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The History of "In God We Trust" on America's Coins

"In God We Trust" goes back to 1814 when, in September of that year, during the British bombardment of Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Francis Scott Key composed the poem "Star Spangled Banner".  One line in the final stanza is "And this be our motto - 'In God is our trust'."

Later, around 1861, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins.  As a result, Secretary Chase instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto, in a letter dated November 20, 1861:

    Dear Sir: 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.

Mr. Pollock responded with a proposal that either OUR COUNTRY; OUR GOD or GOD, OUR TRUST should appear as a motto on the coins.  In a letter to the Mint Director on December 9, 1863, Secretary Chase stated:

    I approve your mottoes, only suggesting that on that with the Washington obverse the motto should begin with the word OUR, so as to read OUR GOD AND OUR COUNTRY. And on that with the shield, it should be changed so as to read: IN GOD WE TRUST.

Congress passed the Act on April 22, 1864. This legislation changed the composition of the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of the two-cent coin.  The Mint Director was directed to develop the designs for these coins for final approval of the Secretary.  IN GOD WE TRUST first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

Another Act of Congress, passed on March 3, 1865, allowed the Mint Director, with the Secretary's approval, to place the motto on all gold and silver coins that "shall admit the inscription thereon".  Under the Act, the motto was placed on the gold double-eagle coin, the gold eagle coin, and the gold half-eagle coin.  It was also placed on the silver dollar coin, the half-dollar coin and the quarter-dollar coin, and on the nickel three-cent coin beginning in 1866. Later, Congress passed the Coinage Act of February 12, 1873.  It also said that the Secretary "may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto".

The motto was found missing from the new design of the double-eagle gold coin and the eagle gold coin shortly after they appeared in 1907.  In response to public demand, Congress ordered it restored, and the Act of May 18, 1908, made it mandatory on all coins upon which it had previously appeared.

In 1931 Congress passed the act that officially designated as the national anthem "the composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner".  At the height of the Cold War in 1955, Congress expanded the motto to the rest of America's currency - they mandated the inscription of "In God We Trust" on all coins and paper currency.  The legislation's sponsor, Representative Bennett, stated on the floor of Congress:

    In these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and to destroy freedom, it is proper for us to seek continuously for ways to strengthen the foundation of our freedom. At the base of our freedom is our faith in God and the desire of Americans to live by His will and by His guidance. As long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail. To remind all of us of this self-evident truth, it is proper that our currency should carry these inspiring words, coming down to us through our history: In God We Trust.

The following year (1956), Congress codified "In God We Trust" as the national motto. Congress' rationale for doing so can be found in the relevant House Report:

    It will be of great spiritual and psychological value to our country to have a clearly designated national motto of inspirational quality in plain, popularly accepted English. The Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives recognizes that the phrase "E pluribus unum" has also received wide usage in the United States. However, the committee considers "In God We Trust" a superior and more acceptable motto for the United States.


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