The bald eagle has been a symbol of the nation since the American revolution, when eagles soared above the battlefields. Could any creature better express the yearning for freedom? Americans have always identified with symbols that express the spirit of the country: the honesty of Uncle Sam, the beauty of the rose, or the reliability of the oak tree. But my favorite is the eagle – the bird of liberty.
The three branches of the government of the United States is also represented by a bald eagle with three heads. Each head represents the Legislative, Executive, and Judiciary branch of the government. There’s an excellent article that gives a great description here: http://whitehouseroad.blogspot.com/2009/08/americas-three-headed-eagle.html
Not everyone wanted the bald eagle as the national bird. Benjamin Franklin complained that “He is a bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly.” Franklin thought that there was another bird that, with its industrious habits and temperate personality, was a perfect illustration of American virtues: the wild turkey. Virtually no one else agreed with him though the turkey is celebrated on an important national holiday – Thanksgiving.
Other symbols of America that include using the eagle. “In God We Trust” has been featured on U.S. currency since the Civil War, but it only became a national motto in 1956. Many people mistakenly think that the national motto is “E Pluribus Unum,” which appears on the Great Seal of the United States of America. The Latin phrase means “Out of many, one,” and refers to the creation of the thirteen states in the Union.
The eagle on the Great Seal of the United States carries an olive branch in one claw and arrows in the others, as symbols of Congress’s power to decide for peace or war.
In 1969, the lunar module on the Apollo 11 moon shot was named “Eagle.” On July 20, 1969, the message arrived at NASA: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”
None-eagle symbols of America include the rose, the oak, and Uncle Sam. The rose grows naturally throughout the United States. It became the national flower in 1986. The flower has a long association with the country: the White House is famed for its Rose Garden, and both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were enthusiastic rose breeders.
In 2001 Americans voted the oak as the national tree. They had a wide choice – North America has twice as many types of trees as all of Europe. The oak got the vote because its 60 species grow throughout the country and it has long been prized for its beauty, the shade it provides, and its durable wood.
There was probably a real Uncle Sam – Samuel Wilson, a trader whose supplies to the U.S. Army in the War of 1812 were delivered in barrels marked “U.S.” Soldiers joked that the initials stood for his nickname, Uncle Sam, and this led to the federal government being known as “Uncle Sam.” When artist James Montgomery Flagg created his famous “I Want You” recruiting poster in World War I, he based Uncle Sam’s face on his own.
Last, but not least, probably greatest symbol of America is its flag. I sometimes wonder if any other country on Earth is as proud of its flag as Americans are of the Stars and Stripes. What I love about the flag is how it has changed – but it’s meaning still remains the same. From thirteen stars to fifty, the flag’s changes tell the history of the whole nation. It represents us all, from Massachusetts to Alaska and Hawaii. An every American is represented on it, somewhere in one of those white, five-pointed stars.
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