Our National Portrait: The Great Seal of the United States

Marion Smith /

The decision to adopt a national seal was made on July 4, 1776, the same day that the Continental Congress declared America’s independence from Great Britain. As a practical matter, America needed an official emblem to affix to diplomatic and official documents in order to signify its sovereignty as a new nation. And yet our Great Seal would become so much more than a mark of sovereignty; the symbolism of the Great Seal reflects America’s universal, timeless ideas.

As opposed to the state seals of European nations, the imagery of America’s seal would not represent historical experience or the heraldic symbols of a ruling monarchy. Instead, the Great Seal of America would embody the ideas that had inspired the American Revolution and would guide the American people as they established a new government in order to secure the blessings of liberty.