The Pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States


The Pyramid on the Great Seal of the United States

From THE EAGLE AND THE SHIELD - A History of the Great Seal of the
United States (1976), page 75, we find Charles Thomson's notes on his
design - A pyramid unfinished - In the Zenith an Eye in a triangle ...
Over the Eye these words Annuit coeptis ... and underneath [the
pyramid] these words Novus Ordo seclorum."  The pyramid was taken from
an earlier design of William Barton (shown on page 67) that had a
different motto DEO FAVENTE (God favoring) PERENNIS (through the
years).  This, in turn, was similar to the design of a Fifty Dollar
bill designed by Francis Hopkinson.  Thomson wrote the following: "The
pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: The Eye over it & Motto
allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of
the American cause.  The date underneath is that of the Declaration of
Independce and the words under it signify the beginnings of the New
American Era, which commences from that date." P85.

P89. "The two mottoes which Thomson suggested, and Congress adapted,
for the reverse ... can be traced more definitely to the poetry of
Virgil.  Gaillard Hunt, in the Department of States first publisher on
the seal in 1892, took official notice .... Annuit Coeptis, was
described by Hunt as an allusion to line 625 of book IX of the Aeneid
JUPPITER OMNIPOTES, AUDACIBUS ANNUE COEPTIS (All-powerful Jupiter
favor [my] daring undertakings).  The last three words appear also in
Virgil's GEORGICS, book I, line 40: DA FACILEM CURSUM, ATQUE AUDACIBUS
ANNUE COEPTIS (Give [me] an easy course, and favor [my] daring
undertakings).

Thompson changed the imperative ANNUE to ANNUIT, the third person
singular form of the same verb in either the present tense of the
perfect tense.  The the motto ANNUIT COEPTIS the subject of the verb
must be supplied, and the translator must also choose the tense.  In
his 1892 brochure, Hunt suggested that the missing subject was in
effect the eye at the apex of the pyramid ... and he translated the
motto-in the present tense-as "it (the Eye of Providence) is favorable
to our undertakings."  In later publication the missing subject of the
verb ANNUIT was construed to be God, and the motto has been translated
in more recent Department publication-in the perfect tense- as "He
(God) has favored our undertakings".

P90. NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, Hunt noted an allusion to line 5 of Virgil's
ECLOGUE IV, which read in an eighteenth-century edition : "MAGNUS AB
INTEGRO SECLORUM NASITUR ORDO".  Hunt translated this line as "The
great series of ages begins anew" and translated the motto as "a new
order of centuries."  More recently, "a new order of the ages."
P91.  Hunt stated that the words ANNUIT COEPTIS NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM
had "commonly been taken as one motto, meaning 'the new series of ages
is favorable to our undertakings'", but he pointed out that it was
evident from Thomson's comments that the "intention was to have two
mottoes." 

P529 - Did Freemasonry Influence the Great Seal Design?
Because membership records for the Revolutionary period are scattered
and imperfect, it is not possible to ascertain with certainty which
persons among the 14 who participated in the designing of the Great
Seal were Masons and which were not.  Conrad Hahn, Ex Sec of the MSA
of the US has furnished the following:

1. Definitely a Mason: Bro. Ben Franklin.

2. Definitely not: John Adams and Charles Thomson

3. No firm evidence of a Masonic connection, although allegations of
such a connection have been noted: Jefferson, Lovell, Hopkinson,
Middleton, Rutledge.

4. No record at all, so presumably not Masons: Du Simitiere, Scott,
Houston, Lee, Boudinot, and William Barton (although he has at times
been confused with another William Barton who was a Mason).
Although Washington was a Mason, he played no role in designing the
Great Seal.  And although Franklin, a Mason, was a member of the first
seal committee, his proposal (P14) had no influence on the final
designs, and he was in France when those designs were drawn up.  The
only individual listed who has been said to be a Mason (with no firm
evidence) is Hopkinson, whose pyramid design for the Continental
currency's $50 bill clearly influenced the final reverse of the Great
Seal.

Thy pyramid, the eye, and the radiant triangle have often been
considered to be of Masonic origin.  Writers who are Masons have also
seen Masonic symbolism in the eagle, in the number of feathers on the
eagle's wings, etc. It should perhaps be noted that some of the
details studied and interpreted by these writers are those of
comparatively recent realizations of the Great Seal, details which are
not stated in the blazon itself and are not to be found in the Great
Seal die of 1782.

Without questioning the fact that element of the Great Seal design are
also to be found as Masonic symbols, one may question whether the
designers of the seal intended it to be given a specifically Masonic
interpretation.  Since there is no evidence that either Thomson or
Barton was a Mason, and as they were the two individuals responsible
for the final design, the presumption would be that they did not
intend their work to be given a Masonic interpretation. 

Were there sources other that FreeMasonry from which symbols such as
the all-seeing eye and the unfinished pyramid could have been taken? 
The answer is yes.  Use of the eye in art forms, including medallic
art, as a symbol for an omniscient and ubiquitous Deity was a well
established artistic convention quite apart from Masonic symbolism,
and Du Simitiere, an artist would have been aware of this.  As to the
Pyramid, there was widespread interest in Egypt in the 18th century. 
There was a detailed work entitled Pyramidographia which would have
been available to both Hopkinson and Barton.  This work included a
drawing of the "First Pyramid", which was stepped, did not come to a
complete point, and had an entrance in the center on the ground
level-a detail also in Hopkinson's design.

While these points are not conclusive, it seems likely that the
designers of the Great Seal and the Masons took their symbols from
parallel sources, and unlikely that the seal designers consciously
copied Masonic symbols with the intention of incorporating Masonic
Symbolism into the national Coat of Arms.

Use of the motto "In God We Trust" - P518
From the House Committee on the Judiciary (3/28/1956)
This joint resolution establishes "In God We Trust" as the national
motto of the U.S.  At present the U.S. has no national motto.  It is
most appropriate that "In God We Trust" be so designated....  Further
recognition of this motto was given by the adoption of the
Star-Spangled Banner as our national anthem.  One stanza ... is as
follows:

"And this be our motto -- 'In God is our trust.'"