The Turkey, the Pharaoh and the One Dollar Bill


(photo courtesy of the US Treasury)

 You probably have a one dollar bill in your pocket. It is so familiar to us that we don’t notice the symbols on the bill yet if you look at them closely, the early history of the United States of America will appear before your eyes.

On the front of the bill is a portrait of the first President of the United States, George Washington. To his right, is the seal of the Department of the Treasury, which name encircles the top half of the round seal. On the bottom is “1789,” the year the Treasury Department was established.

If you take a magnifying glass and examine the middle of the Treasury seal, you will see a scale with balanced arms which symbolize justice. Under the scale is a chevron with thirteen stars which represent the original thirteen states, the number thirteen appearing five times on the one dollar bill. Below is a key, which represents the authority of the government.


The front or obverse of the Great Seal of the United States. According to the US Department of State, the seal itself is used 2,000 to 3,000 times a year to seal treaties, proclamations, appointment commissions for members of the Cabinet and for US Ambassadors.

Turn the one dollar bill over and you note see both sides of the Great Seal of the United States. On the right is the obverse, or front, of the Great Seal. This depicts an eagle holding thirteen arrows in his left talon which signifies war— as well as the original thirteen states— and in his right talon he is holding an olive branch which signifies peace.

Benjamin Franklin was strongly opposed to the depiction of an eagle, a bird of “bad moral character,” he said. Instead, he wanted a wild turkey, “a more respectable bird and…a true original native of America.” (Some historians question whethere Franklin said this). He was overruled. The shield on the eagle’s breast has thirteen stripes representing the thirteen original states as does the constellation of thirteen stars above the eagle’s head.


Reverse of the Great Seal of the United States which only exists as a drawing. No die has ever been cut so while it is officially part of the Great Seal it isn’t on the actual Great Seal itself. 

To the left is the reverse of the Great Seal. Oddly, according the US Department of State which is the official keeper of the Great Seal, only a drawng of the reverse was made. This drawing was approved by the Congress as the official reverse side of the Great Seal. Yet no die was ever cut and one has not been cut to this day. Hence, while a part of the Great Seal, the reverse isn’t actually on the Great Seal itself.

Two of our most prominent founding fathers, Jefferson and Franklin, who were on the committee which designed the Great Seal (and took six years to do it), demanded the reverse of the Great Seal show an Egyptian pharaoh in a chariot chasing the Israelites through the divided waters of the Red Sea. They did not prevail.

Instead, the reverse of the Great Seal depicts an uncompleted Egyptian pyramid built with thirteen rows of stone. On the bottom tier of stones are Roman numerals which mean 1776, the year the Declaration of Independence was issued. In a semi-circle under the pyramid are the Latin words: Novus Ordo Seclorum. This translates in English as “A New Order of the Ages,” meaning a democracy without a monarch, a form of government unknown in the world in that era.

At the top of the pyramid is an eyeball and above that is the Latin inscription, Annuit Coeptis, which means “Providence (Or God) Has Favored Our Undertakings,” meaning the United States. However, given the age of suspicion we live in, I tell people that the Annuit Coeptis means “we’ve got our eye on you.” And they believe me.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: