By Paul W. Barada
---- — It’s one of the most common, everyday things we all carry around and pretty much take for granted without really knowing very much about it. And yet, it contains some of the most profound words and symbols that stand for who we are as a people! What is it? If you’ve got your wallet or purse handy, pull out an ordinary dollar bill and really look at it for the first time.
A few days ago I received an email from a friend who was forwarding the original message he had received about the fascinating history of the dollar bill.
It began when the First Continental Congress requested that Ben Franklin and others to come up with a Seal for the new United States. It took them four years to get the job done. Then it took another two years to get the design approved! Look on the back of an ordinary dollar bill, and you will see two circles. Taken together, they make up the Great Seal of the United States. Now, take a close look at the circle on the left side, which is the reverse of the Great Seal, and you’ll see a pyramid. Notice that the pyramid is not complete. The reason is that we weren’t close to being the nation we hoped to be. Most of the area that would ultimately become the 48 continental states was yet to be explored!
Above the unfinished pyramid is the capstone, depicting the ancient symbol of an all-seeing eye which represented divinity. Franklin’s belief was that one man couldn’t do much alone, but that a group of men, with the help of God, could do anything.
Written in Latin above the pyramid are the words “ANNIT COEPTIS,” which means “God has favored our undertaking.” Under the pyramid is a scroll, with the words, again in Latin, “NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM,” which means “a new order has begun.” Just above, on the base of the pyramid, are the Roman numerals MDCCLXXVI, (1776).
Now, look between the two circles; just above the “ONE” is written “IN GOD WE TRUST.” Moving to the right-hand circle, which is the obverse side of the Great Seal, you’re looking at the national symbol which is placed on every national cemetery in the United States. Slightly modified, this is the seal of the President of the United States. Whenever the president speaks, you’ll see that seal, but few people know what the symbols mean.
The bald eagle was chosen as the symbol for two reasons: First, the eagle is not afraid of a storm; he is strong and smart enough to soar above it. Second, the eagle wears no crown, signifying that we had just broken from England. Also, note that that shield in front of the eagle is unsupported, indicating that the United States could now stand on its own. At the top of shield is a white bar which represents Congress which is supposed to be a unifying factor for the nation, (one might question whether the present Congress is serving that function very well). Anyway, the bar also is supposed to suggest that we were coming together as one nation. The eagle is holding a scroll in its beak with the words “E PLURIBUS UNUM” written on it. Again, it’s Latin for “from many – one” meaning that from many separate states one nation had been created.
Above the eagle are the thirteen stars representing the original thirteen colonies with clouds of misunderstanding rolling away from them. The symbolism, again, is that we were coming together as one nation. Now, take a look at what the eagle is holding in his talons. He holds both an olive branch and arrows. They represent the desire of the United States for peace, but also that we will never be afraid to fight to preserve peace. In times of peace the eagle’s head faces the olive branch, but in times of war, his head turns toward the arrows.
Another interesting bit of symbolism is how often the number thirteen, which many people still consider unlucky, appears on the Great Seal. There were thirteen colonies, thirteen stripes on our flag, thirteen steps on the pyramid, thirteen stars above the eagle, thirteen bars on the shield in front of the eagle, thirteen leaves on the olive branch, and thirteen arrows being held by the eagle.
But there’s another symbol on the Great Seal that has a unique origin. Look at the arrangement of the thirteen stars above the eagle. A close look discloses that they are arranged to form the Star of David! This arrangement was ordered by George Washington who had asked Haym Solomon, a wealthy Jewish man from Philadelphia, what he would like as a personal reward for his services to the Continental Army. Solomon said he wanted nothing for himself, but he would like something for his people. The result was the arrangement of the stars on the dollar in the form of the Star of David! Few people know it was Solomon who saved the Continental Army by giving $25 million dollars, money that was badly needed to help realize America’s independence from England. Solomon died a pauper, but his help signified the beginning of America’s Judeo-Christian beginnings. Few people know any of this. The symbolism of the humble dollar bill that all of us carry around with us is far more interesting and significant than most people realize.
That’s –30—for this week.