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State prescribed that the Secretary should keep the seal of the United States, and he thus became the custodian of the most important official evidence of the Federal Executive authority.
The law reads, that the Secretary of State “shall affix the said seal to all civil commissions to officers of the United States, to be appointed by the President by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, or by the President alone. Provided, That the said seal shall not be affixed to any commission, before the same shall have been signed by the President of the United States, nor to any other instrument or act, without the special warrant of the President there
for.” The seal thus “attests, by an act supposed to be of public notoriety, the verity of the presidential signature.''*
The commissions were not countersigned by the Secretary of State until a few months after Jefferson had been in office, but simply bore the President's signature and the impression of the seal. The device of the seal, as adopted by the first Congress under the Constitution, was the same as that adopted by the old Congress in 1782. The law read:
The device for an armorial achievement and reverse of the great seal for the United States in Congress assembled, is as follows:
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.
* 1 U. S. Reports, 374.
REVERSE. A pyramid unfinished.
In the zenith, an eye in a triangle, surrounded with a glory proper. Over the eye these words, “Annuit cæptis.” On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters MDCCLXXVI. And underneath the following motto, “ Novus Ordo Seclorum."
REMARKS AND EXPLANATION
The Escutcheon is composed of the chief and pale, the two most honourable 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 & 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 born on the breast of an American Eagle without any other supporters, to denote that the United States ought to rely on their own Virtue.
Reverse. The pyramid signifies Strength and Duration: The Eye over it and the motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause. The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence and the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra, which commences from that date.
Passed June 20, 1782.
The reverse of the seal was not cut then, nor has it ever been cut since. As it can not conveniently be used, it has been allowed to go unnoticed officially to the present day.
The seal of the Department, which the law of September 15, 1789, authorized, followed closely the design of the seal of the United States. The device has never been changed.
As the duties of the Government have expanded, the impracticability of having the seal of the United States attached by the Department of State to the commissions of officers who are under some other Department has been recognized by Congress. By the Act of March 18, 1874, the commissions of postmasters were directed to be made out under the seal of the Post-Office Department; the Act of March 3, 1875, placed the commissions of officers of the Interior Department under that Department; and by Act of August 8, 1888, all judicial officers, Marshals, and United States Attorneys were ordered to be appointed under the seal of the Department of Justice. At the present time the seal of the United States is affixed to the commissions of all Cabinet officers and diplomatic and consular officers who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate; all ceremonious communications from the President to the heads of foreign governments; all treațies, conventions, and formal agreements of the President with foreign powers; all pardons or commutations of sentence by the President to offenders who have been