The Great Seal of the United States of America and the Freemasons' Involvement

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Andy Singer

The Great Seal of the United States of America
the Freemasons' Involvement

Andy Singer

Numerous themes, symbols, ideologies, and designs that are incorporated into the history which makes up the United States of America can be traced, at their roots, to the Freemasons, a secret organization which still exists today. Some wonder how it is possible that the Freemasons had such a great influence on American ideals and government. These same people might be surprised to learn that men, such as Ben Franklin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Henry Wallace, were all Freemasons (Weisberger 471-474). It is also nearly impossible to argue against the fact that men such as these have had an enormous amount of influence in American history.

These forefathers left their mark on America in numerous ways. Some were very influential in the writing of both America’s Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Others still (and, as it was just proven, many of whom were Freemasons) had great influence in the building of America’s capital, Washington D.C., its monuments, and the symbols seen in America’s capitals, its documents, and even the country’s currency. Many do not realize that the symbol seen on the back of the one dollar bill is a very famous and old symbol in Freemasonry. Each of these symbols are seen in the Great Seal of America.

The Great Seal of America shows the majority of a pyramid, however the very top, which includes the point, is missing. Hovering above the pyramid is a triangle with an eye inside of it and it appears to be shining and glistening, in a similar fashion to the sun. The number 1776 is written in Roman Numerals at the base of the pyramid. Above the pyramid is the Latin term “Annuit Coeptis,” which, in translates to “Providence favors our undertaking” (Weisberger 559). Underneath the pyramid is the Latin phrase, “Novus ordo seclorum,” which, in means “A new order of the ages” (Weisberger 559). The reverse side of the Great Seal contains numerous very well-known symbols that are associated and used by known members of the Freemason organization, namely what is known as “The All-Knowing Eye,” the pyramid, the triangle, and the light which emanates from the eye and the triangle, which are placed in the position normally held by the sun. What do these symbols mean? What is the history behind these symbols? What cultures have parallel symbols to that seen in the Great Seal of America?

The appearance of these symbols in the Great Seal of America is not a surprise for anyone familiar with Freemasonry. The pyramid, the triangle, and the eye are all very common and frequently used symbols in Freemasonry. It is also relevant to note that the Latin phrases and sentences seen on the Great Seal of America were conceived by a committee which included a known Freemason, Ben Franklin (Weisberger 559). The Freemasons likely adopted these symbols from the Ancient Egyptians and the Ancient Greeks, but applied their own meanings and interpretations to these symbols’ meanings. They also used some the meanings of these symbols adopted by Ancient Greek and Egyptian society. Each of the symbols seen in the Great Seal of America has a meaning to the Freemasons, is rich in history, and many of their meanings come from societies that were on this Earth before the Birth of Christ.

It took three separate committees to create the Great Seal of America. It was decided that the first committee would be comprised of Benjamin Franklin, the only Mason, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, all of whom had worked to draft the Declaration of Independence. Each man had his own thoughts about what ideas should be conveyed through the symbols which would appear on the Seal. Initially, the three men found it difficult to convey their thoughts, failing to use both classical and biblical themes and symbols to emphasize their ideas. After Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin admitted their futility, they enlisted the aid of Pierre Eugene du Simitiere. Simitiere was experienced in designing seals and coats of arms, and he assisted the first committee in the drawing of the seal and served as a consultant, providing new ideas to the committee. The group agreed on the Eye of Providence enclosed in a triangle with rays of sunshine emanating from it, the date of America’s independence, and the Latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum (out of many, one). On August 20, 1776, this first committee submitted their version of the Great Seal to the Second Continental Congress. However, Congress did not approve of this first seal (

Congress formed another committee in March of 1780. This second committee consisted of William Churchill Huston, James Lovell, and John Morin Scott. They employed Francis Hopkinson of Philadelphia to serve as their consultant, in the same capacity as Simitiere served before him. He had helped to design both the Seal of New Jersey and the American Flag. However, this second committee, like the first, failed to create an acceptable seal, and yet another committee was needed (

The third committee was formed in May of 1782. This committee consisted of Arthur Middleton, John Rutledge, and Elias Boudinot. However, evidence shows that these men did little serious work on the Seal. They relied on the help of William Barton, a young lawyer from Philadelphia who had artistic skill and knowledge of heraldry. His main original contribution was the image of the eagle on the front of the Great Seal. However, Barton did something much more important. He kept the first committee’s Eye of Providence and the unfinished pyramid with thirteen steps. After only five days, Barton submitted his final drawing to Congress (

Despite the hard work put in by these committees, Congress was still unhappy with the Seal. So, on June 13, 1782, Congress appointed Secretary of Congress, Charles Thomson, to examine the ideas, drawings, and recommendations put forth by the first three committees. While Thomson was by no means an artist, he was practical and had an affinity for completing any task put before him. He first made some changes to the obverse side of the Great Seal, changing it from an imperial eagle to a bald eagle, to signify America’s new identity. He then placed arrows under one wing and olive branches under the other wing. The arrows signified America’s fight for freedom while the olive branches signified America’s truly peaceful nature. On the reverse side of the Great Seal, Thomson kept the pyramid, the Eye of Providence, the triangle surrounding the Eye, and the rays of sunshine which emanate from the Eye and the triangle. His only changes to this side of the Great Seal were the Latin phrases Novus Ordo Seclorum and Annuit Coeptis at the bottom of the drawing. Once he made these changes, Thomson then gave his sketches to William Barton, due to his lack of ability as an artist, so that he could polish his own drawings. Finally, Congress accepted this new drawing, and thus, the Great Seal was approved and adopted on June 20, 1782. (

Essentially, the majority of the suggestions and recommendations made by the first committee were used in the final drawings of the Great Seal. The final assembly kept the Latin phrase, E Pluribus Unum (even though it wasn’t placed on the reverse side of the Seal, it can be seen on the obverse side). On the reverse side of the Great Seal, the final design kept the Eye of Providence, the triangle which encompasses the Eye of Providence, and the rays of what appear to be sunshine which emanate from the Eye of Providence and the triangle.

The first committee was crucial, mainly because of all of the men who served on the three committees, only Ben Franklin, who served on the first committee appointed by Congress, is a recognized Freemason, having been a Provincial Grand Master of the Pennsylvania region since 1734 (Weisberger 473). This first committee had come up with numerous ideas which were used in the final version of the Great Seal, namely the Eye of Providence, the equilateral triangle which surrounds it, the rays of light which emanates from the triangle and the Eye, and the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum. The question however remains, which of these symbols are Masonic in nature?

Benjamin Franklin was one of the most brilliant minds of the age, politically, scientifically, and spiritually. It is also documented fact that he was a Freemason. Therefore, it is reasonable to state that he had a profound impact on the ideas conveyed in the Great Seal. While the Latin phrase E Pluribus Unum cannot be considered a Masonic symbol, many other symbols which appear in the Great Seal can. The Eye of Providence, the equilateral triangle which encompasses the Eye, and the light which protrudes from the triangle and the Eye all contain Masonic meaning.

The Eye of Providence, or the all-seeing-eye, is a Masonic symbol. The issue that many historians have with calling the Eye of Providence a Masonic symbol is that many believe that there is no proof that the Eye of Providence was in fact a Masonic symbol at the time the Great Seal was designed. These same historians will claim that the Eye of Providence did not become an accepted symbol of Freemasonry until 1884, when Harvard Professor Eliot Norton wrote that the emblem was, “…a dull emblem of the Masonic fraternity” (Taylor 100). However, this belief could not be further from the truth. Sir Robert Moray, founder of the Royal Society and a Freemason, is known to have used the Eye of Providence in his personal correspondence (Taylor 101). Due to the fact that he died in 1673 (, it would be impossible to assert that these personal correspondences came after the Great Seal was adopted, but rather appear prior to its adoption. This would more than indicate that the all-seeing-eye was in fact a symbol of Freemasonry prior to the adoption of the Great Seal. Further proving the Eye’s significance, the Masonic apron of George Washington prominently includes the Eye of Providence (Taylor 101). Since the Eye of Providence was a Masonic symbol, what in fact does it symbolize? Freemasons have taken many of their symbols from the Ancient Greeks, namely from the mathematician Pythagoras (582 B.C.-500 B.C.) (Casavis 116). Pythagoras stated that the all-seeing-eye was that of the Architect of the Universe. He preached that the Architect of the Universe is everywhere and that the all-seeing-eye sees all, hence its name. The Freemasons also took much of their symbolism from the Ancient Egyptians. The Eye is no exception. An eye which held vast amounts of meaning in Ancient Egyptian mythology was the Eye of Horus, which has a similar look to the Eye of Providence. As the myth goes, Horus lost his eye in the process of avenging the death of his father, Osiris, by killing Osiris’s brother, Seth. In the epic battle that ensues, Horus has his eye ripped out by his uncle, Seth. Despite this, Horus does in fact kill Seth, thus avenging his father’s death. Horus manages to use this eye to bring Osiris back from the dead. In Ancient Egyptian mythology, the Eye symbolizes masculinity and femininity, rationality and intuition, science, and esoteric thought corresponding to Hermetic Philosophy. It was also thought to have healing and protective powers.

The Freemasons are believed to have based their beliefs and convictions about the Eye of Providence on many of the meanings drawn in the mythologies of Ancient Greece and Egypt. The Eye of Providence, to Freemasons, represents a higher being which overlooks the world (,M1). It makes sense that Ben Franklin would use this symbol on at least some section of the Great Seal. It was meant to give a sense that a higher being was watching over the new nation that was America, ensuring protection, stability, and success.

Another Masonic symbol which is prominent on the Great Seal of America is the equilateral triangle which encompasses the Eye of Providence. This symbol has meaning and origin in Ancient Greek and its meaning transcends to the symbolism used by the Freemasons. Also, this symbolism sheds light on its meaning in terms of the Great Seal.

Once again, the Ancient Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, had his own meaning for the equilateral triangle, especially since the brotherhood that he created is sometimes referred to as, Pythagorean Freemasonry (Casavis 123). The symbol that Pythagoras most commonly used was the Tetractys, or the Mystikon Trigonon, a symbol which is comprised of nine small, equilateral triangles combined to form one large triangle. The equilateral triangle is meant to symbolize equality and a state of godliness. As it was stated by Sir John Cockburn, the triangle represents, “The very essence of Masonry” (Casavis 124).

The equilateral triangle has identical meaning in both modern Freemasonry and Freemasonry during the adoption of the Great Seal. Its inherent geometry stands for knowledge of a higher being and equality (Casavis 124).

Interestingly enough, an equilateral triangle encompasses the Eye of Providence on the Great Seal. This is meant to reinforce what the Eye of Providence stands for, in that both stand for a higher being, or in the case of the Eye of Providence at least, the architect of the universe. Essentially, the main goal of the equilateral triangle on the Great Seal of America is to enhance the meaning of the all-seeing eye.

The final symbol seen in the Great Seal of America that can be considered Masonic in its symbolism is the light which protrudes from the Eye of Providence and the equilateral triangle. Despite the fact that the light, sometimes referred to as the light of Trinity, has no known references in Ancient Egyptian or Ancient Greek mythology, it has definite meaning in the world of Freemasonry. This light of Trinity is meant to illuminate images and symbols of the Freemasons. It represents an illustration of moral truths and moral principles (Stevenson 143).

The light which emanates from the equilateral triangle and the Eye of Providence on the Great Seal of America represents the light of Trinity and manages to prove its meaning. It most certainly draws attention to the all-seeing eye and the equilateral triangle. Also, through illuminating another Masonic symbol, the light of Trinity is supposed to represent moral principles and moral truths. As it was previously explained, both the Eye and the triangle represent a higher-being, or more specifically with regards to the Eye of Providence, the Great Architect of the Universe. The light of Trinity illuminates the Eye and the triangle, thus showing the Great Architect of the Universe, or rather, the higher being which was to oversee the new nation that was America, to have both moral truths and moral principles.

Now that the symbolism seen on the reverse side of the Great Seal has been revealed, it is important to note, however, that the reverse side of the Great Seal was hardly used at all after the Great Seal’s adoption on June 20, 1782. That was, until Franklin Delano Roosevelt became the president in 1933, and the most blatant involvement of the Freemasons in creating prominence for the reverse side of the Great Seal occurred.

For approximately one hundred fifty years after the adoption of the Great Seal of America, the reverse side of it went unused and unnoticed by the majority of the public. However, this would all change during the presidency of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Through the early part of the twentieth century, secret organizations, such as the Freemasons, in the United States had achieved success in government, such as the formation of the Federal Reserve System, The League of Nations, the Royal Institute of National Affairs, and the Council on Foreign Relations. With these advancements in power, groups like the Freemasons could push for the Reverse side of the Great Seal of America to not only be accepted, but for it to also be prominent and well-known to the public at large (

A 32nd degree Freemason by the name of Henry Wallace, Franklin Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture and would later become the Vice President of America (1940-1944), who proposed the idea in 1934 that a coin be minted which depicted both the obverse and reverse side of the Great Seal of America. President Roosevelt, also a 32nd degree Freemason, was intrigued by this idea, especially because of the reverse side of the Great Seal’s depiction of the Eye of Providence and the Latin phrase, Novus Ordo Seclorum (“New Order of the Ages”). President Roosevelt believed that it was a direct parallel of the world in which America lived. He himself was in the process of essentially creating a “New Order of the Ages,” essentially rebuilding America after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. However, rather than placing the Great Seal of America on a coin, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to allow both the obverse and reverse sides of the Seal appear on the One Dollar Bill (

The Freemasons had a lot of influence on both the creation and the emerging prominence of the Great Seal of America. Freemason Benjamin Franklin helped to design the Great Seal by helping to come up with using the Eye of Providence, the equilateral triangle, and the light of Trinity drawing their symbolism from the Ancient Egyptians, the Ancient Greeks, and his own Freemasons. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, helped re-introduce the reverse side of the seal, the side which has Masonic symbolism, to become prominent in American society and on the nation’s very currency. Throughout history, the Masons had a true and lasting influence on the Great Seal of America, despite the apparent belief of many historians which says otherwise.

Works Referenced
Bullock, Steven C. Revolutionary Brotherhood. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina P, 1996.

Casavis, J.N. The Greek Origin of Freemasonry. New York: D.C. Divry Inc., 1955.

Clymer, R. Swinburne. The Mysticism of Masonry. Quakertown, PA: The Philosophical Company, 1924.
Stevenson, David. The Origins of Freemasonry. New York: Cambridge UP, 1988.

Taylor, Greg. The Guide to Dan Brown's the Solomon Key. Camarillo, CA: Devorss & Company, 2005.

Weisberger, William, Wallace McLeod, and Brent Morris, eds. Freemasonry on Both Sides of the Atlantic. New York: Columbia UP, 2002.

Sept. 1996. United States Department of State Bureau of Public Affairs. 5 Oct. 2007 .

"Symbols on the Great Seal of the United Statess." 6 Oct. 2007 .

Case, Paul F. "The Great Seal of the United States: Its History, Symbolism and Message for..." 7 Oct. 2007,M1.

"The Great Seal." 8 Oct. 2007 .

"USSSP: Great Seal." United States Scouting Service Project. 8 Oct. 2007 .,M1

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