Thomas Jefferson Papers

IV. Report of the Committee, [2]0 August 1776

IV. Report of the Committee

The great Seal should on one side have the arms of the United States of America which arms should be as follows. The Shield has six Quarters, parti one, coupe two. The 1st. Or, a Rose enammelled gules and argent for England: the 2d Argent, a Thistle proper, for Scotland: the 3d. Verd, a Harp Or, for Ireland: the 4th. Azure a Flower de Luce Or for France: the 5th. Or the Imperial Eagle Sable for Germany: and the 6th. Or the Belgic Lion Gules for Holland, pointing out the Countries from which the States have been peopled. The Shield within a Border Gules entwind of thirteen Scutcheons Argent linked together by a Chain Or, each charged with initial Letters Sable as follows: 1st. NH. 2d M.B. 3d RI. 4th C. 5th NY. 6th NJ. 7th P. 8th DC. 9 M. 10th V. 11th NC. 12th. SC. 13 G. for each of the thirteen independent States of America.

Supporters, dexter the Goddess Liberty in a corselet of Armour alluding to the present Times, holding in her right Hand the Spear and Cap and with her left supporting the Shield of the States; sinister, the Goddess Justice bearing a Sword in her right hand, and in her left a Balance.

Crest. The Eye of Providence in a radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures.

Motto e pluribus unum.

Legend round the whole Atchievement. Seal of the United States of America mdcclxxvi.

On the other side of the said Great Seal should be the following Device. Pharoah 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 Comman[d] beaming on Moses who stands on the Shore and extending his hand over the Sea causes it to overwhe[lm] Pharoah.

Motto Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.

MS (DLC: PCC, No. 23); copy in hand of James Lovell made in 1780. Endorsed: “No. 1. Copy of a Report made Aug. 10.1776.” (The endorsement date is clearly the copyist’s error for “Aug. 20,” since the “Rough Journal” of Congress gives the latter date in Charles Thomson’s hand, and the committee could not yet have reported when Adams wrote his letter of 14 Aug. concerning his interview with DuSimitière.) The original Report of 20 Aug. 1776 is missing, but from the presence in the Jefferson Papers of the memoranda from which it was compiled there is every reason to suppose that TJ drafted it for the committee.

On 4 July Congress resolved that Franklin, John Adams, and TJ “be a committee, to bring in a device for a seal of the United States of America” (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 517–18). The proposals of two of the members and of the artist whom the committee consulted are given above. John Adams’ proposal is in his letter to Mrs. Adams of 14 Aug.:

“I proposed the choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribelin, in some editions of Lord Shaftesbury’s works. The hero resting on his club. Virtue pointing to her rugged mountain on one hand, and persuading him to ascend. Sloth, glancing at her flowery paths of pleasure, wantonly reclining on the ground, displaying the charms of both her eloquence and person, to reduce him into vice. But this is too complicated a group for a seal or medal, and it is not original” <Familiar Letters, p. 211; see also Howard P. Arnold, Historic Side-Lights, N.Y. and London, 1899, p. 184ff.).

The Report was brought in on 20 Aug., read, and tabled (JCC description begins Worthington C. Ford and others, eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789, Washington, D.C., 1904–37, 34 vols. description ends , v, 689–91). On 23 Jan. 1777 it was listed in a report on unfinished business, but not until 25 Mch. 1780 was it brought up again, when it was referred to a new committee (same, vii, 58–9; xvi, 287). James Lovell was on the new committee and made the copy from which the text above is printed. The new committee’s report was recommitted in its turn, 17 May 1780, and not until 20 June 1782 was a device finally agreed upon; the Great Seal as we have it was largely the creation of Secretary Charles Thomson and William Barton, a private citizen versed in heraldry (same, xvii, 434; xxii, 338–40; Gaillard Hunt, History of the Seal of the United States, Washington, 1909).

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