CAN YOU HANDLE a plot against the Great Seal of the United States?
Did you realize that, even though both sides are portrayed on the dollar bill, this nation does not have, and never did have, an official die of the reverse side of its seal?
Well, the whole thing is about to be busted wide open by the Great Seal Foundation, which recently moved from Palo Alto, Calif., to Alexandria, in the belly of the beast. The foundation has launched a Senate resolution to have dies made of both the obverse and reverse sides.
"We hope to get it through Congress by June 20," said Paul Zamarian, foundation president, "because that will be the 200th anniversary of the seal's adoption by the Congress."
What a story. On July 4, 1776, that shining all-American date, Tom Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams were assigned to design a Great Seal. It had E Pluribus Unum, the Eye of Providence and some allegorical characters including Moses at the Red Sea, but nothing came of it because of the war.
Another design, with the national shield, olive branch and arrows, was submitted during the war but not adopted. Finally, in 1782, one Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, pulled together all previous pictures and in seven days came up with the one we know today: the eagle on the front, the pyramid and eye on the back with some lines from Virgil, "Annuit Coeptis" (He prospers the undertaking) and "Novus Ordo Seclorum" (The cycle of great ages has begun anew).
For reasons that no one remembers, only the eagle side was made into a die and used on major documents. When that die wore out in 1841, a new one was made, rather carelessly, for it had only six arrows instead of 13, and was known as the "Illegal Seal." In 1884 Congress ordered new dies made of both sides, to the original description.
Now the plot begins. Theodore Dwight, of the State Department, had Tiffany's James H. Whitehouse execute the 1782 design. But Dwight and his friends, Harvard president Charles Eliot Norton and Justin Winsor, didn't like what they saw.
"As to the reverse," Norton snorted, "it can hardly look otherwise than a dull emblem of a Masonic fraternity." Added Winsor: "The reverse is both unintelligible and commonplace. If it can be kept in the dark as it seems to have been kept, why not keep it so?"
And that's what they did. It was never made into a die. Clear up to 1934 America used only the obverse, or eagle side of its seal. In those days the back of the dollar bill simply had "One" written on it.
In 1934, Franklin Roosevelt's colorful agriculture secretary, Henry Wallace, discovered a picture of the pyramid design and showed it to his boss. FDR, a 32nd-degree Mason like Wallace, loved it and had the design copied onto the back of his new dollar bills. So we have all seen the mysterious pyramid and its eye. But what we see is merely an engraved version of the design and not the official Great Seal.
Zamarian and his people are excited at their progress. They are talking about a pilot program in 20 Maryland schools for a national education project on the seal. They are thinking about posters and foundation grants.
"A new die would cost $13,000 almost to the penny," he said. "There are 13s all over the seal, in the stars, the stripes, the arrows and olive leaves and so on. Thirteen is very important to the Masons, a symbol of rebirth. And I think that unfinished pyramid says a lot to us today, that America's destiny will be fulfilled only with spiritual vision: one world under God."