Dollar Bill Great Seal, 1782

Perhaps the historical document handled most frequently by Americans is a copy of the Great Seal of the United States, which appears on the one-dollar bill.  Adopted in 1782 by the Continental Congress, the seal contains several elements:  the familiar eagle with arrows and an olive branch, and a vaguely familiar pyramid with a glowing eye at its top.  Probably less noticed, but of particular importance to me, is the phrase below the pyramid, “Novus Ordo Seclorum”, which provides an excellent example of the attitude of American exceptionalism.  The founders believed strongly that what they were establishing was indeed “a new order of the ages,” a nation that already was, and would continue to be, different and better than the others.

(With appreciation to Professor Robert Berkhofer, then Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin, who in the early 1970s introduced his classes to this document in this fashion.)  — R. H. Werking, U.S. Naval Academy

Bibliography:

The Great Seal of the United States [electronic resource] (Washington, D. C.:  U.S. Department of State, 2003).

Richard S. Patterson and Richardson Dougall, The Eagle and the Shield:  A History of the Great Seal of the United States (Washington, D. C.:  U.S. Department of State, 1976, 1978

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