The history of this Seal is a most interesting one and bears evidence of the jealousy with which the great minds that were the fathers of the Republic bent themselves to the study of the very smallest details of our national birth. Committee after committee was appointed upon the subject of this Seal alone, and report after report, during the passage of nearly six years, was laid aside as still unsatisfactory.
The care with which the reports of the several committees were scrutinized, and the promptness with which the crude and earlier ones were successively laid aside, shows, that while Heraldry may not have been the forte of these young republicans, they were still most ardent students of its inner spiritâ€” that of loftiest symbolism; and were determined that their final action should embody only such a system of emblazonry as should be forever pregnant with all the more inspiring sentiments surrounding the birth of “The New Atlantis.”
As with the history of the Flag, so with that of the Great Seal, we find that the ideas eventually adopted were the result of growth, development, and of a most judicious exercise of careful selection. The growth of the former was without, among the People, and amid the smoke of battle; that of the latter, looking towards more peaceful times, was within, among the Fathers, and in the quiet halls of national deliberation. In both cases the issue was happy in the extreme.
Among the very earliest acts of the infant Republic was that of appointing a committee to devise a suitable “Great Seal,” by means of which to authenticate and lend sanction to its decrees. So important, indeed, appeared to be the immediate necessity of such an instrument to the founders of our nationality, that upon the very day of the Declaration of its Independence, July 4th, 1776, soon after the reading of the document, a committee of no less prominence than the following: Dr. Benjamin Franklin, Mr. John Adams, and Mr. Thomas Jefferson, was appointed to prepare a device for the Great Seal of the United States of America.
THE GREAT SEAL OF THE UNITED STATES as it appeared in Harper’s Magazine, July, 1856, Vol. XIII
IN the year 1830 I lived four months with a bachelor kinsman not far from Washington Square, in Philadelphia. His house was sandwiched between the residences of two highly intelligent octogenarians, and was the neutral ground where they met, four nights in each week, to discuss the news of the day, taste my kinsman’s good wine, help each other remember the stirring incidents of the old war for Freedom, and to fight those battles over again. I was then a fledgling of twenty summers, and had nothing to do but to sit and listen to the gray-beards, with ears, and eyes, and mouth wide open. I sat like a sponge, absorbing at all points; and during that four months’ sojourn I imbibed an enormous quantity of the spirit of seventy-six. It went immediately to the brain, where it produced a chronic monomania, which the doctors pronounce incurable.
Uncle Billy, the senior by ninety days, had been a successful merchant long before the Fairmount Reservoir was built; and during much of the War for Independence he was a clerk with Robert Morris, the great financier of that old contest for right. The Squire had been all his life a miscellaneous manâ€”a sort of Caleb Quotem. When the first Congress met in Philadelphia, he was a sub-editor of Bradford’s Pennsylvania Journal, and always boasted of having engraved with his pen-knife that ugly looking, disjointed snake, which figured at the head of the paper all that spring and summer, to the great annoyance of the King’s men. The Squire afterward became a factotum of Aitkin’s Pennsylvania Magazine, and frequently spoke of his amazement at the speed of Tom Paine’s pen, after he had swallowed his third glass of brandy, when writing his promised monthly contribution to that periodical, in the little back room of Aitkin’s establishment at the Pope’s Head, above the London Coffee-House, in Market Street. The Squire was also a sort of Ariel in the public bodies of that day, and his memory being as good as phonography, he was a reporter of sayings and doings, in high repute. He was a favorite with those old Congressmen, and he followed them in their two flights, first to Baltimore and then to York. Such were the Gamaliels of living history, at whose feet I nightly sat and listened.
One day my kinsman showed me a commission, signed by Charles Thomson, the Secretary of the Continental Congress, and bearing the broad, recumbent seal of the United States, precisely the same in device as the Government signet of to-day. My curiosity was excited, and I waited impatiently for Uncle Billy and the Squire. They were always as punctual as a creditor, and at precisely seven in the evening the oracles appeared. I handed the parchment to Uncle Billy, and asked him to give me a history of the seal.
“Here, Squire,” said Uncle Billy, “you know more of this than I. Tell the boy all about it.”
The Squire glanced at the parchment, brushed a gathering tear from his eye after looking at the solid signature of his old friend Thomson, and then commenced opening the sphinx, by asking Uncle Billy if he remembered the dreadful thunder-storm on the night of the third of July, 1776, and the cool, bracing wind from the north the next morning.
“Don’t I, Squire,” said Uncle Billy, shaking his head, and then lighting his pipe. “Morris sent me to Chester that night on some public business, and I thought I would freeze before I reached Philadelphia the next morning at daylight. Tom Jefferson came into the counting room that morning, when on his way to the State House, and told Morris that his thermometer indicated only sixty-eight degreesâ€” eight degrees below summer-heat. I remember, too, that an electric rod, which Dr. Franklin had placed on Parson Duche’s house, a little out of town, was bent by lightning during the storm. Pity it hadn’t bent the frightened Tory back to a good Whig, as he seemed to be, when he preached that patriotic sermon in Christ Church, just a year before, to the First Battalion of Philadelphia.”
“Well, Billy,” said the Squire, “that, yon know, was the day, with the wind from the north, when Congress coolly declared the colonies free and independent States. I well remember it was about two o’clock in the afternoon when the final vote was taken. I was in a corner of the room listening, and when the deep silence of the moment was broken by Dr. Franklin, saying, ‘Well, gentlemen, we must now all hang together, or we must hang separately,’ I concluded they would all go home to dinner, and not return again. But they did return. Those old fellows didn’t take the people’s money without earning it; and they remained until almost sunset. After disposing of a dozen other items of public business, they appointed a committee of three to prepare a great seal for the new empire. I thought that about the coolest proceeding of the day. The baby republic was only four hours old, and nobody felt certain it would live, and yet, with Britannia’s doubled fist under their noses, they impudently proposed to give the bantling a coat of arms as heavy in its weight of sovereignty as Saul’s mail was in brass.”
“Ay, Squire, those men saw a great way beyond their noses, even with Britannia’s fist there. They swore the baby should live, and. you know, they generally practiced what they preached. But who were the committee?”
“Let me see,” mused the Squire, as he also lighted his pipe. “Oh! I remember. Dr. Franklin, whom we all thought knew everything, and could do everything, was made the chairman. John Adams, the plump Bostonian. in his claret-colored coat, whose bald head made him appear like a man of sixty, rather than a man of forty, as he was, was next named; and then that tall bean-stalk, Jefferson, the youngest of the three, who was only two-and-thirty years of age. But he had a world of book-wisdom under that wiry red hair of his.”Yes, yes,” said Uncle Billy, “I well remember, now, how Jefferson talked with Morris about it a day or two afterward; and perhaps a month or six weeks later, he gave Morris his plan for a seal on a bit of paper. He said it was not all original, but contained also the ideas of Adams and Franklin, the same as the Declaration of Independence did. You know how Jefferson could always use the ideas of other people as well as his own, and make them appear as fresh and bright as if just coined at the mint of his own brain. I remember seeing some rough devices for the seal, made with a pen. Do you remember who drew them?”
“Yes; a little West India Frenchman, named Du Simitiere, who used to cut profiles in black paper, paint miniatures and other pictures in water-colors, and, I was told, commenced collecting materials for a history of the Revolution by saving cuttings from newspapers of the time. In fact, I think I have seen four or five volumes that he prepared, in this way, in our City Library. Well, one hot afternoon, Franklin, Adams, and Du Simitiere, came into the little back-room of Atkin’s establishment, and, using a little table on which I had been writing a notice of the arrival of the British fleet at Sandy Hook, for Bradford’s paper, they there discussed the subject. The Frenchman displayed his sketches. In one of them he showed the arms of the several nations from whence America had been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German, etc., each in a shield. On one side of them he placed Liberty, with her cap; on the other a rifleman in his uniform, with his rifle in one hand and a tomahawk in the other, that dress and weapons being peculiar to America. Dr. Franklin proposed for the device, Moses lifting his wand and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharoah and his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. For a motto, the words of Cromwell, I believe: ‘Rebellion To Tyrants Is Obedience To God.’ Adams proposed the Choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribelin in some editions of Lord Shaftesbury’s works: the hero resting on a club, Virtue pointing to her rugged mountain on one hand, and persuading him to ascend: and Sloth, glancing at her flowery paths of pleasure, wantonly reclining on the ground, displaying the charms both of her eloquence and person, to sednce him into vice. While they were discussing the matter, Jefferson came in, and he proposed, as a device, the Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night; and, on the other side, Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs, from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of goverument we have assumed. Franklin and Adams then, as they did when they had discussed the material for the Declaration of Independence, requested Jefferson to combine their ideas in a compact description of a proper device for a great seal. He did so, and that paper, in his handwriting, is now in the office of the Secretary of State, in Washington City.”
“Do you remember its contents?” I eagerly inquired.
“I think I do,” responded the Squire, taking a sip of wine. “He proposed, as the arms, a shield with six quarterings, parti one, coupi two, in heraldic phrase. The first gold, and an enameled rose, red and white, for England; the second white, with a thistle, in its proper colors, for Scotland; the third green, with a harp of gold, for Ireland; the fourth blue, with a golden lily-flower, for France; the fifth gold, with the imperial black eagle, for Germany; and the sixth gold, with the Belgic crowned red lion, for Holland. These denoted the countries from which America had been peopled. He proposed to place the shield within a red border, on which there should be thirteen white escutcheons, linked together by a gold chain, each bearing appropriate initials, in black, of the thirteen confederated States. He also proposed, as supporters, the Goddess of Liberty on the right side, in a corslet of armor, in allusion to the then state of war, and holding the spear and cap in her right hand, while with her left she supported the shield of the States. On the left hand the Goddess of Justice, leaning on a sword in her right hand, and in her left a balance. The crest, the eye of Providence in a radiant triangle, whose glory should extend over the shield, and beyond the figures. Motto: E Pluribis Unumâ€”’Many in one.’ Around the whole, Seal Of The United States Of America. MDCCLXXVL For the reverse, he proposed the following device: Pharaoh, sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and a sword in his hand, passing through the divided waters of the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites. Rays from a pillar of fire in a cloud, expressive of the Divine presence and command, beaming on Moses, who stands on the shore, and, extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh. Motto: Rebellion To Tyrants Is Obedience To God. This motto Mr. Jefferson had inscribed on his own private seal.”
“That would have made a noble seal,” I said. “Why didn’t they adopt it?”
“I don’t know,” replied the Squire. “The fact is, we all had something more important to think of, soon after that, than making seals for a government that seemed, for a long time, to have no more stable foundation than paperâ€” a paper declaration of existence, and a paper currency. The committee made some sort of a report on the 10th of August, but Thomson did not think it of sufficient importance to put it on record; and nothing more was done, I believe, until the spring of 1779. Jefferson, you know, soon went to Virginia; Franklin was sent to Europe to help Silas Deane, or to watch him, I don’t know which; and our army, under Washington, was sadly beaten and battered on Long Island, and finally driven across the Jerseys, to the frozen banks of the Delaware.”
“And Morris sent me there with a heap of hard money for them, I remember, just before Christmas,” added Uncle Billy.
“And what was done in the spring of 1779?” I inquired.
“Wellâ€”let me see,” mused the Squire. “I had had a hard time of it in the mean while, with the rest of the Whigs. When Congress thought the British, who were chasing Washington across the Jersey’s would come on to Philadelphia, they told the Chief to do just what he pleased, and then they pulled up the stakes of their tents and fled to Baltimore. I went there too, and wrote many paragraphs for Goddard’s paper. The next year, you remember, our army got nicely thrashed at Brandywine, and then the British did go to Philadelphia in earnest. Congress hurried off to York, in the interior of the State, where I too found safety and bread and butter; but our old friend, Aitkin, was locked up in the Walnut Street prison, and badly treated for a while. Finally, when the British thought a French fleet was coming to the Delaware, they ran away from Philadelphia. Congress came back, and matters going a little smoother, they began to think of independent sovereignty again. One morning in Marchâ€”I think the 24thâ€”the wet snow ankle-deep, I went to the State House for news. In the course of the forenoon James Lovell, who had been a schoolmaster in Boston, and a prisoner for conscience’ sake at Halifax, but was now an active member of the Committee on Foreign Correspondence, moved the appointment of a committee to prepare a device for a Great Seal. John Jay, the fiery young Huguenot from New York, was in the Presidential chair, and he appointed Mr. Lovell, with Scott of Virginia, and Houstoun of Georgia, such committee. They reported on the 10th of May following.
They proposed to make a seal four inches in diameter. On one side the arms of the United States, composed of a shield with thirteen diagonal stripes, alternate red and white. For supporters, a warrior holding a sword, on one side; and on the other a figure representing Peace, bearing an olive branch. The crest, a radiant constellation of thirteen stars. Motto: Bello Vel Pace; and the legend, Seal Of The United States. On the reverse, the figure of Liberty, seated in a chair, holding the staff and cap. Motto: Semper: and underneath, MDCCLXXVI. This report was recommitted: and just a year afterward, to a day, another report was presented. This report was almost exactly like the former, and on comparison of the drawings with pen and ink, submitted each time. I found they differed only in a single figure, and in the mottoes. The sketches, I believe, were made by Du Simitiere, who then lived with an aged widow lady a few doors from the house of Peter S. Duponceau.
But Congress seemed hard to please,” continued the Squire. “They didn’t accept the last report, and there the matter rested, as my friend Thomson told me, until April, 1782, when Henry Middleton, Elias Boudinot, and Edward Rutledge were appointed a committee to prepare a great seal. They reported, on the 9th of May following, substantially the same as the committees of 1779 and 1780 had done. Congress, despairing of getting any thing satisfactory from a committee, referred the whole matter to Charles Thomson, its secretary, on the 13th of June.”
“But somebody told me that our old friend, Will Barton, Dr. Ben’s younger brother, made the device for our great seal. Was it not he, instead of Du Simitiere, who made the drawing for Lovell’s Committee?”
“No, no, Billy,” said the Squire, a little impatiently, “he had nothing to do with it until the whole matter was placed in Thomson’s hands. At that time I was very intimate with Thomson, although he was twenty years older than I. You remember, Billy, his thin face and figure, furrowed countenance, hollow, sparkling eyes, and thin white hair at the close of the war, though he was then only fifty-three years old. He appeared to be sixty-three, at least. Well, as I was saying, Thomson and I were intimate, and I well remember being at his house at about the middle of June, when he told me of the reference of the whole matter to him. He then showed me a large drawing made the day before by Barton, who, you know, was a line scholar and a fair artist. He also read a description of a device, written by Barton, but differing somewhat from his drawing. Dr. Arthur Lee and Elias Boudinot, who had accompanied Thomson when he called on Barton for a device, came in the same evening, and we discussed the subject pretty thoroughly. They did not fancy Barton’s design for the arms, because it was too elaborate; but they liked his small sketch for the reverse of the seal, which was an unfinished pyramid with the eye of Providence, in a radiant triangle, over it. Finally, Thomson showed us an exceedingly simple and appropriate device, which Adams had sent to him from England, and approved of. Hoping something as good would be made by his own countrymen, he had withheld it, because it had been suggested to Mr. Adams by a proud member of the British aristocracy. All agreed that the device from England was the best yet offered. Thomson reported it to Congress on the 20th of June, and it was adopted. So you see that we are indebted for our national arms to a titled aristocrat of the country with which we were then at war!”
“Is it possible!” we exclaimed. “Do you know the name of that titled Englishman?”
“One thing at a time,” said the Squire, filling his pipe. “Let me tell you first about Barton’s device. He proposed an escutcheon with a blue border, spangled with thirteen stars, and divided in the centre, perpendicularly, by a gold bar. On each side of this division, within the blue border, thirteen bars or stripes, alternate red and white, like the American flag adopted on the 14th of June, 1777. Over the gold bar an eye surrounded with a glory, and in the gold bar a Doric column, resting on the base of the escutcheon, having a displayed eagle on its summit. The crest, a helmet of burnished gold, damasked, grated with six bars, and surmounted by a red cap of dignity, such as dukes wear, with black lining, and a cock armed with gaffs. For supporters: on one side the Genius of Americaâ€”represented by a maiden with loose auburn tresses, having on her head a radiant crown of gold, encircled with a sky-blue fillet, spangled with silver stars, and clothed in a long, loose, white garment, bordered with green. From the right shoulder to the left side, a blue scarf with stars, the cinctures thereof the same as in the border. Around her waist a purple girdle fringed with gold, and the word Virtue embroidered in white. She rested her interior hand on the escutcheon, and in the other held the standard of the United States, on the top of which was perched a white dove. The supporter on the other side was a man in complete armor; his sword-belt blue, fringed with gold; his helmet encircled with a wreath of laurels, and crested with one white and two blue plumes. With bis left hand he supported the escutcheon, and in the other he held a lance with a bloody point. Upon a green banner, unfurled, was a harp of gold with strings of silver, a brilliant star, two lily-flowers, and below two crossed swords. The two figures stood upon a scroll, on which was the motto Deo Favente, which alluded to the eye in the arms, meant for the eye of Providence. On the crest, in a scroll, was this motto: Virtus Sola Invicta.”
“What a complicated affair,” I remarked. “Can you explain the meaning of all the parts of that elaborate design?” I inquired.
“Not half of ’em,” said Uncle Billy, with a chuckle. “You see, Squire, the boy has put you on a sand-bar by that question. I thought you sailed a little too careless, with the wind in your eye, not to fetch up all standing pretty soon.”
This challenge aroused the pride of the Squire, and he summoned all the powers of his wonderful memory to his aid.
“Can’t explain ’em, eh,” he said, knocking the ashes from his pipe, laying it upon the table, and bringing the points of his forefingers together. “We’ll see.”
“First of all, the Arms. The thirteen bars or stripes represented the Thirteen States, and the stars on a blue field denoted a new constellation, in allusion to the new empire formed in the world by the confederation of the States. This, you know, was the device of our flag, and did not thus originate with Barton. The stars disposed in a circle, the emblem of eternity, denoted the perpetuity of the confederation. The spread eagle, you know, is the symbol of supreme power and authority, and represented Congress. The Doric pillar, the most perfect of the orders, represented Fidelity and Constancy, its parts taken together forming a beautiful composition of strength, congruity, and usefulness, the attributes of a well-planned government. The eagle being placed on the summit of the column, was emblematical of the sovereignty of the United States. The eye, of coarse, is the All-Seeing one of Providence. The helmet represents sovereignty, and the cap is the token of freedom, as used by the old Romans. The cock represents vigilance and fortitude. The fillet, the glittering stars, and the American flag, denote the genius of the American Confederacy. The white dress, trimmed with green, denotes youth and purity; the purple girdle and radiant crown symbolize sovereignty, and the word Virtue implies that that should be the chief ornament of the Republic. The dove on the standard denotes the mildness and justice of the government; the white plume was a compliment to the French Allies; the green banner, with a golden harp, symbolized youth and vigor, hnrmony and concert. The brilliant star represented America as chief in the contest, and the lily-flowerâ€”the fleur de lisâ€”was expressive of gratitude to France for its support. The crossed swords denoted the state of war, and the armed man with his flag, related totally to America and the time of the Revolution. There, Billy,” said the Squire, rubbing his hands triumphantly, “isn’t that as good an explanation as Will Barton himself could have given? On a sand-bar, eh!”
“Why, my old friend,” said Uncle Billy, with a pleasant smile, “I know you could tell all about men, and circumstances, and such like, but when I found your tongue reeling off such a yarn about coats of arms which so few people in this country know any thing about, or are fools enough to care anything about, I thought you were getting into dangerous waters with your craft. But your good old pilot, memory, never failed you yet, and I don’t believe it ever will as long as there is a plank of the old hulk left. Now wind up your skein, Squire, by telling us about that English aristocrat who invented our national arms, and then we’ll adjourn, for it’s bed-time for youngsters like us.”
“Well, you know John Adams was sent to England, in the fall of 1779, to negotiate for peace. His fame and his official position gave him great prominence, and he became acquainted with many men of all respectable classes. Among others who took quite a fancy for Adams was Sir John Prestwich, a baronet of the West of England, who was a friend of the Americans in that long quarrel, and was an accomplished antiquarian. In conversation with him one day on the bright prospects of the Americans, Adams mentioned the fact that his countrymen had not yet decided upon a national coat of arms. Sir John suggested that an escutcheon bearing thirteen perpendicular stripes, white and red, like the American flag, with the chief blue, and spangled with thirteen stars, would make a fine device. And to give it more consequence he proposed to place it on the breast of a displayed American eagle without supporters, as emblematic of self-reliance. That simple and significant device pleased Adams, and he communicated it to his friends in Congress. Thomson liked it, too, but, for reasons I have named, he withheld it until the last. Congress was pleased with it, and in the Journal of the 20th of June, 1782, you may find the great seal thus described, if my memory does not deceive me:
“Arms.â€”Paleways of thirteen pieces, argent and gules; a chief azure; the escutcheon on the breast of the American eagle displayed proper, holding in his dexter talon an olive branch, and in his sinister a bundle of thirteen arrows, all proper, and in his beak a scroll, inscribed with this motto: E Pluribus Unum.”
“Hold on a minute, Squire!” interrupted Uncle Billy; “you’re talking above my comprehension about paleways, and argent, and gules, and dexter, and sinister talons. What does all that mean?”
“Why, Billy, I thought you knew something of heraldry. Paleways means perpendicular bars, like a picket-fence; argent and gules mean white and red; and dexter and sinister mean right and left. The motto is, Many In Oneâ€”Many States in one Confederation.”
“Yes, I know E Pluribus Unum well enough; but the rest was Greek, or Latin, or Indian to me. But go on.”
“‘ For The Crest.-â€”Over the head of the eagle, which appears above the escutcheon, a glory Or (that is, golden) breaking through a cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent (white stars) on an azure (blue) field.’
“‘ Reverse.â€”A pyramid unfinished. In the zenith an eye in a triangle, surrounded with a glory, proper. Over the eye these words, Annuit Coeptis (God has favored the undertaking). On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters MDCCLXXVI; and underneath the following motto: Novus Ordo Seclorumâ€”A New Series of Ages, denoting that a new order of things had commenced in this Western World. Such was the seal then adopted, and such yet remains the arms of the United States. Congress then ordered a seal half the size of the great one, to impress wax and paper, as you now see it upon this commission signed by my old and trusty friend, Charles Thomson. They also ordered a smaller seal for the use of the President of the Congress.
It was a small oval about an inch in length, the centre covered with clouds surrounding a space of open sky, on which were seen thirteen stars. Over these the motto, E Pluribus Unum. The seal of the President of the United States now is round, yon know, with an eagle upon it.”
Uncle Billy now arose to depart, when the Squire said, “A few minutes more, my old friend, and I will go too. Do you remember that curious article on Merlin’s prophecy, which appeared in one of our Philadelphia papers while the Federal Convention that formed the Constitution in 1787 was in session?”
“I do not.”
“I do; for I extracted it from an old volume, published in London in the year 1530,(fn4) and appending to it my own interpretation, published it over the signature of ‘T,’ the middle letter of my name, you know. That prophecy is said to have been uttered more than a. thousand years ago; and it seemed to me to refer directly to America, its settlement, our Revolution, and our flag and coat of arms. Shall I repeat it, with my interpretation?”
“By all means,” we both exclaimed. Uncle Billy filled his pipe again, and the Squire began:
‘When the Savage is meek and mild
The frantic Mother shall stab her Child.’
The settlement of America by a civilized nation is very clearly alluded to in the first line. The frantic mother is Britain. America still feels the wounds she has received from her.
‘When the Cock shall woo the Dove,
The Mother the Child shall cease to love.’
The Cock is France; the Dove is Americaâ€”Columbia, from Columbus; Colombo, a pigeon. This union is the epocha when America shall cease to love Britain; for so I understand the prophecy, in which there is manifestly an equivoque, which is one of the most striking characteristics of the ancient oracles.
‘When men. like moles, work under ground,
The Lion a Virgin true shall wound.’
In many parts of Europe there are subterranean works carried on by persons who never see the sun. But perhaps tho solution may more particularly be referred to the siege of York, in Virginia, where the approaches were carried on by working in the earth. In the second line there is another equivoque. We are told by Mr. Addison, in his ‘Spectator,’ that a lion will not hurt a true maid. This, at first view, seems to be contradicted by the prophecy; but, on examination, it will be found that, at the epocha referred to, the Virgin, Columbia (or perhaps Virginia, by which name all North America was called in the days of Queen Elizabeth), shall wound the Lion, that is, Britain, which shows the precise time when the oracle should be accomplished.
‘When the Dove and Cock, the Lion shall fight.
The Lion shall crouch beneath their might’
This clearly alludes to the successes of the united forces of America and France against those of Britain.
‘When the Cock shall guard the Eagle’s nest.
The stars shall rise all in the West.’
For the solution of this oracle, as well as all the rest, we are indebted to the engraving of the Arms of the United States, in the Columbian Magazine, for September, 1786. America is clearly designated by the eagle’s nest, as it is the only part of the globe where the bald eagle (the arms of the United States) is to be found. Thus this hitherto inexplicable prophecy, may now be easily understood as meaning that when the Cock, that is, France, shall protect America (as she did during the late war), the stars, that is, the standard of American empire, shall rise in this western hemisphere.
‘When ships above the clouds shall sail.
The Lion’s strength shall surely fail.’
It is very remarkable that the first discovery of the amazing properties of inflammable air, by means of which men have been able to explore a region, till then impervious to them, happened in the same year when Britain’s strength was so reduced as to oblige her to acknowledge the independence of America. The boats in which the adventurous aeronauts traversed the upper regions, are the ships here referred to.
“Thus far the prophecy seems to have been already fully and literally accomplished. It is to be hoped that the accomplishment of those which remain is not far remote.
‘When Neptune’s back with stripes is red.
The sickly Lion shall hide his head.’
I understand this to mean that when the sea (Neptune’s back) is red with the American stripes the naval power of Britain shall decline. A proper exertion in the art of ship-building would soon produce this effect, and whenever Congress is vested with the power of regulating the commerce of America, we may hope to see the full accomplishment of this prediction,
‘When seven and six shall make but one.
The Lion’s might shall be undone.’
This oracle clearly alludes to an epocha not far removed, as we may hope; for when the thirteen States shall, under the auspices of the present Federal Convention, have strengthened and cemented their union, by a proper revisal of the Articles of Confederation, so as to be really One Nation, Britain will no longer be able to maintain that rank and consequence among the nations of the earth which she hath hitherto done.
“So I interpreted the oracles in March, 1787. How well the last two have been since verified, you can judge. The States declared free in 1776 (seven and six) were made really one in 1789, and they are yet one, though now numbering twenty-four independent republics. Though the brave old Jackson is just now threatening the Cock with the sharp talons of the Eagle, I think they won’t fight yet a while, just to please the old Lion. And now, Billy, goodnight.” And so I parted with the octogenarians, for the time.
(fn1) All of the illustrations in this article are correct copies of rude sketches now In the archives of the State Department at Washington City, except the representation of Unseal proposed by Jefferson. This was drawn by the writer of this article, from tho description of Mr. Jefferson, in his own handwriting, now among other records of the proceedings of the several committees, in the State Department. This is the exact size of all of the originals. The remainder are reduced to half the size of the originals, and, like this, present fax-similes of the rude style of drawings.
(fn2) The original design was torn, and pasted on another piece of paper, as here represented, and presenting some blots, erasures, and a line drawn with a pen across one part. The next one also shows some hints made with a pen probably while the committee were in consultation.
(fn3) Copied from an impression made in 1784, on a letter written by Thomas Mifflin, then President of the Continental Congress.
(fn4) See Swift’s Works, vol iii, p. 214 Edition 1766 the “Sibylline Oracle” from the celebrated Welsh Astrologer Merlin’s Prophecies as uttered in Wales in the Eight century.
Walter Scott, speaking of Merlin, or the Savage, as he was called, says, “The particular spot in which he is buried is still shown, and appears, from the following quotation, taken from a description of Tweeddale, 1715, to have partaken of his prophetic qualities:â€”
‘When Tweed and Pausayl meet
At Merlin’s grave,
Scotland and England shall one
For the same day that our King James the Sixth was crowned king of England, the river Tweed, by an extraordinary flood, so far overflowed its banks that it met and joined with the Pausayl at the said grave, which was never before observed to fall out.”
The precise spot pointed out to travelers is situated near Drumelzier, a village upon the Tweed.