Skip to content


The E-Sylum (4/23/2017)

Book Content

An article in the Friday April 21, 2017 issue of the Wall Street Journal by history professor Den Hartog discusses the history of the motto 'In God We Trust' on U.S. coins. Here's an excerpt. -Editor

Cent In God We trust On April 22, 1864, Congress approved a significant revision to the nation’s coinage: the addition of “In God We Trust” on several U.S. coins. This was more than a small change for small change: Governmental officials believed it would help America through a time of crisis. As the country continues to slog through an era of deep division, it’s worth studying the ideals that informed this refinement of American currency.

April 1864 was not necessarily an auspicious time for the U.S. The Civil War was raging. Bloody battles took place at Sabine Crossroads and Pleasant Hill, and free African-American soldiers were massacred when they were overrun at Fort Pillow in Tennessee. Southern secession left the nation physically and spiritually fractured.

With political life frayed and the war effort faltering, adding a new motto to American coinage might have looked like desperation or propaganda. It was neither. Abraham Lincoln and Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase had known about the idea for years. In an 1861 letter, the Rev. M.R. Watkinson of Pennsylvania asked Chase to consider recognizing “the Almighty God in some form on our coins.”

Chase, an abolitionist Ohio Republican, had liked the idea for years. “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense,” he wrote to the director of the U.S. Mint in 1861. “The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.” Some three years later the motto was approved by Congress and stamped on coinage in Philadelphia.

The change fit the mood of the time. Facing the dissolution of the Union, many Americans looked for divine aid to help heal the national divisions. They recognized that faith could sustain liberty and self-government. This echoed the acts of earlier generations of Americans, who during the Revolutionary War had flown battle flags bearing the motto “An Appeal to Heaven.”

To read the complete article, see:
‘In God We Trust,’ Even at Our Most Divided (

DWN E-Sylum ad03
NNP is 100% non-profit and independent // Your feedback is essential and welcome. // Your feedback is essential and welcome.