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HomeNumismatic TermsE Pluribus Unum : What Does It Mean & Why Do We...

E Pluribus Unum : What Does It Mean & Why Do We Use It

E Pluribus Unum as it appears on the back of a $1 bill.
E Pluribus Unum as it appears on the back of a $1 bill.

Latin for “Out of Many, One”. The phrase “E Pluribus Unum” appears on the Great Seal of the United States and served as the de facto motto of the United States until Congress made “In God We Trust” the official motto of the United States in 1956 (H.J. Resolution 396). “E Pluribus Unum” was one of the sayings found in the British periodical Gentleman’s Magazine (1731-1922), with which, according to numismatist Michael Hodder, several founding fathers were probably familiar. It was a paraphrase of the Roman poet Virgil from his Eclogues, concerning the work of bees.

Preeminent numismatic author Q. David Bowers writes that the first coin to feature the Latin motto was struck in New Jersey in 1786. A variant of the motto, UNUM E PLURIBUS, appears on several 1791/1792 Washington private patterns struck before the establishment of the United States Mint. The first U.S. coin to feature the motto was the 1795 half eagle, which featured the Seal of the United States on its reverse (and therefore also “E Pluribus Unum”). Silver coinage followed suit by adding the motto in 1798.

The motto was dropped from gold coins in 1834 and silver coins in 1837, as Mint Directors Samuel Moore and Robert Maskell Patterson thought it redundant. The motto’s return to U.S. coinage was mandated by the Act of February 12, 1873.

During its absence, the motto appeared on private tokens (such as a number of burlesque knock-offs of the large cent) that appeared as Hard Times tokens in 1837. After its restoration to our national coinage, the motto remains inscribed on coins to this day.

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