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Design Process
 1st Committee
   Ben Franklin
   Pierre Du Simitiere
 2nd Committee
Francis Hopkinson
 3rd Committee
   Barton's Design
 Final Design
   Charles Thomson
   Thomson's Design
   Thomson Bible

Latin Mottoes
 E Pluribus Unum
 Annuit Coeptis
 Novus Ordo Seclorum

Symbols (front)
 Bald Eagle
 Olive Branch
 Rays of Light

Symbols (back)

Great Seals
 Official Dies
 First Engravings
 First Painting
 1792 Medal
 Indian Medals
 1882 Medal
 One-Dollar Bill

 Eagle Side
 Pyramid Side


 Wild Turkey
 President's Seal

Lossing realization (1856) of first committee's reverse

Benjamin Franklin's Great Seal Design

In the story of America's Great Seal, a particularly relevant chapter is the imagery suggested by Benjamin Franklin in August 1776. He chose the dramatic historical scene described in Exodus, where people confronted a tyrant in order to gain their freedom.

Franklin's handwriting
Benjamin Franklin's original handwritten description
of his Great Seal design (1776)

Transcription of Franklin's handwriting

Franklin's design was recommended by the first committee for the reverse side of the Great Seal. No sketch was made of their design. The above drawing was made by Benson J. Lossing for Harper's New Monthly Magazine in July 1856. Note: Lossing failed to include something Franklin specified: "Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses."

Quotation on the Jefferson Memorial Thomas Jefferson liked the motto "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God" so much, he used it on his personal seal. Also, it seems to have inspired the upper motto Charles Thomson suggested for the final design of the reverse side of the Great Seal: Annuit Coeptis (God has favored our undertakings).


"Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God"
echoes the Declaration of Independence:

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. . . whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

The Question Today:
Do the people of one nation (or a coalition) have the right to alter or abolish another nation's form of government? Or, are the people of that nation alone responsible for their own government and its leaders – no matter how feared or despised by others?

Nations have long used might to alter or abolish other governments. Now, however, we're looking at the right to do so.

The word government originates from an ancient word meaning "to steer or pilot," as with a ship. First and foremost, that ship's passengers and crew must be able to travel safely to their destination.

What is America's Goal?
According to the Declaration of Independence, it is to provide people with the opportunity to experience life and liberty, safety and happiness.

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution elaborates:

    We, the People of the United States are to:
  • Form a more perfect union
  • Establish justice
  • Insure domestic tranquility
  • Provide for the common defense
  • Promote the general welfare
  • Secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity

These goals require a government with the power to protect its citizens. The framers of the U.S. Constitution understood this and included a provision (Article IV, Section 4) that essentially says: The United States shall protect its people from foreign invasion and from domestic violence. And many considered self-inflicted harm the more likely threat to America.

Learn about this power to protect ourselves at

"All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined could not by force take a drink from the Ohio or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years. At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reaches us, it must spring up amongst us. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher." – Abraham Lincoln


Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Copyright ©2016 by John D. MacArthur.