Tuesday Trivia: History of 'In God We Trust' on U.S. money

J. H. Osborne • Nov 12, 2019 at 1:40 PM

"In God We Trust" has only been on U.S. paper money since 1957. But its use by the United States Treasury in minting coins dates back 155 years.

The History

• It was first placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War.

• 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.

• From Treasury Department records, it appears that the first such appeal came in a letter dated Nov. 13, 1861. It was written to Secretary Chase by Rev. M. R. Watkinson, Minister of the Gospel from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, and in part read, "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?"

• Chase subsequently told James Pollock, director of the mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto, in a letter dated Nov. 20, 1861.

• They discovered an 1837 act of Congress controlled mottoes and devices used on coins of the United States. This meant that the mint could make no changes without the enactment of additional legislation by the Congress.

• Congress took action on April 22, 1864, changing the composition of the one-cent coin and authorized the minting of the two-cent coin. The mint director was instructed to develop the designs for these coins for final approval of the Secretary. "In God We Trust" first appeared on the 1864 two-cent coin.

• The Coinage Act of Feb. 12, 1873, said that the Secretary "may cause the motto IN GOD WE TRUST to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto."

• The use of "In God We Trust" was at times interrupted.

• The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909, and on the 10-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.

• But 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 have had the inscription.

• "In God We Trust" was first used on paper money in 1957, when it appeared on the one-dollar silver certificate. The first paper currency bearing the motto entered circulation on Oct. 1, 1957.

Source: The United States Department of the Treasury