A New People

Charles Thomson


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, wrote Charles Thomson in his REPORT ON THE US GREAT SEAL.


Charles Thomson made the Seal final design, he yet never provided a translation, that is, he never wrote what the Seal Latin was to mean exactly.


The Latin is as follows:
E pluribus unum,
Annuit coeptis,
Novus ordo seclorum.


WIKIPEDIA DERIVES the Novus Ordo Seclorum from legends on ancient ritualists, sibyls, and Virgil’s Eclogues, one of which says,
ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo.


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


We can doubt if the Eclogue directly translates into English, without elaborating into a conspiracy theory. Sibyls were famed for enigmatic phrasings, and translation from Virgil has caused disputes.


The preface for the 1894 TRANSLATION by Archibald Hamilton Bryce, says,
Much has been done both by Foreign and by British scholars to amend the Latin text, and to bring out more clearly the poet’s meaning in the many obscure phrases and sentences which occur in his writings. The translation was claimed to have been literal.


Reasonable doubt only begins here.


Charles Thomson was a Presbyterian. He would not, the same as many people, me included, regard a sibyl as an elder, an authority, or an executive agency. Sibylline rituals were pagan. They involved narcotics and burnt offerings.

Pär Lagerkvist, The Sibyl 

Further, it would require a peculiar intellectual discipline, to hold “age” for a word unrelated to time. A phrase as “a new order of ages” naturally implies an altered time perspective, and we could not have ROMANTICISM before ENLIGHTENMENT, and RENAISSANCE only after.


It would be as trying to have the 19th century before the 18th, and the 16th century only after.


Very importantly, there is a feature in Mr. Thomson’s report. His Latin spelling did acknowledge the digraph ae. He wrote:
…the new American Æra.


The “sæclorum” in the Eclogue has the digraph, however, the “seclorum” in the Great Seal does not have it. The Eclogue probably was not the source: differences between Classic and Roman Empire Latin were marked in such ways and thus were not considered trivial.


There was a man who had a talent for persuasion, in Charles Thomson’s time, and his thought influenced the Framers. The man was Thomas Paine, who titled his work “COMMON SENSE”.


If we search the Common Sense for the Latin word æra, we get:


By referring the matter from argument to arms, a new æra for politics is struck.


The independancy of America, should have been considered, as dating its æra from, and published by, the first musket that was fired against her.


Let us search the Common Sense for the English word “order”:


Mankind being originally equals in the :order: of creation…


It is repugnant to reason, to the universal :order: of things, to all examples from former ages…


England and America, with respect to each other, reverse the common :order: of nature…


He who can calmly hear, and digest such doctrine, hath forfeited his claim to rationality—an apostate from the :order: of manhood…


Do they take within their view, all the various :orders: of men, whose situation and circumstances…


Thomas Paine wrote about examples from former ages, but he did not put time into an alternate perspective. From his language use, we could paraphrase the word :order: as a pattern, kind or… people.


The word comes from the Latin ordo. Thomas Paine’s use was not exclusive to himself. We may compare Benjamin Franklin.


The family had lived in the same village, Ecton, perhaps from the time when the name of Franklin, that before was the name of an :order: of people was assumed by them as a surname when others took surnames all over the kingdom. — Autobiography.


Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Charles Thomson went to grammar schools. Thomas Paine wrote he never learned Latin, but he was familiar with the Latin content of the grammar school times.


Benjamin Franklin wrote, My elder brothers were all put apprentices to different trades. I was put to the grammar-school at eight years of age, my father intending to devote me, as the tithe of his sons, to the service of the Church. My early readiness in learning to read (which must have been very early, as I do not remember when I could not read), and the opinion of all his friends, that I should certainly make a good scholar, encouraged him in this purpose of his. — Autobiography.


In grammar schools, they taught Latin. We can compare CICERO’S SECOND PHILIPPIC: in linguistics, we call it learning from language use.


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…


If we tried to picture what the Latin word ordo means, we would think about a kind or body of people, or even simply — people.


Marcus Tullius Cicero was of considerable influence on the Founding Fathers. Wikipedia tells abut his LEGACY.


Today, Latin is far more distant to the mind of the man in the street and most often we would want a citation, to interpret the language. However, when the language is modern, as English or Polish, we do not require for words to come from books, magazines, or other resources, and we often begin learning early, in childhood.


In grammar schools of Charles Thomson time, people began learning Latin as children, in the so-called acquisition years of life. He might have formed the motto on his own, the same as he formed his phrases in English.


Let us think about an observation by Thomas Paine.
The present time, likewise, is that peculiar time, which never happens to a nation but once, that is, the time of forming itself into a government.


If we wanted verbally to assert the above has happened, that is, a nation has formed itself, — in Latin and in a shape for a motto — we might say,
Novus ordo seclorum.


Before we reason on the Latin words populus or natio, let us disambiguate the seclorum.


Resources continue to differ in presenting the Latin language. THE RUDIMENTS OF LATIN AND ENGLISH GRAMMAR by Alexander Adam, of 1786, page 141, present the form seclor as a consequent of sequor.


We can compare the Latin verb secludere, to stand apart. It had a participle, seclusus.


Latin made nouns from participles quite regularly. For English today, we might compare the verb applicare, to apply; APPLICATUS, applied; APPLICATIO, application.


For the Great Seal, we can collate secludere, seclusus, seclum. Seclorum is the plural genitive of seclum.


The word seclum may be translated broadly, as a race, generation, human age, or people at some time. Perseus word study tool also relates seclum to a later form we can now associate with secular people, but that owing to developments in modern languages.


We can interpret seclum as people who are separate, different with a regard, be it features, chronological age, or even decisions made at a given time.


With the Latin ordo as a kind or body (of people), we can interpret the Novus Ordo Seclorum as A new people has become, or A new nation has become: some people have gone separate to take an independent stand.


Literal, word-for-word translation happens to be clumsy, also for ancient Latin (a new form by the separate?)


In English, we have the phrase how come, to ask or tell how something has become. It shows the verb-participle-adjective interplay.


The text here tells, how come: 🙂


WHEN in the Course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the Causes which impel them to the Separation, says the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE.


We might wonder why Mr. Thomson did not use the words natio or populus, if he meant a nation or people (?)


Paths have happened to diverge, for word sense and etymology. Today, we derive the words equal as well as adequate from the Latin aequus. In practice, adequate remuneration may not mean equal money, and equal money might be inadequate for jobs of different specifics.


We derive the form of the word people from the Latin populus. However, the sense of Latin populus did not connote nationality, in ancient times. The word often referred to laying waste or degrading.


PERPOPULOR meant to devastate, pillage. POPULABILIS meant destructible. The Senatus :populusque: Romanus remains associated with practices adverse to Christians.


Ancient Romans did not have much sentiment for nationality. Their culture favored status, and that beyond rights. The Roman :civitas: gave origin to the word civilian, but the sense was inseparable from the :city: of Rome.


Well, and the city did not make as much or often a republic, as a practice at pretending a liberal government. Latin had words as AERARIUS and AERARIUM, for Roman residents who had to pay tax, but were not allowed to vote or hold offices. Without legal rationale, Caesars were able effectively to give death verdicts among any people within the military range.


The actually regime conditions made business all too difficult, and gave no sense of national identity, to the people at large.


Contrary to the ancient populus, the word ORDO had a dignified sense. It did not have to denote a linear arrangement, but it also could: moving through territories, Roman military happened to face local people, some in groups for welcome, some in battle formations, more or less as here, in the EAGLE. The ordo is not new to the Roman, the people are Scottish.


Today, the word sense of the noun people does not translate into the ancient Latin populus. It did not in Charles Thomson’s times, either.


On the other hand, if we wanted to render Thomas Paine’s phrase “examples of (former) ages” in classic Latin, the phrase would be aevi exempla, and not *seclorum exempla.


The Latin word natio was and part remains also today related to status, as in the phrase bene natus, meaning well-born, upper-class.


To compare the Eclogue now, ab integro sæclorum nascitur ordo, were integrity to be entity, we might render the phrase as from one, a kind is born, that is, out of one, many are born.


The Seal does not follow.
Out of many, one;
Favor to the endeavor,
A new nation has become.


Virgil was an adamant servant to Julius Caesar and CICERO WAS EXECUTED upon orders from Antony and OCTAVIAN; the latter became the first ruler of the Roman Empire, Imperator Caesar Divi filius Augustus.


Later the Empire style, Virgil’s Latin does not look likely the Framers paragon. To the contrary, Charles Thomson proved that if there are no linguistic means ready, the human can use those available to express new sense.


In year 1776, the people who went to war for the country had not been all born in America, and many did not have a citizen or generally civilian status, because of George III policies. However, if we reflect on nationality, in ancient Rome and also today, whether someone was born in the same geographical area, it does not in itself provide for any values in common.


In fact, all nations are ordines seclorum, where human environments of various walks of life, secla, prefer one general recognition to get along with, ordo.


The instance is without a precedent; the case
never existed before, wrote Thomas Paine about America in 1776 and Charles Thomson knew it was true. Well, and sibyls, their time, were women with word play at hand.

Feel welcome to learn reading the Seal in classic Latin.




My Latin vocabulary initially came with the Latin-Polish dictionary by Łukasz Koncewicz, available here at the link.
DJVU page 000785 tells the Latin secludere as to separate, also oneself; DJVU page 000786 tells seculum as a human age or people. DJVU page 000595 shows ordo as a nature, kind, type; with regard to people, ordo equester, pedester, senatorius, sribarum, aratorium, etc. In English, the phrase “a kind of people” happens to occur along with talk about nationality.


The translations are consistent with those in Perseus word study tool.


Wiktionary explains the French SIÈCLE as an Old French borrowing, “semi-learned” from the Latin saeculum, that is, a development partial and much later than classic Latin.





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