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The Presidential Seal   1 comment

Why does the President need a Presidential Seal?

Tradition, mainly. The origin of a “seal,” after all, is that it formed an imprint in wax to “seal” a document or envelope and prove its authenticity. Officially, the Presidential Seal is used today to seal correspondence sent to Congress.

This is the ivory-handled seal Lincoln used to decorate the outside of envelopes for letters he sent.

This is the ivory-handled seal Lincoln used to decorate the outside of envelopes for letters he sent. This Seal, still encrusted with red wax, is owned by the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, in Springfield, IL. There’s a link below to a video about this Seal.

Various old versions of the Seal of the President of the United States, as printed in an 1885 issue of the Daily Graphic, a New York newspaper. The large seal on the left was made in 1850 by Edward Stabler, a Maryland farmer, postmaster, and engraver who made many governmental seals at the time. It was made according to the rough design submitted by President Fillmore, which can be seen at the bottom center. The associated article said that a smaller version was made by Stabler at the time, but since the seal in the upper right has only 27 stars and is labeled "The Old Seal", it would instead appear to be an earlier seal dating from about 1846. The seal in the bottom right was used by Thomas Mifflin, the President of the Continental Congress, in 1784. It is a reprint from an 1856 Harpers Magazine article by Benson J. Lossing.

Various old versions of the Seal of the President of the United States, as printed in an 1885 issue of the Daily Graphic, a New York newspaper. The large seal on the left was made in 1850 by Edward Stabler, a Maryland farmer, postmaster, and engraver who made many governmental seals at the time. It was made according to the rough design submitted by President Fillmore, which can be seen at the bottom center. The associated article said that a smaller version was made by Stabler at the time, but since the seal in the upper right has only 27 stars and is labeled “The Old Seal”, it would instead appear to be an earlier seal dating from about 1846. The seal in the bottom right was used by Thomas Mifflin, the President of the Continental Congress, in 1784. It shows a constellation of 13 stars surrounded by clouds. This image is a reprint from an 1856 Harpers Magazine article by Benson J. Lossing.

The official design of the modern Presidential Seal was formalized by President Truman in 1945 in Executive Order 9646. The origin of this design rests with President Hayes, who was the first to use the central image (the eagle clutching the arrows and ivy leaves), known as the coat of arms, on White House invitations in 1877.

Today, you’ll see the Seal wherever the President goes: in the Oval Office, on Air Force One and on the front of the lecturn he’s speaking from.

The symbology of the Seal:

The eagle represents the United States of America and symbolizes the President’s role as head of state. In the eagle’s beak is a ribbon emblazoned with “E Pluribus Unum,” which means “Out of many, one.” Above the eagle are 13 white clouds and 13 white stars.

The 13 arrows symbolize the President’s role as Commander in Chief, while the 13 olive branches (with 13 olives) symbolize peace and the President’s role as chief diplomat.

The 13 stripes in the central shield represent the original 13 states, with a blue field uniting them and representing the Congress.

The 50 stars surrounding the coat of arms represent the states. Truman’s Seal had 48 stars; the only changes to the Seal since 1945 have been to add the 49th (in 1959) and 50th (in 1960) stars.

This image, on a deep blue field, comprises the “Presidential Coat Of Arms,” which is used on the Presidential flags … including those little flags on the car the President rides in.

When the Coat of Arms is surrounded by a tan field with the words “Seal of the President of the United States,” the Seal is complete.Presidential Seal - today

A picture of the Seal on the ceiling of the Oval Office.

A picture of the coat of arms on the ceiling of the Oval Office.

A persistent misconception is about why the eagle today faces to the eagle’s right … but formerly faced to the eagle’s left. Sources including one of Dan Brown’s novels and the popular TV show West Wing both cited this as the nation turning from war to peace. Some even say that the coat of arms in the rug in the Oval Office is replaced when the nation goes from war to peace!

It’s all not true. The eagle had faced to its left until 1945, and that is unusual in birds shown in heraldry. Truman did turn the eagle to its right because he felt it did symbolize the nation turning in a new direction after WWII, but there is no deeper, hidden meaning behind that change.

The Resolute Desk was originally given to President Wilson by Queen Victoria. FDR later had a central panel installed, with the carved image of the Presidential seal, to help conceal the fact that he was sitting in a wheel chair.

The Resolute Desk was originally given to President Rutherford B Hayes by Queen Victoria in 1880. FDR later had a central panel installed, with the carved image of the Presidential Seal – as used by President Hayes – to help conceal the fact that he was sitting in a wheel chair.

Presidential Seal - Bush

More

Lincoln’s Presidential Wax Seal

The Oval Office Rug

President Kennedy, working late at his White House office, wears a slight smile on his face, indicating perhaps he is not completely unaware that his son, John Jr., is exploring under his desk in the Oval Office in the White House in 1963. (AP, Look Magazine)

President Kennedy, working late at his White House office, wears a slight smile on his face, indicating perhaps he is not completely unaware that his son, John Jr., is exploring under his desk in the Oval Office in the White House in 1963. (AP, Look Magazine)

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