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In God We Trust: How it Started

How the US got its motto.

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Have you ever wondered how America got its motto “In God We Trust”? It’s printed on our money, and some cities use it as their motto, too.

E pluribus unum

The first national saying was E pluribus unum, which is Latin for “Out of many, one.” The idea was that from the joining of the original 13 colonies (the many) we got a single nation (the one). Congress adopted this motto in 1782.


“In God We Trust” was called the national motto as early as 1814 in our national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner, written by Francis Scott Key. It is heard in the last part: “… And this be our motto: In God is our trust. And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.” The words were shortened to In God We Trust in 1864 and the first coins bearing the motto were made.

Rev. M.R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, PA, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, suggesting that coins be made with the phrase. Chase then asked James Pollock, the director of the Mint, to prepare a motto. In a letter to Pollock dated Nov. 20, 1861, Chase wrote:

“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. It was found that the Act of Congress dated January 18, 1837, prescribed the mottoes and devices that should be placed upon the coins of the United States.”

Pollock responded with several suggestions, including “Our Trust Is In God,” “Our God And Our Country,” “God And Our Country,” and “God Our Trust.” Chase gets the credit for choosing the motto we know today, and it first appeared in 1864 on the two cent coin. By 1909, most coins had the nation’s new motto.

Kelli Ballard

National Correspondent at and Kelli Ballard is an author, editor, and publisher. Her writing interests span many genres including a former crime/government reporter, fiction novelist, and playwright. Originally a Central California girl, Kelli now resides in the Seattle area.

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