United States, Great Seal of the, official impression that validates a United States government document. It was adopted by the Continental Congress in 1782 and, with only minor changes in the design, remains in use today. In the center of the seal is an American eagle. It holds in its beak a scroll inscribed "E pluribus unum"; in one talon is an olive branch; in the other, a bundle of thirteen arrows. A shield with thirteen alternate red and white stripes covers the eagle's breast, and over its head a cloud surrounds a blue field containing thirteen stars. The Secretary of State is the official custodian of the seal, and it is only affixed to certain classes of documents (e.g., foreign treaties, presidential proclamations, and commissions installing cabinet officers and other high executive officials).
See G. Hunt, History of the Seal of the United States (1909); U.S. Dept. of State, The Seal of the United States (1957).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.