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In God We Trust: How it Started

How the U.S. got its motto.

By:  |  September 16, 2019  |    461 Words

(Photo by Francis Dean/Corbis via Getty Images)

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 slogan, too.

The first national saying was e pluribus unum, suggested in 1776, during the American Revolution, by Pierre Eugene du Simitiere. It is Latin for “Out of many, one.” The idea was that the original 13 colonies (the many) were joining into a single nation (the one). Congress adopted this motto in 1782, but it was usurped in 1956.

The phrase “In God We Trust” appeared 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.” 

It is believed that during the Civil War, religious sentiment increased across the nation. Reverend M.R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, with a request to honor God on the country’s coins.

Chase then asked James Pollock, the director of the Mint, to prepare a template. In a letter to Pollock dated November 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.”

dollar in god we trust

(Photo by H. Armstrong Roberts/ClassicStock/Getty Images)

Pollock gave several suggestions, including “Our Trust Is In God,” “Our God And Our Country,” “God And Our Country,” and “God Our Trust.”

A law from 1837 had limited what could be printed on United States coins, but in 1864, Congress allowed changes to what could appear on coins. Chase gets the credit for choosing the motto we know today, and it first appeared that year on the two-cent coin, which was new at the time. By 1909, most coins had the phrase.

It wasn’t until July 11, 1956, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower took it one step further and signed a law which made it mandatory for all currency – coins and paper – to display the motto. A unanimous resolution by Congress declared “In God We Trust” to be the national motto of the United States.

In recent years, the phrase has stirred controversy as fewer Americans observe a religious faith. However, a 2003 poll showed that 90% of Americans approved of using the phrase on coins. Since then, Congress has reaffirmed the motto and several states have also embraced it.

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