Blazon and Symbolism



2nd Amendment of the Constitution: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The coat of arms of the United States was adopted by Congress on June 20, 1782, as part of a resolution approving the design of a great seal for the United States in Congress assembled. Under this resolution, the arms, which appear on the obverse (front side) of the seal, were officially blazoned as:

ARMS. 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.”
For the CREST. Over the head of the eagle, which appears above the escutcheon, a glory, or, breaking through a cloud, proper, and surrounding thirteen stars, forming a constellation, argent, on an azure field.

(In addition, as was customary for the seals of sovereign governments, a reverse of the seal was prescribed, consisting of an unfinished pyramid surmounted by the all-seeing eye of Providence. While the reverse is an integral part of the design of the seal, it is not part of the arms, which appear only on the obverse, and is therefore not discussed in this article.)

The design accepted by Congress was the end result of nearly six years of sporadic work by three different Congressional committees. The final product, while it drew to some extent on previous designs proposed by the committees, was basically the work of Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Congress, and William Barton, a Philadelphia lawyer with an interest in heraldry who had also advised the third committee. Thomson had been entrusted by Congress with the design of the seal following the unsatisfactory result of this third committee a few weeks before, and Thomson had promptly turned to Barton to draw on his heraldic expertise.

Along with the blazon approved by Congress, Thomson submitted a text entitled “Remarks and Explanation” describing the symbolism behind the design:

The escutcheon is composed of the Chief and pale, the two most honorable ordinaries. The pieces, paly, represent the several States all joined in one solid compact entire, supporting a Chief which unites the whole and represents Congress. The motto alludes to this Union. The pales in the Arms are kept closely united by the Chief and the Chief depends on that union, and the strength resulting from it for its support, to denote the Confederacy of the United States of America, and the preservation of their Union through Congress. The colours of the pales are those used in the flag of the United States of America. White signifies purity and innocence. Red hardiness and valour and Blue the colour of the Chief signifies vigilance perseverance and justice. The Olive Branch and arrows denote the power of peace and war which is exclusively vested in Congress. The Constellation denotes a new State taking its place and rank among other sovereign powers. The escutcheon is borne on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters, to denote that the United States of America ought to rely on their own virtue.

In their official history of the great seal, The Eagle and the Shield (1978), Richard S. Patterson and Richardson Dougall discuss in considerable depth the sources of the elements comprising the final design. 

Idaho Coat of Arms


The Motto. The motto E Pluribus Unum (Out of many, one) appeared in the design of the arms prepared by Pierre Eugène du Simitière and submitted to Congress by the first seal committee in August 1776. Patterson and Richardson conclude that it almost certainly was taken from the legend on the title page of each issue of an English periodical, the Gentleman’s Magazine, which was widely known to educated Americans. The Gentleman’s Magazine had taken the motto from an earlier, unrelated magazine known as the Gentleman’s Journal, published in the late 17th century. While many classical Latin sources contain the thought of one entity being formed from many, Patterson and Richardson say that no one has ever found this expression in exactly this form prior to its appearance in the Gentleman’s Journal.

The Eagle. While the eagle first appears as a motif in William Barton’s initial design for the third seal committee in 1782, it only takes a prominent place in the arms in Charles Thomson’s proposal in June of that year. Although the eagle as a single supporter is very rare in British heraldry, Patterson and Richardson show that Thomson was probably familiar with the pattern thanks to its appearance on German coins (such as the internationally-circulated silver thalers of the Holy Roman Empire) or in Continental books on heraldry, at least one of which was in the collection of the Library Company of Philadelphia. Specifying the bird as an American eagle would seem to be a totally original contribution.

The Olive Branch and Arrows. The motif of an imperial eagle holding in his talons the instruments of war and peace has a long history, and Charles Thomson was certainly familiar with at least part of it. Benjamin Franklin owned a copy of the 1702 edition of an influential book of emblematic designs by the German Joachim Camerarius, originally published in 1605. Franklin was a member of the 1775 Congressional committee charged with issuing Continental currency, each denomination of which bore a different emblem and motto, most of them taken from Camerarius. Patterson and Richardson believe that Thomson was familiar with Franklin’s copy of this book of emblems–one of which portrays an eagle displayed with an olive branch near (although not in) his right talon and a bundle of arrows near his left, symbolizing peace and war—and that this was the most likely source of Thomson’s design. In addition, the idea of a bundle of arrows to represent the unity of component parts of a nation would have been familiar from the arms of the States General of the Netherlands, on which a lion holds a sheaf of seven arrows representing the seven united provinces.

The Stars. The 13 stars representing the American states as a new constellation first appear as the crest of the arms in the proposals by Francis Hopkinson submitted by the second seal committee in 1780. By this time, nearly three years after the adoption of the Stars and Stripes as the U.S. flag, the idea of the American union as a new constellation would have been a familiar one, particularly to Hopkinson, who was the prime mover in the design and adoption of the flag.

Bellamy Salute, the Pledge of Allegiance


Thirty-one words which affirm the values and freedom that the American flag represents are recited while facing the flag as a pledge of Americans’ loyalty to their country. The Pledge of Allegiance was written for the 400th anniversary, in 1892, of the discovery of America. A national committee of educators and civic leaders planned a public-school celebration of Columbus Day to center around the flag. Included with the script for ceremonies that would culminate in raising of the flag was the pledge. So it was in October 1892 Columbus Day programs that school children across the country first recited the Pledge of Allegiance this way:

I pledge allegiance to my Flag and
to the Republic for which it stands:
one Nation indivisible, with Liberty
and Justice for all.

Controversy continues over whether the author was the chairman of the committee, Francis Bellamy — who worked on a magazine for young people that published the pledge — or James Upham, who worked for the publishing firm that produced the magazine. The pledge was published anonymously in the magazine and was not copyrighted.

According to some accounts of Bellamy as author, he decided to write a pledge of allegiance, rather than a salute, because it was a stronger expression of loyalty — something particularly significant even 27 years after the Civil War ended. “One Nation indivisible” referred to the outcome of the Civil War, and “Liberty and Justice for all” expressed the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.

The words “my flag” were replaced by “the flag of the United States” in 1923, because some foreign-born people might have in mind the flag of the country of their birth, instead of the U.S. flag. A year later, “of America” was added after “United States.” No form of the pledge received official recognition by Congress until June 22, 1942, when it was formally included in the U.S. Flag Code. The official name of The Pledge of Allegiance was adopted in 1945.

The last change in language came on Flag Day 1954, when Congress passed a law which added the words “under God” after “one nation.” Originally, the pledge was said with the hand in the so-called “Bellamy Salute,” with the hand resting first outward from the chest, then the arm extending out from the body. Once Hitler came to power in Europe, some Americans were concerned that this position of the arm and hand resembled the salute rendered by the Nazi military. In 1942, Congress established the current practice of rendering the pledge with the right hand placed flat over the heart.

Section 7 of the Federal Flag Code states that when not in military uniform, men should remove any headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, thereby resting the hand over the heart. People in military uniform should remain silent, face the flag and render the military salute.

The Flag Code specifies that any future changes to the pledge would have to be with the consent of the president.

The Pledge of Allegiance now reads:
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation
under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

The Crowd


The disappearance of conscious personality and the turning of feelings and thoughts in a definite direction, which are the primary characteristics of a crowd about to become organised, do not always involve the simultaneous presence of a number of individuals on one spot. Thousands of isolated individuals may acquire at certain moments, and under the influence of certain violent emotions–such, for example, as a great national event–the characteristics of a psychological crowd.

It will be sufficient in that case that a mere chance should bring them together for their acts to at once assume the characteristics peculiar to the acts of a crowd. At certain moments half a dozen men might constitute a psychological crowd, which may not happen in the case of hundreds of men gathered together by accident. On the other hand, an entire nation, though there may be no visible agglomeration, may become a crowd under the action of certain

A psychological crowd once constituted, it acquires certain provisional but determinable general characteristics. To these general characteristics there are adjoined particular characteristics which vary according to the elements of which the crowd is composed, and may modify its mental constitution. Psychological crowds, then, are susceptible of classification; and when we come to occupy ourselves with this matter, we shall see that a heterogeneous crowd–that is, a crowd composed of dissimilar elements–presents certain characteristics in common with homogeneous crowds–that is, with crowds composed of elements more or less akin (sects, castes, and classes)–and side by side with these common characteristics particularities which permit of the two kinds of crowds being differentiated.

The Crowd



THE conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling
power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.

Our invisible governors are, in many cases, unaware of the identity of their fellow members in the inner cabinet. They govern us by their qualities of natural leadership, their ability to supply needed ideas and by their key position in the social structure. Whatever attitude one chooses to take toward this condition, it remains a fact that in almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons—a trifling fraction of our hundred and twenty million—who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind, who harness old social forces and contrive new ways to bind and guide the world.

Propaganda Edward Bernays