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Reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States

Annuit cœptis (in Anglicized Latin pronounced /ˈænjuːɪt ˈsɛptɨs/) is one of two mottos (the other being Novus ordo seclorum) on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. Taken from the Latin words annuo (nod, approve) and cœpta (beginnings, undertakings), it is literally translated as "He approves (or has approved) [our] undertaking(s)".

In 1782, Congress appointed a design artist, William Barton of Philadelphia, to bring a proposal for the national seal.[1] For the reverse, Barton suggested a thirteen layered pyramid underneath the Eye of Providence. The mottos which Barton chose to accompany the design were Deo Favente ("With God's Favor", or more literally, "God Favoring") and Perennis ("Everlasting"). The pyramid and Perennis motto had come from a $50 Continental currency bill designed by Francis Hopkinson.[2]

Barton's Design with Deo Favente and Perennis

Barton explained that the motto alluded to the Eye of Providence: "Deo favente which alludes to the Eye in the Arms, meant for the Eye of Providence."[3] For Barton, Deus (God) and The Eye of Providence were the same entity.

When designing the final version of the Great Seal, Charles Thomson (a former Latin teacher) kept the pyramid and eye for the reverse side but replaced the two mottos, using Annuit Cœptis instead of Deo Favente (and Novus Ordo Seclorum instead of Perennis). When he provided his official explanation of the meaning of this motto, he wrote:

"The Eye over it [the pyramid] and the motto Annuit Cœptis allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor of the American cause."[4]

Annuit Cœptis is translated by the U.S. State Department, The U.S. Mint,[5] and the U.S. Treasury[6] as "He (God) has favored our undertakings." (brackets in original).[7]

Detail of the US one-dollar bill

Annuit cœptis and the other motto on the reverse of the Great Seal, Novus ordo seclorum, can both be traced to lines by the Roman poet Virgil. Annuit cœptis comes from the Aeneid, book IX, line 625, which reads, Jupiter omnipotens, audacibus annue cœptis. It is a prayer by Ascanius, the son of the hero of the story, Aeneas, which translates to, "Jupiter Almighty, favour [my] bold undertakings."

References

  1. ^ Greatseal.com
  2. ^ MacArthur, John D.. "Third Great Seal Committee - May 1782". greatseal.com. http://www.greatseal.com/committees/thirdcomm/index.html. Retrieved 2009-02-03.   The note can be seen here, and the pyramid portion here.
  3. ^ Papers of the Continental Congress, item 23, folios 137-139.
  4. ^ Journals of the Continental Congress, June 1782
  5. ^ The U.S. Mint
  6. ^ The U.S. Treasury
  7. ^ U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs (2003). The Great Seal of the United States. Retrieved October 22, 2005.

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