Arago: Exhibits

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Francis Hopkinson's Claim

16c Great Seal airmail special delivery center line block of four

This 16-cent Air Mail Special Delivery issue featuring the Great Seal of the United States of America was produced in 1935. (Scott 771)

Most historians credit Francis Hopkinson as the designer of the American flag. A congressman from New Jersey, Hopkinson was a patriot, lawyer, poet, artist, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. In late 1776, Hopkinson was appointed to the Continental Navy Board, allowing him to devote some of his attention to designing the flag.

Numerous records exist that concern Hopkinson and the creation of the American flag, largely due to controversy surrounding payment and recognition of his service. In 1780, Hopkinson wrote to the Board of Admiralty, requesting payment in exchange for his design of “the flag of the United States of America”, the Great Seal of the United States, and other ornaments and devices. He submitted a bill, suggesting that a “Quarter Cask of the public wine” would be a reasonable reward for his work. The claim would be refused, and the Board of Treasury would reject the request several times. By the time Congress passed a resolution asking that the claim be acted upon on August 23, 1781, Hopkinson had resigned his office as Treasurer of Loans. Though the journals of the Continental Congress show Hopkinson designed the flag, the Board of Treasury disagreed and claimed that Hopkinson was not the only person consulted and could therefore not rightly take all the credit. In addition, because Hopkinson earned such a high salary, the Board of Treasury felt that Hopkinson owed a service to the public, and the design was his way of paying that debt.

Like the flag, the Great Seal, as seen here, has become a nationally and internationally recognized symbol.