WASHINGTON--On April 22nd 150 years ago, in the midst of a raging Civil War, Congress voted to put “In God We Trust” on coins produced by the U.S. Mint.
The motto first went on a coin we don’t even see anymore: the two-cent coin.
A minister had proposed somehow acknowledging God on the nation’s coins back in 1861, fearing America was far too secular and ungodly.
The Ignominy of Heathenism
“This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism,” Ridleyville, Pennsylvania Pastor M.R. Watkinson had written to Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase. “I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters."
And Chase himself wrote to the Director of the Mint, “No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense.”
Times of national calamity often turn the minds of many citizens to Providence. In our time, church pews filled right after 9-11.
As American University Prof. Daniel Dreisbach said of that Civil War era, “This is a nation that is at war. These are times that often call on people, call on a nation to reflect on God and their relationship with God and God’s judgment upon them. And I think Americans on both sides of that conflict were very much focused on these kinds of questions.”
BOTH SIDES “READING THE SAME BIBLE, PRAYING TO THE SAME GOD”
President Abraham Lincoln certainly was, talking of God and His will in the Gettysburg Address and at his second inauguration.
Dreisbach told CBN News it’s obvious Lincoln was wondering publicly, "How does one understand how God operates, especially in a conflict such as this conflict where both sides are making appeals to the Almighty - both sides are praying that God would favor their side? And as he says in the second inauguration, both sides are reading the same Bible, praying to the same God.”
“In God We Trust” Not a Constitutional Violation
Some Americans today may wonder why Congress in 1864 didn’t see slapping “In God We Trust” on currency as a clear case of government favoring an establishment of religion, breaching the so-called “wall of separation” between church and state.
But in those days, government getting involved with “an establishment of religion” meant it bonding or siding with one particular sect or denomination over all others. Or as Dreisbach put it, “one state and one church legally bound together.”
But in that era, the mere mention of God on a government coin or document would never be considered “an establishment of religion.”
“I think it would have been very alien to the 18th century and 19th century mind to view an acknowledgement of God, a mention of God, in public life – even an acknowledgement of God by the state - as an establishment of religion as that concept was historically understood.”
Not the National Motto Till 1956
For those who think those times were much more religious than the present era, it’s interesting to note that “In God We Trust” wasn’t declared the national motto until 1956. And no paper money carried the motto until 1957.
Indeed, way back in 1787, some criticized the U.S. Constitution for not being at all God-centered.
As Dreisbach put it, “There were Americans at the time of the Constitution’s writing who were very critical of the document because it lacked this acknowledgement of the Diety.”
Some Americans also declared the War of 1812 and the cholera epidemics of the 1830s and then the Civil War as God’s judgment on America for its lack of acknowledging Him and declaring dependence on Him.
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