A Project of the Robert H. Gore, Jr. Numismatic Endowment
University of Notre Dame, Department of Special Collections
by Louis Jordan

Images Coordinated by
James C. Spilman and the Colonial Newsletter Foundation

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FAQ: The Eye of Providence

The Eye of Providence with emanating rays, sometimes referred to as an Eye of Providence in Glory, was first proposed by the French medal designer Pierre Eugne Du Simitifre as an element of the great seal of the new nation. This symbol had not been used by Britain nor had it been use by any of the individual colonies, rather it was a symbol representing divine favor for the new nation. A Congressional Committee charged with preparing a design for the national seal brought their proposed design to Congress for discussion on Tuesday August 20, 1776. The full shield was quite elaborate, and even included a depiction of Moses. One element of the shield, the crest, was described as:

Crest. The Eye of Providence in a radiant Triangle whose Glory extends over the Shield and beyond the Figures. (Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774-1789, vol. 5, pp. 689-691 with quote on 690)

There must have been some disagreement over the complex imagery proposed for the shield as the resolution was ordered to "Lie on the Table." The only image from that original shield proposal that became a popular symbol during the Revolution was the Eye of Providence . It was the central element on the standard used in 1778 by the legion under the command of Brigadier General Casimir Pulaski. It was also a central element in the seal on the $40 Continental Currency note of the emission of January 14, 1779 (which can be seen on our Colonial Currency site at


When a design for the great seal was finally adopted in 1782 it is interesting to note only two major elements of the initial proposal were included, namely the Eye of Providence (which can be seen atop the pyramid on the seal, displayed on the back of a one dollar bill) and the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM.