“In God We Trust”
Inscribed on US Currency (1864)
It was on this date, April 22, 1864, that the US Congress passed an act requiring the Director of the Mint to develop designs for the one-cent and two-cent coins that, for the first time since the nation was founded, included a recognition of God. Replacing the Latin motto, E Pluribus Unum, “Out of many, one” — was one that everyone could read, if not subscribe to: “In God We Trust.” While the Civil War raged, the motto began to appear on all US coins.
How did this happen? According to the US Treasury, then-Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase received a multitude of appeals from Christians. The most persuasive one appears to have been from a Rev. Watkinson of Ridleyville, PA, on 13 November 1861: “You are probably a Christian,” wrote Watkinson…
Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the all-seeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.
To anyone who knows history, and cares about liberty, the idea of replacing the goddess of liberty with a religious slogan — especially one listing God before liberty and law — should be frightening. But Watkinson was not finished with Secretary Chase:
This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my heart I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.”
Chase showed his devotion to the Almighty, or at least to their ministers on earth, within the week, by complying. On 20 November, 1861, Chase piously declared to the Director of the Mint, “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.”
To do so, Chase himself “coined” the motto, “In God We Trust” — 85 years after the founding of a nation that somehow neglected to mention the Judeo-Christian God in its Declaration of Independence and under in its Constitution proscribed any religious test for office… a nation God didn’t judge for destroying the lives of millions of Africans under slavery, or for stealing land from and committing genocide against Native Americans—all while there was no recognition of the Divinity on its coins and currency. It took another 92 years, amid the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s, for President Eisenhower to sign a Congressional joint resolution* making “In God We Trust” the national motto… thereby declaring all who don’t trust God, or who don’t believe in any gods, or who believe in the wrong god, unworthy of citizenship.
And even though the motto was conceived by a cleric, recommended for its religious purpose, and adopted precisely to acknowledge the Judeo-Christian God, several federal courts have ruled that “In God We Trust” is not a religious phrase! What’s troubling is that Nazi Germany had a very similar motto: Gott mit uns (“God with us”). One would suppose that antiquaries of succeeding centuries will judge the Nazis, too, as being spared the ignominy of heathenism!
* The Joint Resolution was signed by President Eisenhower on 30 July 1956.
Originally published April 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.