Today in 1864 the Coinage Act was passed in Washington DC of this law, the phrase "In God We Trust" first appeared, on the two-cent coin and eighty years later, "In God We Trust" had replaced "E Pluribus Unum" as the national motto. All currency was printed and minted with the new motto. For many this was a curious development since the American Constitution had come into force in 1789, as the careful separation of church and state held together the multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian country. How did this happen?
‘In God we Trust’ was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. The British Historian, Owen Davies, published a fascinating overview of the First World War called A Supernatural War, looking at the phenomenon of belief and superstition at wartime. Although he focuses primarily upon non-orthodox beliefs and faiths such as spiritualism, fortune telling, prophecies, magic and talismans, and the widespread use of protective amulets. Davies also explored how Christian belief was still a powerful source of comfort for many soldiers and civilians. Most soldiers carried a Bible in their pockets. These Bibles regularly saved soldiers from flying bullets, leading some soldiers to believe that God had intervened and saved them. Davies concludes here that while there is little evidence of an upsurge in church membership or churchgoing across the combatant countries, religion was regularly observed both on the battlefield and at home.
With this in mind, it no surprise how after the deeply traumatic civil war in America, 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. Many examples of this is in the Treasury Department records, such as a letter dated November 13, 1861, from. M. R. Watkinson from Pennsylvania, and read:
Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the 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 on our coins. You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not 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 the ring the allseeing 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 hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.
As a result, a week later - 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.
The use of IN GOD WE TRUST has not been uninterrupted. The motto disappeared from the five-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear until production of the Jefferson nickel began in 1938. Since 1938, all United States coins bear the inscription. The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the ten-cent coin since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908. IN GOD WE TRUST was first used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate.