The United States federal authorities have used the Great Seal to authenticate documents since 1782. Please mind that the Seal pertains with the authorities. We can use images of it for explanatory purposes only, which is the objective here.
The obverse of the Seal is the national coat of arms of the United States. The Seal shows the bald eagle holding 13 arrows in its left talon and an olive branch with 13 leaves and 13 olives in its right talon.
The arrows symbolize the American preparedness for war. The olive branch indicates want of peace. The eagle turns its head to the olive branch, expressing the American propensity for peace.
Number 13 as well as the motto, E pluribus unum, “Out of Many, One”, refer to the 13 states to have formed the original Union.
The reverse of the Great Seal shows an unfinished pyramid with an eye, and two Latin inscriptions. The pyramid has 13 layers and the date MDCCLXXVI (1776) in Roman notation.
Year 1776 is the date of the Declaration of Independence. The two Latin phrases are ANNUIT COEPTIS and NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM.
The eye has been a symbol for mindfulness and forethought, worldwide. To some, a pyramid could denote might and endurance, we yet may associate pyramids with totalitarian ancient Egyptians. The author of the design wrote the pyramid was to signify might and endurance. The Founders did not intend the State for wielding absolute power, and the pyramid in the Seal is purposed to remain unfinished:
“No man was a warmer wisher for reconciliation than myself, before the fatal nineteenth of April 1775, but the moment the event of that day was made known, I rejected the hardened, sullen tempered Pharaoh of England for ever; and disdain the wretch, that with the pretended title of FATHER OF HIS PEOPLE, can unfeelingly hear of their slaughter, and composedly sleep with their blood upon his soul,”
Charles Thomson, the secretary of the Continental Congress, designed the Seal and formed the mottos. He never provided a translation of the Latin phrases. An expert at Latin, he wrote he meant for the phrases to “signify the New American Æra” which commenced in 1776. The word “to signify” has close synonyms in words as “to connote”, “to be of association”.
Interestingly enough, the Seal could make a rhyme the citizens generally might identify with, and also a child might remember.
Out of many, one
E pluribus unum
With favor to the endeavor,
A new people come.
Novus ordo seclorum
Thomas Paine did associate the word order with people. We can read about monarchy:
“And he who can so calmly hear, and digest such doctrine, hath forfeited his claim to rationality–an apostate from the order of manhood; and ought to be considered–as one, who hath, not only given up the proper dignity of a man, but sunk himself beneath the rank of animals, and contemptibly crawls through the world like a worm.”
Criticizing supporters of reconciliation, he wrote:
“But do such men seriously consider, how difficult the task is, and how dangerous it may prove, should the Continent divide thereon. Do they take within their view, all the various orders of men whose situation and circumstances, as well as their own, are to be considered therein.”
Also interestingly, both Thomas Paine and Charles Thomson use the spelling character æ.
We can compare Latin uses by Cicero, in his Philippics. Linguistically, such a manner of learning can be called a study from the usus.
“Accuse the senate; accuse the equestrian body, which at that time was united with the senate; accuse every order or society, and all the citizens; (…) at all events you would never have continued in this order, or rather in this city; (…) when I have been pronounced by this order to be the savior of my country; (…) when you, one single young man, forbade the whole order to pass decrees concerning the safety of the republic …”
In every context, trying to picture the word ordo/order, we would think about people.
Would the motto author include also young citizens into his perspective? We can recur to Thomas Paine:
“To the evil of monarchy we have added that of hereditary succession; and as the first is a degradation and lessening of ourselves, so the second, claimed as a matter of right, is an insult and an imposition on posterity.”
“As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully.”
For the form seclorum, we can compare the Latin secludere as to stand apart, and seclusus as separate. The form seclorum would be the plural genitive of seclum, which we can comprehend as “people who are separate”. With the Latin ordo as a group, arrangement, or class, we can have the Novus Ordo Seclorum for “A new people come”, that is, a new formation by people to have separated from others, to stand apart, as a nation, for example. Literal, word-for-word translation happens to be clumsy, also for ancient Latin (new form/order of/by the separate/separated?) However, we have the form “How come?” in English that renders the verb-adjective interplay.
“WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation”, says the Declaration of Independence.
Feel welcome to my posts on reading the Seal.
- The Latin demeanor: reading the United States Great Seal
- Why Charles Thomson would not have used the word populus?
Obviously, the Seal would not be just a seal of assent. The supported endeavor would be democracy.
It is reasonable to think the Seal does not invoke supernatural powers, and it does not have masonic reference, as implied by conspiracy theories. The text is a formation by Charles Thomson, and the imagery corresponds with symbols as known through civilization and experience.
The Seal of the United States President derives directly from the obverse of the Great Seal. One-dollar bills have showed the Great Seal since 1935.
The use of arrow symbols in this grammar course does not correspond with the arrows of the Seal. It is to regard human orientative strategies and has no reference to weapons.