Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Symbolism of the Dollar Bill
Our Founding Fathers have become icons of American culture. You see their monuments all across this nation's landscape. In Washington D.C., South Dakota, Virginia and other locations, our Founders are immortalized in marble and stone. Even the very money we use every day pays homage to several of these important heroes. Though each of these various monuments have their own unique story, I want to focus on the one that is perhaps the most overlooked: our dollar bill.
Have you ever wondered where all that stuff on the dollar bill comes from? Why there are so many strange letters, pictures, etc.? The dollar bill has a tremendous amount of symbolism and history to it. Chances are that your average dollar bill looks like the one above (unless you have one of the new ones). The format for this type of dollar bill was created in 1957, and has been the longest standing design in American history. The paper money that comes to us from the various mints across the nation is, in reality, hardly paper. The average dollar bill (and other bills for that matter) is actually a linen/cotton/silk blend, which has proven to stand the test of time. Just think about how long a dollar bill can actually last. Pretty incredible for a piece of "paper." The various blue, red, and green fibers make it tremendously hard to duplicate. Even the type of ink used for our money goes through a rigorous process.
During the Second Continental Congress, the delegates commissioned a 7-man committee (Including Benjamin Franklin) to come up with a national seal, emblem and motto. The committee began its work in 1776, but quickly came to a screeching halt, since the delegates were unable to agree on anything. The only thing that came out of the committee was the idea of the all-seeing eye hovering above a pyramid. Many people today believe this to be an inspiration of Freemasonry. The only problem with that theory is that the committee members did not come up with the idea of the Pyramid. In fact, the idea of the pyramid came from Charles Thomson and William Barton, who were both experts in Egyptian history. Both men liked the idea of using Egyptian symbolism to represent the newly established American republic. They also came up with the idea of the eye hovering unattached, to signify that America's quest was not quite complete. One of the most interesting symbols which Thomson and Barton created is the fact that the western side of the Pyramid is shaded. This was to be symbolic of the fact that the western half of America was yet to be explored. The eye was a symbol for God's ever watchful presence. The phrase "Annuit Coeptis (above the pyramid) means "He [God] has favored our undertaking." A close look at the base of the pyramid will show several Roman numerals (MDCCLXXVI) which gives us the number 1776, the year of American independence. The phrase "Novus Ordo Seclorum" means "New Order of the Ages." All of these symbols were finally accepted on June 20, 1782 and were later incorporated onto our money in 1935.
Due to the fact that the committee was only able to come up with the all-seeing eye is important to note, because it signifies that our emblem is not entirely inspired by the Founding Fathers, and that it was CERTAINLY not inspired by masonic beliefs. Both Thomson and Barton were never a part of the Freemasons, and gained their inspiration purely from their love of Egyptian history. This is important because the early American republic took many pieces of Roman, Egyptian and Greek civilization and incorporated it into our nations culture (one look at Washington D.C. proves this point. The capital building is very Roman in structure, and the Washington Monument is an Egyptian Obelisk).
It is also worth noting that the all-seeing eye on the dollar bill is actually George Washington's eye. Just turn over your dollar bill and you will see the similarity.
The image of the bald eagle has also become synonymous in our day with American virtue. It is present on virtually every national monument and national cemetery. For most, the eagle is the undisputed symbol of American independence. Our Founding Fathers however, had a completely different interpretation and sentiment. The early Founders (including Franklin, Jefferson and Washington) were against the idea of an eagle as the national symbol. Franklin actually wanted the rattlesnake to be used as the national symbol. He wanted it because he believed a rattlesnake was unique to only America, and because rattlesnakes have no eyelids (meaning they are forever vigilant). Many scientists of the 18th century believed that the Rattlesnake never slept, making it even more vigilant. Franklin even suggested that the Rattlesnake never strikes unless attacked, signifying America's will to avoid conflict unless attacked first. It was also believed that the Rattlesnake could be brought back to life if it was cut up and its pieces assembled and buried before midnight (a strange 18th century belief). Franklin believed this was significant because it appealed to the unity of the States (he used this analogy in his earliest political cartoon "Join or Die"). Franklin hated the eagle, calling it "a despicable vulture of the sky." In fact, the Rattlesnake had a lot of significance for the founding generation. It was present on several flags, including the first Naval Jack and the Gadsen "Don't Tread on Me" flag. After the Rattlesnake was shot down, Franklin switched to the wild turkey, claiming that it was "the most virtuous of all birds."
The bald eagle was later accepted, because it wears no crown, dominates the sky, and is not afraid of a storm. A closer examination of the eagle reveals that he is clutching 13 arrows and 13 olive branches. The olive branches are symbolic of America's eternal quest for peace, and the arrows are symbolic of America's readiness to fight. The phrase above the eagle "E Pluribus Unum" means "Many now one" signifying the hope for American unity. The eagle is also not holding on to the shield, which is symbolic of America's independence, and the fact that she can stand on her own. There is also a cloud of 13 stars hovering over the Eagle, which represent the 13 colonies.
To call the number 13 unlucky is sort of unAmerican. For example:
-The first colonies numbered 13
-13 colonies signed on for independence
-There are 13 stars above the eagle
-There are 13 steps on the pyramid
-There are 13 letters in the Latin phrase ANNUIT COEPTIS
-There are 13 stripes on the U.S. flag and eagle's shield
-There are 13 olive branches (each olive branch has 13 pieces of fruit attached to it.
-There are 13 arrows
Masonic conspiracy theorists maintain that the number 13 is indicative of the devil, and that it also represents the path to a new world order. As you can see, however, there is a much simpler interpretation...the 13 States!
This symbol, which is on the front of the dollar bill, is significant in many ways as well. First off, the scale symbolizes the government's responsibility to maintain a balanced budget, and to be ever-responsible for the people's money (Like that ever happens today!) The key symbolizes the key of the treasury, which is to be always secure (yeah right). There is also the masonic marking of the square, which is to signify exactness in America's finances.
Many people believe these to be masonic symbols that are somehow "magical" or "covert," and that the Founding Fathers were brainwashed by masonic teachings. In reality however, this is not all that accurate. In Colonial America it was common for people to be a part of several social clubs, and the Freemasons are just one of the many that existed in that era. For example, Benjamin Franklin started a group called the Junto, and Washington was a member of the Society of the Cincinnati. The Masons were simply another gentleman's club of the time, which proved beneficial in the post-enlightenment era of early America. They were not a "secretive" society that had an agenda to create a new world order. They were simply another way for colonists to gather and socialize (and get drunk). It is worth noting that many of these groups (including Freemasons) suffered from a dramatic drop in membership when the radio and television were invented. In other words, people found other things to do. Popular culture will always teach that the Freemasons were the keepers of a secret or unique society, and that their rituals trace back thousands of years. History, however, teaches that there is no concrete evidence OF ANY KIND to support this claim. They were simply one of the many social clubs of the time.
There is one final symbol worth mentioning. The phrase "In God We Trust" that is so very controversial for many Americans today actually came long after the Founding Founders. In fact, the Founders rarely used the word "God." Instead they used words like "Providence" and "Divinity." The phrase "In God we Trust" comes at a later time. In fact, the phrase has its roots in the post Civil War era. It is similar to how the phrase "One nation, under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Many people make the mistake of thinking that these phrases have been a part of our nation since the beginning. That is simply not true. In fact, the motto that our Founding Fathers embraced was one simple word: "liberty."
So the next time you pull out a dollar bill, remember that it's not merely a piece of paper, but a piece of history as well.