First Great Seal Committee July/August 1776
"Resolved, That Dr. Franklin, Mr. J. Adams and Mr. Jefferson, be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal for the United States of America." July 4, 1776, Journals of Continental Congress
For the design team, Congress chose three of the five men who were on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. Although these distinguished committee members were among the ablest minds in the new nation, they had little knowledge of heraldry. To help convey their vision, they chose the artist Pierre Eugène Du Simitière to work with them.
The four men consulted among themselves between July 4 and August 13, then each brought before the committee a suggestion for the design of the Great Seal. The three Congressmen suggested allegorical scenes:
Du Simitière designed a proper heraldic seal, described as follows:
Crest: "The Eye of Providence in a radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures."
In Du Simitière's second design (below) the one submitted to Congress the Soldier was replaced with the Goddess of Justice. Also, the anchor was removed, so the Goddess of Liberty's left hand is "supporting the Shield of the States."
The above realization drawn in 1856 by Benson J. Lossing has an error. The initials of the states are supposed to surround the shield, not the seal, as Lossing showed. He also drew the below realization of the committee's reverse side. It is based on Jefferson's edit of Franklin's suggestion:
"Pharaoh sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his head and a Sword in his hand, passing through the divided Waters of the Red Sea in Pursuit of the Israelites: Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Cloud, expressive of the divine Presence and Command, beaming on Moses who stands on the shore and extending his hand over the Sea causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh. Motto: "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."
On August 20, 1776, the same day Congress received the committee's report, it was "Ordered, To lie on the table." Congress did not want to approve the design.
Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
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Author and webwright: John D. MacArthur