What does e pluribus unum mean?
E pluribus unum is the Latin motto on the face of the Great Seal of the United States and the phrase means “out of many, one.” It can be traced back to Horace’s Epistles. It refers to the creation of one nation, the United States, out of thirteen colonies. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, members of the first committee for the selection of the seal, suggested the motto in 1776. Since 1873, the law requires that this motto appear on one side of every United States coin that is minted.
The Great Seal of the United States is the symbol of the sovereignty of the United States, adopted on June 20, 1782. European countries had long used seals, and the new nation signified its equal rank by adopting its own seal. William Barton, a specialist in heraldry, advised the committee responsible for creating the seal, and designed most of the seal’s reverse side. Charles Thomson, secretary of the Congress, prepared the images used on the face, which is used on official documents. The American eagle, with an escutcheon, or shield, on its breast, symbolizes self-reliance. The shield’s thirteen vertical stripes came from the flag of 1777, but seven are white, while in the 1777 flag seven are red. The eagle holds an olive branch of thirteen leaves and thirteen olives in its right talon, and thirteen arrows in its left, symbolizing the desire for peace but the ability to wage war. In its beak is a scroll inscribed, e pluribus unum. Above its head is the thirteen-star “new constellation” of the 1777 flag, enclosed in golden radiance, breaking through a cloud.
The reverse side of the seal is familiar from the back of the one dolar bill, but it has never been used as a seal. A pyramid of thirteen courses of stone, representing the Union, is watched over by the Eye of Providence enclosed in a traditional triangle. The upper motto, Annuit coeptis, means “He [God] has favored our undertakings.” The lower motto, Novus ordo seclorum, means “the new order of the ages” that began in 1776, the date on the base of the pyramid.