in the
1770s, 1850s, and 1920s

Welcome to The E Pluribus Unum Project, designed for the use of students, teachers, and other researchers who wish to examine the attempt to make "one from many" in three critical decades of American life: the 1770s, the 1850s, and the 1920s.

"E Pluribus Unum" was the motto proposed for the first Great Seal of the United States by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in 1776. A latin phrase meaning "One from many," the phrase offered a strong statement of the American determination to form a single nation from a collection of states. Over the years, "E Pluribus Unum" has also served as a reminder of America's bold attempt to make one unified nation of people from many different backgrounds and beliefs. The challenge of seeking unity while respecting diversity has played a critical role in shaping our history, our literature, and our national character.

The resources in this collection relate to four questions central to an understanding of what it means to be an American.

  • How have Americans understood what it means to be "many"? Are Americans distinct from one another because of differences of nationality, class, gender, race, religion, occupation, the region in which they live, or other factors? Are some of these differences more significant at particular times than others, and why?
  • How have Americans defined unity, and how have they attempted to achieve it? Does "unity" mean everyone must agree, or that everyone must act in the same way? Are there any characteristics or beliefs that all who claim to be Americans must have in common?
  • Have Americans ever questioned whether it is possible to make "many" into "one? Have Americans ever questioned the willingness of other Americans to strive towards that ideal?
  • How do Americans negotiate with one another when they must overcome their differences? Are there distinctively American ways of debating, and distinctively American arguments used in debates? Do any of these methods and appeals reflect the periods in which they were used; do they reflect a distinctively American way of dealing with differences?


The E Pluribus Unum collection has several distinctive characteristics intended to promote inquiry.

Each of the three major sections of this web site focuses on a specific decade in which Americans found it necessary to consider the meanings and implications of the commitment to make one from many.

In addition to being arranged by period, resources on this site are also arranged in topical clusters. Each set of materials typically includes: an introductory essay; questions for discussion, writing, and research; and sets of resources (including e-texts, digitized artifacts, and links) to facilitate online research. Sample student exhibits are also displayed.

Topical clusters provide both compilations of new materials for the study of canonical topics and resources designed to illuminate new areas for investigation.

Topical clusters examine both the content of our national debates and the rhetorical practices and appeals used to persuade the many to become one.

Topical clusters are designed to reveal the complexity of the American experiment, so resources are often provided to illuminate several "sides" of the same issue. Similarly, rather than simply celebrating the American ideal of making "one from many," materials here also include critiques that suggest the "American dream" is just a dream.




The E Pluribus Unum Project is funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is co-directed by Dr. John McClymer, Professor of History, Assumption College; Dr Lucia Knoles, Professor of English, Assumption College; and Dr. Arnold Pulda, Director of Gifted and Talented student programs for the public schools in Worcester, MA. Visitors are encouraged to send inquiries or suggestions.