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Detail of realization by WPA, 1940s

ANNUIT COEPTIS – Origin and Meaning
of the Motto Above the Eye

Annuit coeptis is the Latin motto suggested in 1782 by Charles Thomson, the Founding Father chosen by Continental Congress to come up with the final design for the Great Seal of the United States.

On June 20, 1782, Congress approved Thomson's design for both sides of the Great Seal whose official description for the reverse side specifies:

A Pyramid unfinished. In the Zenith an Eye in a triangle surrounded with a glory proper. Over the Eye these words "Annuit Cœptis".

Detail of official description of the Great Seal

Although Thomson did not provide an exact translation of Annuit Coeptis, he explained its meaning in conjunction with the Eye of Providence in a triangle surrounded by rays of golden light ("a glory proper") in the zenith of an unfinished pyramid:

The Eye over it & the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause.

Explanation of Annuit Coeptis and Eye of Providence

"Signal" means unusual, notable, outstanding; to give a sign.
"Interposition" means intervention; to insert between.

Detail of first engraving of the reverse side (Trenchard, 1786)

Translating ANNUIT COEPTIS

  • ANNUIT means to nod assent, to favor, to smile upon.
  • COEPTIS means undertakings, endeavors, beginnings.

Annuit coeptis means "favors (lit., gives the nod to) undertakings." The subject must be supplied. Who favors? The Eye (Providence) does.

The verb annuit can be either present tense or perfect tense, therefore an accurate translation of the motto is: "Providence favors our undertakings" or "Providence has favored our undertakings." (The word "our" is supplied.)

It has also been translated as: "He favors our undertakings" or "He has prospered our endeavors."

The meaning of this motto is better understood when seen in its original classical context.

Discover the Source of Annuit Coeptis.

Many leaders of the American Revolution felt that Providence had often intervened to enable them to achieve Independence from Great Britain, particularly General George Washington who said:

Building the Washington Monument

"The many remarkable interpositions of the divine government, in the hours of our deepest distress and darkness, have been too luminous to suffer me to doubt the happy issue of the present contest." (March 26, 1781)

"The Commander in Chief earnestly recommends that the troops not on duty should universally attend with that seriousness of Deportment and gratitude of Heart which the recognition of such reiterated and astonishing interpositions of Providence demand of us." (October 20, 1781)

Annuit Coeptis reflects the mottoes suggested by the third committee (Deo Favente) as well as by the first committee (Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God).

Note: Annuit does not mean "to announce" (which is annuntio).

Fidelity Investments TV Commercial from the late 1980s
Look on the bright side.





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Copyright ©2014 by John D. MacArthur.