A national motto is a phrase or sentence that represents a country. The United States has had two: “E pluribus unum” – which is Latin for “Out of many, one” – and “In God We Trust.” The Latin phrase was the first and was chosen by Congress in 1782. So, how did we end up with a second motto, “In God We Trust,” printed on all of our money?
“E pluribus unum” was the country’s only official motto for a long time. But the second motto was mentioned as early as 1814 in the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, and the first coins bearing with “In God We Trust” were made in 1864.
Rev. M.R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, PA, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, asking that coins be made with the phrase. Chase then asked James Pollock, the director of the Mint, to prepare a motto.
Pollock answered 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.
On July 11, 1955, President Dwight D. Eisenhower took it one step further and signed Public Law 140, which meant that all the currency – coins and paper – must display the motto.