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Friday, September 07, 2012

"In God we Trust"

Here's the line from the wikipedia article: "'In God we trust' was adopted as the official motto of the United States in 1956." Did you know that?

There appears to be two primary groups of people. One side says, "Our motto was always 'In God we trust'." The other says, "That motto is new and never was part of the original structure of our nation." Of course, your view on this will likely have ramifications. "Yes, religious values have always been at the core of our nation" or "No, don't be ridiculous; we've always had a separation of Church and State." Or we could simplify it further: "Religion, good", or "Religion, bad." But is it true?

According to the Treasury Department, while the official motto of the United States didn't change until 1956, this motto was in place a long time before. The motto was added to coins back in the Civil War era "because of the increased religious sentiment." Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received requests to recognize God on U.S. coins. He then directed the mint in Philadelphia to prepare a motto for coins. He wrote, "No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense." Well, Congress controlled that, so after some deliberation they passed the Act of April 22, 1864, making the motto on the coin, "In God we trust."

Here's a twist. Do you know where the phrase appears to have originated? It was part of Francis Scott's Key's Star Spangled Banner. No, not the verse you know. In the last verse you'll find the line, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust.'"

Here's another twist. Apparently President Teddy Roosevelt tried to get it removed in the early 1900's. "Ah, see? Roosevelt wanted the separation of Church and State way back then!" No. Actually, Roosevelt thought that putting the motto on money cheapened -- commercialized -- God. He wrote, "My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege." Sorry, anti-religious folks. Roosevelt (a devout Christian) thought God was too important to be trivialized on coinage, not too esoteric to be included in national affairs.

The truth, then? Congress determined in 1956 to make "In God we trust" the official motto of the United States. Interestingly, as recently as 2011 Congress has affirmed that this will continue to be our motto. Before it became our national motto, however, it was on our coins. And before it was on our coins, it was on the minds of the people. And before it was on our minds, it was foundational to our nation in the thinking of our founders. Quibble if you want, but "In God we trust" is not something new in America. From all appearances it may look like it's getting to be something old, but that's a different issue.

1 comment:

Dan said...

This was educational for me. Thank you. While I don't know the motives of Roosevelt's heart, I do feel I have a decent handle, generally speaking, on politicians. I know that when they do things like remove God off of something, they usually make the case as to why it should be removed to appease the religious. Did Roosevelt really mean this? I don't know. But I am definitely suspicious, even given his good sounding, aahhhh, make that "good" arguments.