In God We Trust

 

Rhode island tercentenary half dollar commemorative reverse

In God We Trust

“In God We Trust” is our nation’s motto. In light of the recent hoopla about religious displays associated with holidays, the controversies surrounding women’s health issues and the Affordable Care Act, school choice, or prayer in schools, you might be surprised that in 2011, the House of Representatives reaffirmed the motto.

In reality, it is really not all that surprising. In 1956, Joint Resolution 396 was passed by the 84th Congress which simply stated: “Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the national motto of the United States is hereby declared to be ‘In God we trust.’” That resolution has been reaffirmed by either the House and Senate repeatedly since 1956. The phrase can be seen at the entrance of the United States Senate, as well as in the attached image which is behind the Speaker’s chair in the United States House of Representatives. A poll taken in 2003 by Gallup, CNN, and USA Today found that 90% percent of the American public agreed that the phrase should remain on U.S. coins. The reference to God on coins in our country can be found as early as 1694. In that year, the phrases “God preserve New England” and “God preserve Carolina and the Lords proprietors” were both included on coins made in the colonies.

How did it come to pass that “In God We Trust” became our national motto? One popular theory points to the phrase’s inclusion in the words of the Star Spangled Banner. However, the phase in the fourth verse of the song is actually “In God is our trust.” More than likely, Reverend M.R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania played a significant role in the matter. He wrote a letter to Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury, in November, 1861. In his letter, Reverend Watkinson wrote:

“You are about to submit your annual report to Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.

One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form in our coins.

You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were now shattered beyond reconstruction? 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 this 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.’

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.
To you first I address a subject that must be agitated.”

Secretary Chase forwarded a request to design a coin which referenced God to President Lincoln’s Director of the Mint, James Pollock. In his letter, Chase commented: “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. You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.” Two years later, in December, 1863, Chase approved one of Pollock’s suggestions: the phrase “In God We Trust.” Congress authorized the use of the phrase on one and two cent coins in 1864, and expanded the authorization to seven other coins in 1865. Plans to leave the phrase off coins beginning in 1907 were met with public outcry, and legislation requiring inclusion of it on all coins was passed by Congress in 1908. The law was expanded to paper currency in 1955.

On July 30, 1956, more than 90 years after the phrase was first inscribed on a U.S. coin, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation which made “In God We Trust” the official motto of the United States of America. Although there have been challenges to the use of the phrase from time-to-time, it has been viewed as “ceremonial Deism” rather than an endorsement of any particular religion, or religion in general, by our Federal Courts. In 2002, Congress reaffirmed the motto as cited in U.S. Code Title 36, Section 302. The 2011 legislation passed by the House of Representatives on November 2, encouraged the display of the phrase “in all public buildings, public schools, and other government institutions.”