“In God We Trust”: The Historical Journey of America’s National Motto since 1864

The phrase “In God We Trust” has become an iconic part of American culture, symbolizing the intersection of nationhood and belief. But how did this phrase transition from a spiritual sentiment to being prominently displayed on American currency? Dive into the history and discover its inception in 1864.

“In God We Trust”: The Historical Journey of America’s National Motto since 1864

Context: America in the 1860s

The decade was characterized by the intense divisions and challenges of the American Civil War. It was a time of national introspection, as the country grappled with its identity and future. Against this backdrop, the idea of reflecting a unifying sentiment on currency emerged.

A Reverend’s Proposal

The catalyst for this change was a letter penned by Reverend M. R. Watkinson, a Minister from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania. In 1861, he wrote to then-Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase, emphasizing the lack of a divine acknowledgment on American coinage. Watkinson’s suggestion was to incorporate a phrase that represented national trust in a higher power.

Taking note of this suggestion, Secretary Chase directed James Pollock, Director of the Mint in Philadelphia, to conceptualize designs incorporating a reference to the divine.

Arriving at the Phrase

Several mottoes were deliberated, including “God Our Trust” and “God and Our Country.” Yet, it was “In God We Trust” that encapsulated the desired sentiment, merging both the spiritual and national ethos.

In 1864, this new motto made its debut on the two-cent coin, marking a significant shift in the representation of American values on currency.

Expansion and Official Recognition

Given its positive reception, the motto gradually appeared on other coins. By 1956, amidst the geopolitics of the Cold War era, Congress officially adopted “In God We Trust” as the national motto of the United States. A year later, in 1957, it began its journey on paper currency, further cementing its place in American history.

The adoption of “In God We Trust” on American currency offers a glimpse into the nation’s evolving identity and values. Today, as the phrase continues to grace coins and notes alike, it stands as a historical marker, reflecting key moments and sentiments from America’s past.

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