ABOUT THE EAGLE
ON THE NATIONAL SEAL OF AMERICA
Madame paused as a pair of bald eagles soared in the sky, their outstretched wings enhanced by their white-capped heads. They swirled and swooped through the air, flying high above her and low beneath her.
“They advance like a great ship cleaving to the swells and thrusting aside the smaller waves,” noted Madame.
“The Indians say that the eagle is the only bird that flies so high it can see and watch over people. That characteristic enables it to act as a liaison between the people and the Creator,” said the guide.
“Their wings seem to embrace the air in their bold flight…I wonder how wide their wingspan is,” said Madame.
“It can stretch up to eight feet…Eagles are fascinating. They can tell you when a storm is approaching long before it breaks. They fly to a high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, they set their wings so that the wind will pick them up and lift them above the storm, where they will soar while the storm rages beneath them.”
Madame imagined herself soaring with the eagles, high above the storms of her life…. excerpted from my novel-under-construction, Intertwined Love.
Madame and Monsieur, French émigrés,viewed the American bald eagles from the top of Schoodic Mountain in Hancock County, Maine, in mid-October, 1791. Excerpted from my novel-under-construction, Intertwined Love
As majestic as Madame and Monsieur found the American bald eagle not everyone in their time agreed. Four kinds of birds were suggested in preliminary Great Seal designs: a two-headed eagle, a rooster, a dove, and a “phoenix in flames.*
Opposition to adopting the bald eagle as a National bird came from Ben Franklin. In December 1775 he wrote the following in the Pennsylvania Journal:
I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, “Don’t tread on me…
having frequently seen the Rattle-Snake, I ran over in my mind every property by which she was distinguished, not only from other animals, but from those of the same genus or class of animals, endeavoring to fix some meaning to each, not wholly inconsistent with common sense.
I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her…
The power of fascination attributed to her, by a generous construction, may be understood to mean, that those who consider the liberty and blessings which America affords, and once come over to her, never afterwards leave her, but spend their lives with her. She strongly resembles America in this, that she is beautiful in youth and her beauty increaseth with her age, “her tongue also is blue and forked as the lightning, and her abode is among impenetrable rocks.” **
Later, when the Bald Eagle was used to symbolize the Cincinnati of America, a newly formed society of revolutionary war officers, Ben Franklin objected. In January 1784 he wrote (from France) to his daughter Sally (Mrs. Sarah Bache):
“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.
“With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…
…For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.” ***
In 1789, George Washington became our Nation’s first President and the American Bald Eagle became our Country’s official bird.
Almost 150 years later the American Bald Eagle became protected under the National Emblem Act of 1940.
President John F. Kennedy later wrote: “The Founding Fathers made an appropriate choice when they selected the bald eagle as the emblem of the nation. The fierce beauty and proud independence of this great bird aptly symbolizes the strength and freedom of America.”****
The front of the seal depicts a bald eagle clutching an olive branch in its right talon and arrows in its left. On its breast appears a shield marked with 13 vertical red and white stripes topped by a bar of blue. The eagle’s beak clutches a banner inscribed, E pluribus unum, a Latin phrase meaning “Out of Many One.” Above the eagle’s head, golden rays burst forth, encircling 13 stars *****