The Meaning of the Great Seal of The United States

February 20, 2017

The Meaning of the Great Seal of the United States

The Great Seal of the United States is the official emblem and heraldic device of the United States of America.  It was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1782 to represent the nation and to demonstrate to other nations of the world the ideas and values of its Founders and people.  Great Seals have their origins in the royal seals of the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries.

The Great Seal of the United States guarantees the authenticity of official U. S. documents.  It is used 2,000-3,000 times per year to seal documents.  Such documents include treaties, presidential proclamations, appointments of government officials, and presidential communications to heads of foreign nations.  The seal is also printed on the U. S. $1 bill, providing U. S. citizens with a ready reference to the nation’s foundational ideas.  The custody of the Great Seal is assigned to the U. S. Department of State.  The seal can be affixed by an officer of the Secretary of State.

The Great Seal was adopted by the Continental Congress on June 20, 1782.  It was first used officially on September 16, 1782, to guarantee the authenticity of a document that granted full power to General George Washington “to negotiate and sign with the British an agreement for the exchange, subsistence, and better treatment of prisoners of war.”  Thomas Jefferson was the first Secretary of State to have custody of the Great Seal.

The Great Seal has two sides and displays a number of important symbols.  The front (obverse) side of the seal displays the coat of arms of the United States.  The coat of arms is officially used for coins, postage stamps, stationary, publications, flags, military uniforms, public monuments, public buildings, embassies and consulates, passports, and items owned by the U. S. government.

Do you know the meaning behind The Great Seal? This Great Seal file breaks it down for you.

“Symbolically, the Seal reflects the beliefs and values that the Founding Fathers attached to the new nation and wished to pass on to their descendants.”

– U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs



Check out Elementary School lesson plans for The Great Seal in America’s Heritage:  An Adventure in Liberty.

This unit is available to download from the Member Resources at

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Published by: The Founding

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