E pluribus whatever

As you can see in the picture below, workers are putting the final touches on the auditorium for tonight’s final presidential debate.

That includes putting up the symbol of the country that is wrong.


What’s the problem here?

The symbol of the United States — an eagle holding arrows in one talon and an olive branch in the other — wasn’t just whipped up without thought.

The actual symbol has the olive branch in the right talon and the arrows in the left.

Says the website greatseal.com:

In heraldry, the symbol in a figure’s right hand is more significant than the one in its left hand. All dies of the Great Seal have shown the eagle facing the olive branch on its right side – further emphasizing the power of peace.

It wasn’t always this way — at least on the presidential seal. Until the Truman administration, the eagle faced the arrows. Truman signed an executive order legally specifying that the eagle face the olive branch to the right, the “direction of honor.” The suggestion was that the country favored peace over war.

Of course, the ribbon is also wrong. The actual seal says “E pluribus unum,” — from many, one, a pretty outdated motto these days.

  • The iconography is interesting. And given how we seem to be a Perpetual War sort of nation, maybe it should be the way it was in the pre-Truman era.

  • Mark Gisleson

    I have a bigger problem with that representation. The actual symbol has a stars and stripes shield in front of the eagle. In this version, the eagle is on top of the shield/our flag.

    I would gently suggest that this revisionism is consistent with the use of patriotic images in a nation that is perpetually at war, and that these distortions are not accidental or without meaning. This is not artistic license, it’s patriotic correctness.

  • BJ

    I think it looks like the eagle is using the shield to surf.

  • V

    I included a URL questioning it in 2004. Used since 1996. The font and the wording do signal Civil War origins.

  • Bob Collins

    There’s also only four arrows. There should be 13.

  • GT

    First I noticed the words, then the arrows, then I thought the same thing BJ did, “Why is the eagle surfing?”

  • JackU

    I went to Google looking for this image. I found an image from a 2004 debate between Bush and Kerry. But there was also this from the Oakland Museum of California.

  • jon

    Maybe it was a rights issue, the debate couldn’t get the rights to use the actual seal.

    Trade mark and Copyrights forced them to come up with some different enough to avoid lawsuits, instead of 30 arrows 3, instead of an olive branch just a branch from an indistinct plant, instead of an eagle behind a shield, an eagle surfing on one. And for the kids we’ll put in a red line pouring out of the eagles mouth so it looks like it just killed a small rodent…

  • Bob Collins

    The Great Seal isn’t a copyrighted work.

  • BJ

    Slate tried getting more info on this seal and didn’t.

  • Mark Gisleson

    “The Great Seal isn’t a copyrighted work.”

    I’m sure you’re right, but I’m also sure that if you posted it to YouTube, you’d get a couple of take down notices in nothing flat.

    This is the USA. If you can see, smell, hear, taste, or touch it, somebody owns it or the rights to it.

  • Kevin Watterson

    As a left-handed person, I’m deeply offended.