A New People Come

The Date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence, and the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra which commences from that Date,

concludes Charles Thomson about his accepted design of the Great Seal. He never provides a translation.


Charles Thomson Great Seal report page2

Charles Thomson, Great Seal report page 2, click to enlarge

Wikipedia refers the Great Seal motto, NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM, to Virgil’s Eclogues and ancient pagan ritualists, Sibyls.


ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo

(Virgil’s Eclogue)


Wikipedia adds, The phrase is sometimes mistranslated as New World Order by people who believe in a conspiracy behind the design; however, it does directly translate to “New Order of the Ages”.

Man in U.S. Marine Corps Uniform Saluting American Flag --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Man in U.S. Marine Corps Uniform Saluting American Flag — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Arguably, the picture above does not suggest aprons or paganism. The Great Seal belongs with US powers to involve the executive. More, Charles Thomson was a Presbyterian. In Old Latin, a presbyter was a priest, not a mantic. He — same as many people, me included — would not have a Sibyl for an elder, authority, or factor of strength. The rituals involved narcotics and burnt offerings.


Nonetheless, a “New Order of the Ages” can cause doubt. Hardly anybody believes in a time without a place on this planet. We could not have Romanticism before Enlightenment, and Renaissance only after.


Further, there is a feature in Mr. Thomson’s report to seem overlooked. His spelling did acknowledge the Latin digraph æ. We can see it in the report.


… the new American Æra

(Charles Thomson’s report, picture above)

The word  seclorum   in the Great Seal does not have the digraph.


I abandon the Eclogues. The Latin form seclum was earlier than saeclum and seculum. Old Latin e happened to assume ae in the Classic period, and later became e, often in words of shifted semantic reference. For example, nowadays we could say that secular people are those who are not members of monastic orders.


I compare Cicero and the Philippics, for Latin word use. We can call it usus, in linguistics.


Accuse the senate; accuse the equestrian body, which at that time was united with the senate; accuse every order or society, and all the citizens; (…) at all events you would never have continued in this order, or rather in this city; (…) when I have been pronounced by this order to be the savior of my country; (…) when you, one single young man, forbade the whole order to pass decrees concerning the safety of the republic (…)


I think why we people say “good morning”. It could not be for that Whig journal to come with the Oxford Companion, in my case. I have never read it. I have just looked up the phrase over the Internet.😉


When we speak, we do not take our words from books or magazines. Latin was a dead language, but Charles Thomson was alive when he used it. He formed the motto on his own, and the report renders it.


… the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra …

(Charles Thomson)


Marcus Tullius Cicero was of considerable influence on the Founding Fathers. Mr. Thomson might have been influenced with Cicero, or he might have followed the usus as he disambiguated it from Latin resources generally.

Pointing at a particular source might be impossible, without the motto author’s indication. More, resources continue to differ in presenting the Latin language. We may compare The Rudiments of Latin and English Grammar by Alexander Adam, of about 1786. On page 141, he presents seclor as a consequent of sequor.



I compare the contemporary seclude. We can translate secludere as to stand apart, and seclusus as separate. Latin ordo could mean a group, arrangement, or class. But then, why did Mr. Thomson not use the word populus, if he meant people?


We derive the word form people from the Latin populus. Paths for word etymology and meaning happen to diverge. Today, we derive the word equal as well as the word adequate, from the Latin aequus. In practice, adequate remuneration may not mean equal money, and equal money might be inadequate for jobs of different specification.


The Latin populus did not connote nationality in ancient times. It often referred to laying waste or degrading: perpopulor, to devastate, pillage; populabilis, destructible. The Senatus populusque Romanus, never a real power over the military, can be associated with practices of times unpleasant to Christians.


Ancient Roman military did not have much sentiment for nationality. Their culture favored status. The Roman civitas was inseparable from the city of Rome. Latin had words aerarius and aerarium, for Roman residents who had to pay tax but were not allowed to vote or hold offices. The temple of Saturn had a special part to keep public offerings separate from those of the elites. Without legal rationale, caesars could give death verdicts among any people within their armed range. We have to be very selective, seeking worthwhile aspects of the Antiquity. Compare the PIE.


The word ordo had a dignified sense. Though translated scarce by Lewis and Short, we may compare Cicero, whose sense is obviously not that for just some guy to have convened with a few troops or monasteries. Ordo did not have to denote a linear arrangement, but it also could: Roman military, bringing territories down, happened to face local people in groups or battle formations.


Nowadays, the noun people means a group of human beings, or a nationality. As a group, it takes a plural verb: The people here all speak English. The plural is for human persons, men or women. As a nationality or ethnicity, the noun may take on the plural itself: The peoples of Europe have formed a Union. Status can no longer decide on civil rights. The word sense of the present day actually does not translate into the ancient Latin populus.


Seclorum looks a participal form (compare the participle), hence A New People Come (a new people to have become), for the Novus Ordo Seclorum. The word Aera in Charles Thomson’s note refers to time in the modern sense of an era.


The US Library of Congress has received extensive materials about Charles Thomson. I hope they become accessible soon, as this is another project of mine.🙂


Feel welcome to the voluntary extra practice on American civics, with my grammar course. It is free.

Feel welcome to voluntary extra practice

Hailing the Nation, 978-1-304-04744-1

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