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Bald Eagle and the United States Great Seal (Coat of Arms): The History of the American Symbol

The more often we travel the world, the more we become convinced of its diversity and diversity. It is not only about national characteristics, architecture, or way of life of specific countries and regions, but also about differences in their nature, climate, landscape, with the flora and flora predominating there. It is easy to imagine how America’s first settlers, who came here mainly from Europe, were amazed by America’s environment. And given the vast expanses of the country, it is not surprising that flowers, birds, trees, and animals in each state of a future united country were very different from each other. So in its north priority was given: in the state of New York - to rose, blue bird and sugar maple, in Minnesota to a venereal shoe, a polar loon and a red pine, and in Montana - Lewisia, a lark and yellow pine. In the south, in Texas - cornflower, a mockingbird and dwarf palm, and in Arizona - a cactus, a cactus wren and acacia. While in the west, in California - the Maca, the meadow quail and the poplar. And in the east, in North Carolina - dogwood, cardinal and southern pine. With the presence of 50 states in the country, these differences were simply enormous. Nevertheless, it was still possible to identify the main common symbols for the whole country: the Bird, the Tree, the Flower, and the representative of mammals. Among the birds - Bald Eagle.

Фото: Depositphotos

USA Symbol Bird - Bald Eagle

Why all the same, first of all, you should start the story with birds? Because since time immemorial, they enjoyed special respect and recognition from people. After all, the birds could have done something completely unimaginable then for a man: to rise above the ground and see the world completely different. As there is a poet: "The Eagle rises into the sky, Flashing with a mighty wing ... And I would like, and I would like there, to heaven, behind the eagle!" At the same time, thanks to the ability to fly, the birds could in a short time, with ease and high speed to overcome long distances. Staying free and having the ability to sing and "speech" communication.

Therefore, they immediately took the appropriate place in the iconography, most often becoming symbolic, acting characters of folklore and paintings. Here are some examples.

For example, Owl - traditionally recognized as a symbol of wisdom. Apparently, therefore, “Crystal Owl” is a prize awarded to the best player in the intellectual Russian television game “What? Where? When?". And thanks to J.K. Rowling and her young wizard Harry Potter, she has become especially popular lately.

Stork - a sacred bird in various myths. In Christianity, he, as a harbinger of spring, was a symbol of new life, purity, chastity, prudence and vigilance. Therefore, the house where the stork built a nest is considered to be protected from all sorts of troubles. Many people remember the song from the times of their youth: "Stork on the roof, Stork on the roof, Peace on earth." At the same time, the Slavic peoples have a widespread belief that it is thanks to the stork that children appear in the house. According to one legend, he pulls them out of the swamp, brings them in a basket and throws them into the house through the chimney. Otherwise, he finds children in the field. Maybe in cabbage?

Owl, Stork, Magpie, Crow, Dove, Crane (from left to right). Collage: ForumDaily

Magpie became a symbol of talkativeness and corruption. Hence the speech turns: “talkative like forty”, “chirping forty”, “thieving forty”, etc. Already in Ovid's Metamorphoses, the transformation into her of an abusive woman is described. However, in China it is considered the “bird of pleasure”. For example, the crackling magpie brings good news and news that guests will come. If you are waiting for them. And if not, then everything is like in Europe ...

Raven - due to the black plumage and the habit of eating carrion - a sign of the devil. It was considered the bird-messenger of Apollo and Athena, was associated with the solar cult of Mithra. Its plumage was reportedly white at first, but Apollo made it black as a punishment for poor predictions. For the same reason, the raven could not remain a companion of the goddess Athena: she chose an owl in his place. According to another version, he was allegedly sent by Apollo for water, but on the way he saw a tree with unripe figs and began to wait under it until the fruits ripen, postponing the execution of the assignment for all this time. For which God placed him as the constellation Ravens among the stars, where Hydra still does not allow him to drink from the cup.

Dove Is a symbol of a pure and sinless soul. There is even a legend that the devil and witches can turn into any creature except a dove and a sheep. Even more widespread are the notions of the dove as a mediator between the Earth and Heaven, or a divine messenger. As a symbol of the Holy Spirit, a dove appears at the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the waters of the Jordan River. The dove also plays the role of a messenger in the story of Noah: its appearance above the ark with an olive branch in its beak is a sign of the retreat of the waters of the Flood and the establishment of peace between the Lord and the family of the righteous. This "impressive image of God, who changed his anger to mercy" significantly influenced the further perception of the dove, which gradually came to be seen as a symbol of the benevolent divine message and peace. In our time, a continuation of this tradition was Pablo Picasso's "Dove of Peace" - a drawing that played an important role in political symbolism of the 50-60s of the XX century, as a symbol of the peace movement.

How is it about this in Dina Rubinna's new novel "Napoleon Convoy": "... comes out the unfortunate raven all the bitterness of the people's soul has absorbed all the fierce disgust? And the blue dove - that just the spirit of the heavenly space, the messenger of an unrealizable will, for nothing that he gets anywhere? ... "

For many birds, there are various connections with gods, heroes, or other creatures. The folklore of different countries is widely represented the motive of turning heroes into birds. For example, fabulous virgins after bathing turn into swans, or dove (sometimes this is due to the loss of their clothes and robes in birds), and witches, sorcerers and evil spirits can turn into forty, etc. A special role is assigned here. cranes - ankle-footed wading birds with a long beak, tireless during flights and very cautious (their eyes have a view of up to 360 degrees). In ancient images, they are easy to recognize by their typical posture - he stands with a raised leg and a stone clutched in his claws. According to legend, “every night the cranes gather around their king. The best among them are chosen as guardians, and they must stay awake all night, with all their strength driving away sleep from themselves. Therefore, each guardian crane stands on one leg, raising the other. In his raised paw, he holds a stone. Sleep the crane, and the stone will fall out of its paw and, falling on the one on which it stands, will wake it up. It is generally accepted that the crane is one of the incarnations of the light of the morning sun, since it is the first to see its rise. As an intermediary between the worlds, he acts as a messenger of the gods and a guide (carrier) of the souls of the dead to the place of their afterlife. Rasul Gamzatov wrote well about this: “Sometimes it seems to me that the soldiers, From the bloody fields that did not come, didn’t fall into this ground once, But turned into white cranes. They still fly from those distant times and give us voices. Isn't that why so often and sadly We fall silent, looking at the heavens? "

Фото: Depositphotos

And yet - among the many different birds, a very special place eagle... Associated with the elements of air and fire, he is the king in the air, as a lion is the king of beasts on earth. The bird of initiation, the messenger of the gods, he connects the earthly and heavenly spheres. Among the Greeks, the eagle meant the Sun, spiritual strength, royalty and good luck. Because it flies higher than any other bird, the eagle was seen as an expression of divine majesty. Being in ancient times the emblem of Zeus, he, as the bearer of his lightning, was sometimes depicted with her in his claws. According to Homer: the eagle depicted with a snake in its claws is a symbol of victory. He is not only a companion and messenger of the great gods, but often their direct personification. So, when the Olympian gods urgently needed a cupbearer, Zeus flies after him, reincarnated as an eagle. In the myth we know, Zeus' anger turned into an eagle and tormented the liver of Prometheus. Western tradition endowed him with the ability to renew: the eagle supposedly exposes its plumage to the sun's rays until it shines, then plunges into clean water, and after leaving it, it becomes young again. In our time, this beautiful legend has become overgrown with conjectures that by old age, in order to renew themselves, eagles allegedly break their old beaks and claws. While the expression "eagle vision" is based on real facts - these birds of prey are able to survey the surface of 11.5 kilometers, to see a hare from a height of more than 3 kilometers, and their peripheral vision angle is 270 degrees.
In ancient Greece and Rome, the image of a golden eagle was carried at the head of the advancing army or in front of the tsar-military cortege. Pharaoh Ptolemy VIII made him a symbol of Egypt and ordered to knock out the image of an eagle on Egyptian coins. Roman commanders carried the image of an eagle on their rods, as a sign of superiority over the army. Later, he became the imperial sign, a symbol of the supreme power. Aztec rulers decorated the costumes with eagle feathers to bring themselves closer to the deities.

The eagle decorated the coat of arms of Charlemagne, entered into many royal and noble coat of arms. The image of the double-headed eagle was the emblem of Byzantium, Austria, Spain, and most often it was put on one of the sides of the state coins. So it was in Tsarist Russia. Hence the Russian the expression "heads and tails", instead of the traditional names of the sides of coins in the world - obverse and reverse. (see our chapter "Dollar").

The single-headed eagle was used by Napoleon, it was also among the Polish kings. From the deep Middle Ages began its triumphal procession in heraldry, with the image on the arms, pennants, banners, seals, banknotes and coins. This tradition was picked up by the United States. However, very often, in descriptions of the Great Seal of the USA, the Coat of Arms or similar attributes, in periodicals and online publications, we sometimes see the use of this particular traditional term - the eagle. Although in fact the main US state symbol is

Bald eagle

What difference does it make, you say, because an eagle is also an eagle. Not really. And although external similarities are tracked, the main difference is that the eagle is a sea eagle that specializes in a fish diet. For this reason, the bird lives on the coasts and shores of large bodies of water. The eagle captures fish near the surface of the water, but never dives after it. In addition to its main food, the bald eagle also hunts waterfowl and small mammals. He willingly selects caught prey from other feathered predators, and also picks up dead fish that have surfaced, and sometimes even feeds on the carcasses of dead land animals. There are a number of differences: in eagles, the paws are covered with feathers up to the toes, while in eagles the lower part of the paw is mostly naked, covered only with scales (approximately, like a chicken, but harder). This is a bird of prey (the body length of the male is 79 cm, the female body is 94 cm, the wingspan is 178-229 cm, with a weight of 3,0 - 6,3 kg.) An eagle "puts on" an adult outfit at the age of 4-5 years. Its general color is dark brown, in which a bright white head and neck stand out well, as well as a white, wedge-shaped tail. The eyes, paws and beak are yellow. Sometimes this bird is called "bald eagle", because from a distance its white top looks like a bald head.

Usually the bald eagle avoids people and settles away from settlements, but not far from water. Partners remain faithful to each other for many years, often their whole lives. They breed once a year, breeding from one to three chicks. Their nest is a giant armful of branches and twigs, and is most often located in the crown of a tall living tree with the possibility of free landing. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the world's largest bird's nest also belongs to the bald eagle, and was discovered in America. It was found in 1963, not far from St. Petersburg, Florida. The diameter of the building was about 2.9 m, with a height of about 6 m. According to expert estimates, the mass of the nest at that time exceeded 2 tons.

Фото: Depositphotos

Ornithologists suggest that before the arrival of the Europeans, from 250 to 500 thousand eagles lived on the North American continent. However, the massive immigration of the population dramatically affected the fate of these birds, since there was a widespread belief among farmers that eagles abduct chickens and sheep, and also catch too many fish (in fact, there were few cases of attacks on livestock). In addition to shooting, many birds fell prey to poisonous chemicals that were used to fight predators. So by the late 1930s, eagles had become an extremely rare breed throughout the United States, with the exception of Alaska. And after World War II, when the number of eagles in the continental states was estimated at about 50 thousand, DDT, a toxic chemical against insect pests, began to be widely used in agriculture. Exposure to this chemical resulted in only 1963 pairs being recorded in 48 states in 487, when the first official nesting count was made. In 1972, the federal Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of DDT, and the eagle population began to recover rapidly. In 2006, the number of breeding pairs in the continental states rose to 9789, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, more than 20 times the 1963 rate. Despite this, the United States continues to have laws prohibiting the killing and possession of birds without permission.

Thus, Bald Eagle was saved, which in 1782 was officially recognized as the national bird of the United States, and its images appeared on the Great Seal of the United States, the coat of arms, presidential standard, banknotes and other state attributes of the country, as well as on the logos of national corporations. But why in 1782?

Great Seal of the United States (Coat of Arms) and Orlan

Everyone knows the date - July 4, 1776 - the day of the adoption of the US Declaration of Independence. Immediately after that, the Continental Congress was supposed to urgently resolve issues about the national attributes of the new state, confirming its sovereignty. First of all, about the Great Seal. This work was entrusted to three of its most respected members: John Adams (later - 2 President of the United States), Thomas Jefferson (who took over this post) and Benjamin Franklin (could have been elected, but passed away in 1790). Each of them offered their own design option. B. Franklin, referring to the biblical story, drew a parallel between the liberation of the American people from the overseas yoke with the history of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. According to this version, the coat of arms of the USA was crowned with the motto "Rebellion against tyranny is in the will of God." T. Jefferson, like him, saw in the act of sovereignty the people of Israel, led by Moses into the promised land. J. Adams's version was addressed to ancient history. He suggested on the obverse depicting a naked Hercules leaning on a club, and on the reverse - lightly dressed Virtue, indicating the path of ascent, and Sloth, offering to lie on the lawn among the flowers. By the way, already here, in the very first proposals for the seal, which was to be used to confirm the authenticity of the documents of the government of the country, it, unlike all seals in the world, was provided for two-sided. Most likely because the founding fathers had so many ideas that they did not fit into a one-sided image. Therefore, this, the reverse side of the seal, is sometimes called its spiritual component. In reality, the two-sided seal of the United States was never made, and the reverse existed only on paper. Since none of the three authors could draw, it was decided to invite a person who would not only know how to do it, but also understood heraldry. So the artist Pierre Eugene do Simiter entered the committee. In August 1776, he submitted his work to Congress. On the reverse he depicted everything that Franklin invented (Moses and sinking warriors of Pharaoh), and on the obverse a shield was painted with emblems of six European cultures that had migrated to America: England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Germany and Holland. But none of the professionally executed drawings was accepted by the congress.

In March, 1780, the Congress created a second press design committee, which included James Lowell, John Scott and William Houston. Francis Hopkinson, author of the design of the American flag and the coat of arms of New Jersey, acted as a consultant.

It was proposed to depict a shield, consisting of 13 white and red stripes, according to the number of states. It was crowned with a constellation of 13 stars, also denoting their original number of states. The shield was supported by a warrior with a sword in his left hand and an allegorical figure of Peace (in the form of a woman with an olive branch in her hand). On the back of the seal it was proposed to depict an allegory of Freedom (a female figure sitting in an armchair and holding an olive branch in one hand, and in the other a pole with a Phrygian cap on it). This option was also not approved by Congress.

Finally, in May 1782, the third committee for the development of the US seal was created. It included John Rutledge, Arthur Middleton and Elias Baudinot. The members of this committee themselves practically did not develop anything, but placed all responsibility on a young lawyer from Philadelphia, William Barton, who drew the obverse and reverse of the new seal. On the obverse he added an eagle with spread wings, and on the reverse side - an unfinished pyramid of 13 levels and the eyes of Providence, proposed by the first committee. Barton probably borrowed the idea of ​​the unfinished pyramid from the 50 dollar bill, designed by Francis Hopkinson. But the several options worked out by him were also recognized as imperfect. However, the seal was supposed to be ready by September 1778, when it was supposed to sign a treaty with Britain. Then the Secretary of Congress, Charles Thompson, was instructed to select from all the options proposed by the committees, the best and print as soon as possible.

Thompson was not an artist, but he had the ability to quickly solve all problems. He selected everything that seemed to him the best in previous designs. Feeling that the new national symbol should be strictly American, Thompson replaced the phoenix eagle, proposed by Barton, with an eagle more suitable for America. In one paw of the bird, he put thirteen arrows, a symbol of war, and in the other - an olive branch, a symbol of peace, with thirteen leaves and thirteen olives. This symbolism meant that the United States of America "wants peace, but is always ready for war." The eagle's head was turned towards the olive branch, which meant more preference for peace than war. On this occasion, at a meeting between the President of Russia and US President Donald Trump's National Security Assistant John Bolton, in October 2018, Vladimir Putin decided to joke: “As far as I remember, the United States coat of arms depicts an eagle, on one side it holds 13 arrows, and on the other hand an olive branch as a sign of a peaceful policy, with 13 olives. Question: your eagle has already eaten up all the olives, there are only arrows left? " To which Bolton explained to him: "If you remember, the olive branch is located in the right paw of the eagle, so it demonstrates its priorities in this way."

Фото: Depositphotos

But back to Thompson's work. So, at his suggestion, a scroll with an inscription of 13 letters in Latin “E pluribus unum” is placed in the eagle's beak, which translates as “one of many”. Above the eagle's head are 13 stars arranged in a blue cloud in rows 1-4-3-4-1, forming a regular hexagon in the form of a six-pointed star. On the eagle's chest is a heraldic shield with thirteen vertical alternating red and white stripes (the colors of the US flag), which are united on top by a horizontal blue stripe. On the reverse side, Thompson placed an unfinished pyramid with the Eye of Providence and added two more Latin mottos taken from Virgil - Annuit Coeptis (It is favorable to our beginnings) and Novus Ordo Seclorum (New order forever). Thompson sent his sketches of the official seal to Barton so that he could redraw the drawing, at the same time polish his ideas and bring the appropriate gloss.

It should be noted that the image of the monarchical eagle on the state emblem of the new state, after the implementation of the revolution, provoked opposition from a number of congressmen. B. Franklin, who was in their camp, also categorically protested against him, calling the eagle an immoral, predatory, thieving and lousy bird. Instead, he offered a truly American bird - a wild turkey. At the same time, he even recalled the story that she "... is brave, and did not hesitate to attack the grenadiers of the British guard, who happened to invade the farm in their red uniform." Perhaps realizing that the idea with a turkey would not meet with general approval, he hoped that with his attack on the eagle, he would be able to get the Congressmen to return to his version of the coat of arms. But the members of Congress who were sitting then did not think about it. They, being for the most part simple and straightforward people, cited as an argument their own story about how, during one of the first battles for the independence of the United States, bald eagles, awakened by shots, flew out of the nest and circled screaming over the heads of the fighting ... “They clearly stood up for freedom,” the patriots thought. After heated debate on June 13, 1782, the Great Seal was finally approved. It was first used on September 16, 1782, on a document signed by George Washington, which dealt with agreements with Britain on the exchange of prisoners and on improving the treatment of them.

The first seal was cut from copper; now in use the seventh, engraved on steel. To seal state treaties, only the obverse is used, which is also the national emblem. The reverse was never used as a seal at all, however, its image, according to the act of President Roosevelt of July 2, 1935, was placed on one-dollar bills and has survived on them to this day. So, since 1782, from the moment it appeared on the state emblem and seal, the bald eagle became a recognized state symbol of the country, and its image was applied to the Great Seal of the United States, and at the same time was recognized as the country's coat of arms. I wonder how the Arab world would react today if Franklin's proposal was accepted, and Moses was depicted on the US coat of arms, and a fragment of the exodus of Jews from Egypt?

By the way, since we have already touched with you the aspects of the “cold war” with Russia, I would like to remind you of the history, which is indirectly connected with the Coat of Arms, and which began in 1945. in the pioneer camp Artek, while celebrating his 20-anniversary in the Soviet Union. On it, the Soviet pioneers presented to the American Ambassador A. Harriman a wooden copy of the American coat of arms, made of the most elite varieties of wood. This amazingly beautiful gift was then placed on the wall in the ambassador’s office in Moscow, and 8 has hung there for years. With a transmitter installed in it, having survived four ambassadors. And although each newly appointed head of the American diplomatic mission in Moscow completely changed the interior of the cabinet, but the emblem continued to remain in its place all this time. His artistic perfection acted on Americans hypnotically, and numerous checks did not detect the presence of metal in him, and the tree was not a signal conductor. The miracle microphone built into it, which had no analogues in its technical properties, was discovered by the Americans quite by chance, since this listening device had no power source and transmitter. It worked only when it was irradiated with a powerful source, which was located in 300, in the house opposite the embassy. This humiliating incident was then kept by the Americans for another seven years in secret.

Only in 1960, after the U-2 spy plane with Harry Powers on board was shot down, Washington made a response - made public the fact that the USSR was using a listening device that the Soviets had installed in the office of the American ambassador in Moscow. Henry Cabot Lodge, US Representative to the UN, showed the coat of arms, opened it and displayed it during an emergency session of the Organization. This "pioneer gift" is now in the CIA Museum in Langley.

Perhaps among these pioneers were children who knew the poem of Sergei Mikhalkov well about the eagle:

"I sat at the table and ate,
When the Eagle flew into the window
And he sat opposite, at the table,
Spreading two large wings.

I sit. I marvel at. Don't move
And I'm afraid to say a word:
After flew to my table
Not chizhik-fawn, and the Eagle! "

Now look at the photo. After all, before you is not just an ordinary eagle, which is already by itself
itself is an extraordinary bird, and bald eagle. Handsome man with high white head. Strong and independent bird. So he spread his two-meter wings and headed far upwards towards the sun. Becoming a symbol of the country, forever frozen in the state emblem, seal, dollar, and many government documents.

This article by ForumDaily author, journalist Leonid Rajewski is part of the “History of American Symbols” series.

Read also on ForumDaily:

From Colombia to Uncle Sam: The History of the American Symbol

The White House: The History of the American Symbol

Dollar: the history of the American symbol

Bourbon: the history of the American symbol

Flag: the history of the American symbol

Statue of Liberty: the history of the American symbol

Apple Pie: The History of the American Symbol

Hot Dog: The History of the American Symbol

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