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Virtual Historical Museum

Historical Awareness

Geographic Understanding
Historical Awareness
Civic Understanding
Economic Understanding
Cultural Awareness
Global Perpective


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  • War broke out between England and the US in 1812 over Britain's attempt to regulate American shipping.

  • The British entered Chesapeake Bay on August 19, 1814. By August, 24, they had captured and set fire to Washington, DC.

  • At 7:00 AM on September 13, 1814, the British began the attack on Fort McHenry in Baltimore, MD.

  • Within 25 hours the battle was over and the British had failed.

  • Key waited in the predawn darkness. When at last daylight came, the flag was still there!

Francis Scott Key (1779-1843)

The man who wrote the Anthem…
  • Key was born on August 1, 1779, on the family estate of "Terra Rubra" in Keymar, MD.

  • Key established a successful law practice in Georgetown, Maryland, where he lived from 1804 to 1833.

  • Watching the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, Key wrote a poem that was later to become the words for The Star-Spangled Banner.

  • On January 11, 1843, Key died of pleurisy in Baltimore.


Understanding the Design and Symbolism
of the U.S. One Dollar Bill

a one-dollar bill

Although symbols are open to many interpretations, we believe the following information offers some historical insight (and some undocumented perceptions) about the design and meaning of some of the images on the one dollar bill. The explanations and interpretations that appear below were verified by the Truth or Fiction website, and predominantly (except where noted otherwise) reflect the official interpretations of the United States Treasury Department and the United States Department of State, the official keeper of the United States Seal.

Take out a dollar bill and study it.

The one dollar bill you're looking at first came off the presses in 1957 in its present design. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, that is when the motto, "In God We Trust" started being used on paper money. It was in use on coins long before that.

This so-called paper money is in fact a cotton and linen blend, with red and blue minute silk fibers running through it. It is actually material. We've all washed it without it falling apart. A special blend of ink is used, the contents we will never know. It is overprinted with symbols and then it is starched to make it water resistant and pressed to give it that nice crisp look.

If you look on the front of the bill, you will see the United States Treasury Seal. Although some claims have been made that the scales represent the need for a balanced budget, the Treasury Department has little to do with whether the budget is balanced, since that is actually handled by congress. The U.S. Treasury Department indicates that the balancing scales actually represent justice. In the center, some people believe there is a carpenter's T-square, a tool used for an even cut. But that image is actually a chevron with 13 stars representing the 13 original colonies. Underneath is a key that is intended to represent a symbol of authority. U.S.  Treasury Department Seal

If you turn the bill over, you will see two circles. The two circles reflect the two sides of the Great Seal of the United States. Before the adjournment of the Continental Congress on July 4th, 1776, a committee was appointed to develop a seal for the United States. The committee was Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson, three of the five men who had drafted the Declaration of Independence. They were merely the first committee, however. It took six years, the work of two additional committees and a total of 14 men before a final version of the Great Seal was approved. The final proposal, as accepted by Congress, was submitted on June 13, 1782, by Charles Thompson, Secretary of Congress. He brought together some of the recommendations of the three committees, their consultants, and artists.

If you look at the left hand circle, you will see a Pyramid. This pyramid was not a part of the proposals for the Great Seal until the third committee, and it was not suggested by Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams. Notice the face is lighted and the western side is dark. Although there is no "official" explanation for the shading, some interpret it as a reflection that our country was just beginning and had not begun to explore the West or decided what we could do for Western Civilization. the Great Seal and seal used on the dollar bill, pyramid side

The Pyramid is UN-capped, which may signify that our country was not yet finished. The unfinished state of the pyramid was intentional, and Charles Thompson, in his remarks to congress about the symbolism on the Great Seal, said the pyramid represented "Strength and Duration." Inside the capstone you have the all-seeing eye, and ancient symbol for divinity. Although Franklin's committee did not suggest a pyramid, it did originate the suggestion of the eye. However, the term "the all-seeing eye" was never officially used when describing it. The Franklin committee wanted the seal to include a reflection of divine providence and discussed a variety of themes including the Children of Israel in the Wilderness.

"IN GOD WE TRUST" is on this currency. The Latin above the pyramid, ANNUIT COEPTIS, means "God has favored our undertaking." It was Franklin's belief that one man couldn't do it alone, but a group of men with the help of God could do anything. The Latin below the pyramid, NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, is interpreted to mean "a new order for the world." At the base of the pyramid is the Roman Numeral for 1776.

If you look at the right-hand circle, and check it carefully, you may notice that with only slight modifications it is the Seal of the President of the United States. It also appears on every National Cemetery in the United States, the Parade of Flags Walkway at the Bushnell, Florida National Cemetery, and is the centerpiece of most heroes' monuments. On the Great Seal, the eagle faces the talon holding the olive branch. The eagle on The Presidential Seal faced in the opposite direction-toward the talon holding the arrows until 1945, when Harry Truman had it redesigned to face the olive branch as well. The eagle side of the seal shown on the dollar bill

No one knows for certain what the symbols mean. But although there is no explanation of the imagery of the eagle in the official records, most historical references to the bald eagle indicate that it represents something of uniquely American origin. One of the original design proposals for the Great Seal featured a small crested white eagle, which is not uniquely American, but this was later changed to the uniquely American Bald Eagle. An unsupported interpretation of the inclusion of the Bald Eagle is that it could also represent victory and independence, because the eagle is not afraid of a storm, is strong and smart enough to soar above it, and wears no material crown.

Also, notice the shield is unsupported. Charles Thompson said it denoted that the United State of America ought to rely on their own virtue. The shield consists of red and white stripes with a blue bar above that represents Congress. The colors are taken from the American flag and officially the red represents hardiness and valor, the white represents purity and innocence, and the blue, vigilance, perseverance, and justice. In the Eagle's beak you will read, "E PLURIBUS UNUM", meaning "one nation from many people."

Above the Eagle you have thirteen stars representing the thirteen original colonies. Again, we were coming together as one. Notice that the Eagle holds an olive branch and arrows in his talons. The official meaning is that the olive branch and the arrows "denote the power of peace and war." As noted previously, the design shows the eagle facing the olive branch. This was the opposite of the the Presidential Seal, which showed the eagle facing the arrows, until President Harry Truman had it redesigned to face the olive branch in 1945."

Some feel that the number 13 is an unlucky number. You will usually never see a room numbered 13, or hotels or motels with a 13th floor. But the significance of the number 13 in U.S. history is very strong. The number 13 as used on many U.S. symbols (the stripes on the flag, steps on the Pyramid, 13 stars above the eagle, 13 plumes of feathers on each of the Eagle's wings, 13 bars on the shield, 13 leaves on the olive branch, 13 fruits, and 13 arrows) all represent the beginning of our country, as established by the thirteen colonies. But it should also remind us of the importance of the "13th Amendment". And you can, and should, be reminded of the history of this country each time you look at a one dollar bill.

Pybmy bow, quiver and arrows


The end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 marked the breakup of the Spanish empire in the New World. Between 1815 and 1822 Jose de San Martin led Argentina to independence, while Bernardo O'Higgins in Chile and Simon Bolivar in Venezuela guided their countries out of colonialism. The new republics sought -- and expected -- recognition by the United States, and many Americans endorsed that idea.

But President James Monroe and his secretary of state, John Quincy Adams, were not willing to risk war for nations they did not know would survive. From their point of view, as long as the other European powers did not intervene, the government of the United States could just let Spain and her rebellious colonies fight it out.

Great Britain was torn between monarchical principle and a desire for new markets; South America as a whole constituted, at the time, a much larger market for English goods than the United States. When Russia and France proposed that England join in helping Spain regain her New World colonies, Great Britain vetoed the idea.

The United States was also negotiating with Spain to purchase the Floridas, and once that treaty was ratified, the Monroe administration began to extend recognition to the new Latin American republics -- Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico were all recognized in 1822.

In 1823, France invited Spain to restore the Bourbon power, and there was talk of France and Spain warring upon the new republics with the backing of the Holy Alliance (Russia, Prussia and Austria). This news appalled the British government -- all the work of Wolfe, Chatham and other eighteenth-century British statesmen to get France out of the New World would be undone, and France would again be a power in the Americas.

George Canning, the British foreign minister, proposed that the United States and Great Britain join to warn off France and Spain from intervention. Both Jefferson and Madison urged Monroe to accept the offer, but John Quincy Adams was more suspicious. Adams also was quite concerned about Russia's efforts to extend its influence down the Pacific coast from Alaska south to California, then owned by Mexico.

At the Cabinet meeting of November 7, 1823, Adams argued against Canning's offer, and declared, "It would be more candid, as well as more dignified, to avow our principles explicitly to Russia and France, than to come in as a cockboat in the wake of the British man-of-war."

He argued and finally won over the Cabinet to an independent policy. In Monroe's message to Congress on December 2, 1823, he delivered what we have always called the Monroe Doctrine, although in truth it should have been called the Adams Doctrine. Essentially, the United States was informing the powers of the Old World that the American continents were no longer open to European colonization, and that any effort to extend European political influence into the New World would be considered by the United States "as dangerous to our peace and safety." The United States would not interfere in European wars or internal affairs, and expected Europe to stay out of American affairs.

Although it would take decades to coalesce into an identifiable policy, John Quincy Adams did raise a standard of an independent American foreign policy so strongly that future administrations could not ignore it. One should note, however, that the policy succeeded because it met British interests as well as American, and for the next 100 years was secured by the backing of the British fleet.

For further reading: Dexter Perkins, The Monroe Doctrine, 1823-1826 (1927); Samuel Flagg Bemis, John Quincy Adams and the Foundations of American Foreign Policy (1949); Ernest R. May, The Making of the Monroe Doctrine (1975).


No nation ever existed without some sense of national destiny or purpose. Manifest Destiny -- a phrase used by leaders and politicians in the 1840s to explain continental expansion by the United States -- revitalized a sense of "mission" or national destiny for many Americans. And while the United States put into motion a quest for its Manifest Destiny, Mexico faced quite different circumstances as a newly independent country. Mexico achieved its independence from Spain in 1821, but suffered terribly from the struggle. Recovery was difficult


During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the United States pursued an aggressive policy of expansionism, extending its political and economic influence around the globe.

World War 1


World War 2

While the Second World War produced numerous acts of self-sacrifice, it also made many people rich. The criminal activities of the underworld that extended from the civilian population right through to the armed forces constitute one of the great untold stories of the war. The Blitz of 1940 may have made a nation of heroes, but in the shadows the shelter gangs and looters prowled. Illegal food supplies threatened the nation's health - a consignment of black-market sausages in Hackney contained tuberculosis meat, while the industrial alcohol or 'hooch' served in West End clubs could produce blindness and brain damage. The scale of theft in the army was also colossal. Donald Thomas draws on extensive archive material to tell the extraordinary and frequently ludicrous story of these less-than-heroic Britons. The facts he uncovers are often so preposterous that in a novel they would seem unbelievable. (Donald Thomas, John Murray, ISBN 0 7195 5732 1, 20.00)

Malcolm X (1925-1965) was one of the most influential African American leaders of the 1950's and 1960's. He transformed himself from a petty criminal into an important defender of the rights of blacks.

Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska. His father was a follower of Marcus Garvey, a black leader who worked to establish close political and economic ties to Africa. In 1931, Malcolm's father was found dead after being run over by a streetcar. Malcolm believed white racists were responsible for his father's death. When Malcolm was 12 years old, his mother was committed to a mental hospital. Malcolm spent the rest of his childhood in foster homes. He also became discouraged by racial prejudice around him.

In 1941, Malcolm moved to Boston. The youth became involved in criminal activities. In 1946, he was arrested for burglary and sent to prison. In prison, he joined the Nation of Islam, commonly called the Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam taught that white people were devils. After Malcolm was released from prison in 1952, he adopted X as his last name. The letter stood for the unknown African name of Malcolm's slave ancestors.

Malcolm X quickly became the Nation of Islam's most effective minister. He was a fiery orator, urging blacks to live separately from whites and to win their freedom "by any means necessary." But he became dissatisfied with the Nation of Islam, in part because the group avoided political activity.

In 1964, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam. Soon afterward, he traveled to the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia. He met Muslims of many ethnic backgrounds and rejected the view that all white people are devils. Malcolm X adopted the Muslim name El-Hajj Malik El-Shabbazz. After returning to the United States, he formed his own group, the Organization of Afro-American Unity.

Malcolm X rejected nonviolence as a principle, but he sought cooperation with Martin Luther King, Jr., and other civil rights activists who favored militant (aggressive) nonviolent protests. But by this time, some Black Muslims had condemned Malcolm X as a hypocrite and traitor because of his criticisms of the group's leader, Elijah Muhammad. On Feb. 21, 1965, Malcolm X was fatally shot while giving a speech in New York City. Three members of the Nation of Islam were convicted of the crime. Malcolm's views reached many people after his death through his Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965).

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