The Great Seal of the United States adopted by Congress in 1782 features an American bald eagle with a red white and blue shield on its breast holding a bundle of arrows in its left talon and an olive branch, an ancient symbol of peace, in its right. The eagle, with its great wings outstretched to denote liberty and freedom, has turned its gaze toward peace. In its beak, is a scroll, inscribed with the motto: “E pluribus unum,” which translated from the Latin means “out of many, one.”
When it first appeared in a literary magazine in the 1770s, the motto was accompanied by a drawing of a hand holding a bouquet of varied flowers, suggesting that unity and individuality can co-exist – a very different metaphor from a “melting pot” where the individual parts eventually become indistinguishable from one another. The motto as included on the national seal came to refer to the union between the states and the federal government, but in early drawings of the seal, it evoked as well the six European nations that had settled North America: the rose (England), thistle (Scotland), harp (Ireland), fleur-de-lis (France), lion (Holland), an imperial eagle (Germany).
The motto describes an action: many uniting as one. Unity is an action, a power of the soul and the spirit. It requires individuals to stand up as individuals, and the whole to embrace them. It is a call to action at the foundation of our republic. It is the cause of our liberty and our freedom and it requires courage, tolerance, care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.
After the Revolutionary War, women began to sew quilts with patriotic themes. Pieced or appliquéd quilts (also known as patchwork quilts) featuring the American Flag, the Liberty Bell, and the American eagle became especially popular in times of national emergency or celebration, such as the Civil War or the Bicentennial. In these patchwork quilts, hundreds of small pieces in varied shapes, sizes, colors and patterns were sewn together to form a large and useful covering, but the beauty of the quilt is the unity created by the composition of the many patches, and the strength is its firm backing, its strong binding and thread.