The Meaning of 'E Pluribus Unum'

Closeup of 'E Pluribus Unum' on an Eisenhower Silver Dollar

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E Pluribus Unum is Latin for "out of many, one." Sometimes it is translated more loosely as "one from many." E Pluribus Unum was once the motto of the United States of America and referenced the fact that the cohesive single nation was formed as the result of the thirteen smaller colonies joining together.

Usage on Coins

The United States Mint first used E Pluribus Unum on coins in 1795, 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. The motto was first used on a silver coin three years later and appeared on all U.S. gold and silver coinage shortly after that. However, the use of E Pluribus Unum on United States 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 the motto didn't appear on any U.S. coins. In 1866 it returned to several coin types, including the Half Eagle, Eagle ($10 gold piece), Double Eagle ($20.00 a gold piece), silver dollars, and quarter dollars.

In 1873, a law was passed requiring E Pluribus Unum to appear on all U.S. coins when new designs were enacted. However, research of official mint records indicated that mint officials did not consider this mandatory. Therefore, they used the motto at their discretion when designing new coinage. The duplicate records show that Col. Read of Uxbridge, Massachusetts was instrumental in having the motto placed on United States coins.


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 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."

Pierre Eugene du Simitiere originally suggested this motto in 1776. Historically the phrase, or a variant of it, was used by several significant authors. Sources included a poem attributed to Virgil, Confessions by St AugustineCicero in his De Officiis and several others. Given its rich history, it is only appropriate that the founding fathers of the United States of America chose this to be our motto.

Fun Facts

  • Just as the U.S. has thirteen original colonies, E Pluribus Unum has thirteen letters in it.
  • The phrase ex pluribus unum goes back to ancient times, and Saint Augustine used it in his c. 397-398 Confessions (Book IV.)
  • It has been used by the Scoutspataljon, a professional infantry battalion of the Estonian Defence Forces, since 1918.
  • E Pluribus Unum still appears on U.S. coins even though it is no longer the official national motto! The United States Congress gave that honor to In God We Trust in 1956 by an Act of Congress (36 U.S.C. § 302).
  • In the 1939 film The Wizard Of Oz, the Wizard gives the Scarecrow a Diploma from The Society of E Pluribus Unum.
  • E Pluribus Unum, was first used on the 1795 Liberty Cap-Heraldic Eagle gold $5 piece.