"Thirteen Stars Forming a Constellation"
The description of the Great Seal devotes one of its three paragraphs to describing the design of the "crest" over the head of the eagle, where a constellation of thirteen silver stars on a blue field is surrounded by rays of light breaking through a cloud.
A "radiant constellation" was the idea of Francis Hopkinson, the consultant on the second committee (1780) who three years earlier had suggested the stars and stripes for the American flag. His sketch (above) shows the stars in a random formation with clouds nearby.
The shape of individual stars is not mentioned in the written description that defines the Great Seal's appearance. In both these sketches, stars are indicated by asterisks. There is no intended symbolic significance to the number of points a star has. An artist can depict them with five, six, or more points.
Thomson said the "constellation denotes a new State
Early realizations of the Great Seal correctly depicted the constellation of stars in a natural random arrangement. Shown here is the crest of the first painting of the Great Seal.
Very accurate versions of the Great Seal are on the Indian Peace Medals given by President Washington.
U.S. government versions of the Great Seal show the constellation of 13 stars in a hexagram pattern (two triangles intersecting to form a six-pointed star). There has been much speculation about the symbolic intent of this hexagram, but it may have been simply a rearrangement of the 13 stars on the first American flag.
Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Copyright ©2014 by John D. MacArthur.