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E Pluribus Unum - What Does This U.S. Motto Mean?

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Question: E Pluribus Unum - What Does This U.S. Motto Mean?
E Pluribus Unum appears on U.S. coins, currency, and in other places. What does E Pluribus Unum mean, and what is the story behind this important U.S. motto?

Answer: E Pluribus Unum is Latin for "out of many, one." Sometimes it is translated more loosely as "one from many." E Pluribus Unum refers to the fact that the United States was formed as a cohesive single nation as the result of the thirteen smaller colonies joining together.

The motto E Pluribus Unum was first proposed by the U.S. Continental Congress in 1782, for use on the Great Seal of the United States. The immediate inspiration for the use of this term is generally believed to be Gentlemen's Magazine, which was an important men's magazine published in England beginning in the early 18th century. It was a very influential magazine among the intellectual elite. Every year, Gentlemen's Magazine would do a special issue, comprised of the best of the year's articles, and the Latin term "E Pluribus Unum" appeared on the title page as a way of explaining that this issue of the magazine became "one issue from many previous issues."

E Pluribus Unum on Coins

The first use of E Pluribus Unum on coins was in 1795, when it was used on the Half Eagle ($5.00 gold piece.) The reverse design motif is based on the Great Seal of the United States, and depicts an eagle holding a banner in its beak bearing the motto E PLURIBUS UNUM. The motto was first used on a silver coin three years later in 1798, and apeared on all U.S. gold and silver coinage shortly thereafter. However, E Pluribus Unum's use on U.S. coinage wasn't uninterrupted.

In 1834, E Pluribus Unum was removed from gold coins to mark a minor debasement in the fineness of the gold. Once again, the silver coins soon followed, and E Pluribus Unum didn't appear on any U.S. coins again until 1866, when it returned to several coin types, including the Half Eagle, Eagle ($10 gold piece,) Double Eagle ($20.00 gold piece,) silver One Dollar, and Quarter Dollar. In 1873, a law was passed that required E Pluribus Unum to appear on all U.S. coins when new designs went into effect, and the motto appears on all U.S. coins to this day as a result.

Fun Facts About E Pluribus Unum

Just as the U.S. has thirteen original colonies, E Pluribus Unum has thirteen letters in it.

The term ex pluribus unum (a minor variation) dates to ancient times, where Saint Augustine uses it in his c. 397-398 Confessions (Book IV.)

E Pluribus Unum still appears on U.S. coins even though it is no longer the official national motto! That honor was given to In God We Trust in 1956 by an Act of Congress (36 U.S.C. § 302.)

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