From the Short Talk Bulletin of the Masonic Service Association of the
The Eye in the Pyramid
By: S. Brent Morris, P.M.
In, at times, a strongly worded article Dr. S. Morris, a member
and Past Master of Patmos Lodge #70, Ellicott City, Maryland, has "set
the record straight" on the myth that the Great Seal of the United
States represents a Masonic symbol. The facts are clearly presented,
together with several examples of the use of the "All Seeing Eye" prior
to any known Masonic use. This straightforward article is being
presented as a STB so that Freemasons may have an answer when the
question is asked "Is the Seal of the United States a Masonic
HISTORIANS must be cautious about many well-known
"facts." George Washington chopped down a cherry tree when a boy and
confessed the deed to his father. Abner Doubleday invented the game of
baseball. Freemasons inserted some of their emblems (chief among them
the eye in the pyramid) into the reverse of the Great Seal of the United
States. These historical "facts" are widely popular, commonly accepted,
and equally false.
The eye in the pyramid (emblazoned on the dollar bill, no less) is
often cited as "evidence" that sinister conspiracies abound which will
impose a "New World Order" on an unsuspecting populace. Depending on
whom you hear it from, the Masons are planning the takeover themselves,
or are working in concert with European bankers, or are leading (or
perhaps being led by) the Illuminati (whoever they are). The notion of
a world-wide Masonic conspiracy would be laughable, if it weren't being
repeated with such earnest gullibility by conspiracists like Pat
Sadly, Masons are sometimes counted among the gullible who repeat the
tall tale of the eye in the pyramid, often with a touch of pride. They
may be guilty of nothing worse than innocently puffing the importance of
their fraternity (as well as themselves), but they're guilty
nonetheless. The time has come to state the truth plainly and
The Great Seal of the United States is not a Masonic emblem, nor does
it contain hidden Masonic symbols.
The details are there for anyone to check, who's willing to rely on
historical fact, rather than hysterical fiction.
- Benjamin Franklin was the only Mason on the first design committee,
and his suggestions had no Masonic content.
- None of the final designers of the seal were Masons.
- The interpretation of the eye on the seal is subtly different from
the interpretation used by Masons.
- The eye in the pyramid is not nor has it ever been a Masonic
The First Committee
On Independence Day, 1776 a committee was created to design a seal
for the new American nation. The committee's members were Benjamin
Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, with Pierre Du Simitiere as
artist and consultant. Of the four men involved, only Benjamin
Franklin was a Mason, and he contributed nothing of a Masonic nature to
the committee's proposed design for a seal.
Du Simitiere, the committee's consultant and a non-Mason, contributed
several major design features that made their way into the ultimate
design of the seal: 'the shield, E Pluribus Unum, MDCCLXXVI, and the eye
of providence in a triangle." The eye of providence on the seal thus
can be traced, not to the Masons, but to a non-Mason consultant to the
"The single eye was a well-established artistic convention for an
'omniscient Ubiquitous Deity' in the medallic art of the Renaissance.
Du Simitiere, who suggested using the symbol, collected art books and
was familiar with the artistic and ornamental devices used in
Renaissance art." This was the same cultural iconography that
eventually led Masons to add the all-seeing eye to their symbols.
The Second and Third Committees
Congress declined the first committees suggestions as well as those
of its 1780 committee. Francis Hopkinson, consultant to the second
committee, had several ideas that eventually made it into the seal:
"white and red stripes with- in a blue background for the shield, a
radiant constellation of thirteen stars, and an olive branch."
Hopkinson's greatest contribution to the current seal came from his
layout of a 1778 50-dollar colonial note in which he used an unfinished
pyramid in the design. The third and last seal committee of 1782
produced a design that finally satisfied Congress. Charles Thomson,
Secretary of Congress, and William Barton, artist and consultant,
borrowed from earlier designs and sketched what at length became the
United States Seal.
The misinterpretation of the seal as a Masonic emblem may have been
first introduced a century later in 1884. Harvard Professor Eliot
Norton wrote that the reverse was 'practically incapable of effective
treatment; it can hardly, (however artistically treated by the
designer), look otherwise than as a dull emblem of a Masonic
Interpreting the Symbol
The "Remarks and Explanations" of Thomson and Barton are the only
explanation of the symbols' meaning. Despite what anti-Masons may
believe, there's no reason to doubt the interpretation accepted by the
The Pyramid signified Strength and Duration: The Eye over it & the
Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor of
the American cause.
The committees and consultants who designed the great Seal of the
United States contained only one Mason, Benjamin Franklin. The only
possibly Masonic design element among the very many on the seal is the
eye of providence, and the interpretation of it by the designers is
different from that used by Masons. The eye on the seal represents an
active intervention of God in the affairs of men, while the Masonic
symbol stands for a passive awareness by God of the activities of
The first "official" use and definition of the all-seeing eye as a
Masonic symbol seems to have come in 1797 with The Freemasons Monitor of
Thomas Smith Webb -- 14 years after Congress adopted the design for the
seal. Here's how Webb explains the symbol.
"[A]nd although our thoughts, words and actions, may be hidden from
the eyes of man, yet that All-Seeing Eye, whom the Sun, Moon and Stars
obey, and under whose watchful care even comets perform their stupendous
revolutions, pervades the inmost recesses of the human heart, will
reward us according to our merits."
The Eye in the Pyramid
Besides the subtly different interpretations of the symbol, it is
notable that Webb did not describe the eye as being in a triangle.
Jeremy Ladd Cross published The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic
Monitor in 1819, essentially an illustrated version of Webb's Monitor.
In this first "official" depiction of Webb's symbol, Cross had
illustrator Amos Doolittle depict the eye surrounded by a semicircular
The all-seeing eye thus appears to be a rather recent addition to
Masonic symbolism. It is not found in any of the Gothic Constitutions,
written from about 1390 to 1730. The eye -- sometimes in a triangle,
sometimes in clouds, but nearly always surrounded by a glory -- was a
popular Masonic decorative device in the latter half of the 18th
century. Its use as a design element seems to have been an artistic
representation of the omniscience of God, rather than some generally
accepted Masonic symbol.
Its meaning in all cases, however, was that commonly given it by
society at large -- a reminder of the constant presence of God. For
example, in 1614 the frontispiece of The History of the World by Walter
Raleigh showed an eye in a cloud labeled "Providentia" overlooking a
globe. It has not been suggested that Raleigh's story is a Masonic
document despite the use of the all-seeing eye.
The eye of Providence was part of the common cultural iconography of
the 17th and 18th centuries. When placed in a triangle, the eye went
beyond a general representation of God to a strongly Trinitarian
statement. It was during this period that Masonic ritual and symbolism
evolved; and it is not surprising that many symbols common to and
understood by the general society made their way into Masonic
ceremonies. Masons may have preferred the triangle because of the
frequent use of the number 3 in their ceremonies: three degrees, three
original grand masters, three principal officers, and so on. Eventually
the all-seeing eye came to be used officially by Masons as a symbol for
God, but this happened towards the end of the eighteenth century, after
congress had adopted the seal.
A pyramid, whether incomplete or finished, however, has never been a
Masonic symbol. It has no generally accepted symbolic meaning, except
perhaps permanence or mystery. The combining of the eye of providence
overlooking an unfinished pyramid is a uniquely American, not Masonic,
icon, and must be interpreted as its designers intended. It has no
It's hard to know what leads some to see Masonic conspiracies behind
world events, but once that hypothesis is accepted, any jot and tittle
can be misinterpreted as "evidence." The Great Seal of the United States
is a classic example of such a misinterpretation, and some Masons are as
guilty of the exaggeration as many anti-Masons.
The Great Seal and Masonic symbolism grew out of the same cultural
milieu. While the all-seeing eye had been popularized in Masonic
designs of the late eighteenth century, it did not achieve any sort of
official recognition until Webb's 1797 Monitor. Whatever status the
symbol may have had during the design of the Great Seal, it was not
adopted or approved or endorsed by any Grand Lodge.
The seal's Eye of Providence and the Mason's All Seeing Eye each
express Divine Omnipotence, but they are parallel uses of a shared icon,
not a single symbol.
 Robert Hieronimus, America's Secret Destiny (Rochester,
Vt.: Destiny Books, 1989), p. 48.
 Patterson and Dougall in Hieronimus, p. 48.
 Hieronimus, p. 81.
 Hieronimus, p. 51.
 Hieronimus, p. 57.
 C. Thomas and W. Barton in Hieronimus, p. 54.
 Thomas Smith Webb, The Freemasons Monitor or Illustrations of
Masonry (Salem, Mass.: Cushing and Appleton, 1821), p. 66.
 Jeremy Ladd Cross, The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic
Monitor, 3rd ed. (New Haven, Conn.: By the Author, 1824), plate
Cross, Jeremy Ladd. The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic
Monitor, 3rd ed. New Haven, Conn.: By the Author, 1824.
Hieronimus, Robert. America's Secret Destiny. Rochester,
Vt.: Destiny Books, 1989.
Webb, Thomas Smith. The Freemasons Monitor or Illustrations of
Masonry. Salem, Mass.: Cushing and Appleton, 1821.
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