E Pluribus Unum
Novus Ordo Seclorum
Rays of Light
A Cloud Surrounding the Constellation of Stars
A cloud appeared in the first committee's design for the reverse side of the Great Seal Ben Franklin's idea: "Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud, expressive of the divine Presence and Command."
In the final Great Seal, a cloud is part of the crest above the eagle. According to the official description, golden rays of light are "breaking through a cloud" and surrounding thirteen stars forming a silver Constellation on a blue field.
On the government's drawings and official dies of the Great Seal, the rays of light are blocked by the cloud. This symbolic light of Providence is no longer shining on the American Eagle like it did in Charles Thomson's sketch.
First painting       Today's version
NOTE: Although the cloud is usually depicted as several cloud puffs, this symbolic element is referred to in the singular. And the number of cloud puffs is not specified. That's for the artist or engraver to decide.
Detail of Society of the Cincinnati Membership Certificate
"I am mortified beyond expression when I view the clouds which have spread over the brightest morn that ever dawned upon any Country. In a word, I am lost in amazement when I behold what intrigue, the interested views of desperate characters, ignorance and jealousy of the minor part, are capable of effecting, as a scourge on the major part of our fellow Citizens of the Union: for it is hardly to be supposed that the great body of the people, tho' they will not act, can be so short sighted, or enveloped in darkness as not to see rays of a distant sun thro' all this mist of intoxication and folly." George Washington to Henry Lee (Oct. 31, 1786)