteen, in 1794 or 1795, and the title of the poem was probably suggested by the device on the reverse of the national seal.*

* The following interesting historical sketch of the origin and use of the motto upon our coins, by A. L. Snowden, Superintendent of the United States mint in Philadelphia, was published in the ‘ Press’ in 1879 :—

TO THE EDITOR OF THE PRESS:—

“I send you, as desired, a brief historical sketch of the origin and use of the motto, ‘E Pluribus Unum.’ The origin of the motto is ascribed to Colonel Reed, of Oxbridge, Mass. It first appeared on a copper coin, struck at Newburg, New York State, where there was a private mint. The pieces struck are dated 1786. In 1787, the motto appeared on several types of the New Jersey coppers, aiso on a very curious gold doubloon, or sixteen-dollar piece, coined by a goldsmith named Brasher. It was there put ‘Unum E Pluribus.’ Oniy four of these pieces are known to be extant, and they are very valuable. One of them, in possession of the mint, is supposed to be worth over a thousand dollars. When Kentucky was admitted, in 1791, it is said copper coins were struck with ‘E Pluribus Unum.’ They were made in England. The act of Congress of 1792, authorizing the establishment of a mint, and the coinage of gold, silver, and copper, did not prescribe this motto, nor was it ever legalized. It was placed on gold coins in 1796. and on silver coins in 1798. It was constantly used thereafter until 1831, when it was withdrawn from the quarter-dollar of new device. In 1834, it was dropped from gold coins, to mark the change in the standard fineness of the coin. In 1837, it was dropped from the silver coins, marking the era of the Revised Mint Code. It has been thought proper to restore it recently to our new silver dollar, without any special sanction of law, although the expression is one very proper for our coin.

“Mr. William E. Dubois, assayer at the United States Mint, has recently investigated this subject, and, I understand, has prepared an article in relation thereto. For more definite and extended information, it would be well, perhaps, for you to consult him.

“I am, very truly yours,

“A. LOUDON SNOWDEN.

“PHILADELPHIA, Jan. 15, 1879.”

—George Henry Preble, Origin and History of the American Flag (1917), Vol II, p. 682.

A tip o’ the hat to The TOF Spot.


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