On January 18, 1837, Congress passed a law that dictated what words and emblems be placed on all US coins minted by the government mints.
Prior to the Civil War, the vast majority of Americans were Christians and held strong Christian values.
On March 7, 1861, Sen. Salmon P. Chase (R-OH) was sworn in as the new Secretary of the Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln. Chase was the first Republican governor of Ohio in 1855. Chase was elected as a senator from Ohio in 1848 and held that position until he was elected governor. He held the governor’s office from 1856 until 1860 when he decided to run against Lincoln for the presidential nomination, so he ran again for the US Senate from Ohio and won in the 1860 election. For several years in Chase’s youth, he lived with his uncle, Bishop Philander Chase who was a key figure in the Episcopal Church in the US West, which at the time was Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. This time with this his uncle, left Chase with a strong religious conviction.
In the early day of the Civil War, a number of American citizens began writing to Chase, asking that the US government somehow acknowledge the nation’s belief and relationship with God.
On November 13, 1861, according to the records of the US Treasury Department, Rev. M. R. Walkinson, a minister from Ridleyville, Pennsylvania penned the first letter that Chase received about recognizing God on US currency. The letter read:
“Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.
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? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.
This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.”
On November 20, 1861, Chase reacted to Walkinson’s letter and sent this message to James Pollock, Director of the US Mint in Philadelphia:
“Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.
You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.”
However, Pollock’s hands were tied due to the 1837 law that made Congress responsible for what appeared on all US coins.
In December, 1863, Pollock submitted a design for a one-cent, two-cent and three-cent coin which included two possible mottoes to be used on the coins. One motto read ‘OUR COUNTRY, OUR GOD,’ and the second motto read ‘GOD, OUR TRUST.’ These designs were submitted to Chase.
On December 9, 1863, Chase replied saying:
“I approve your mottoes, only suggesting that on that with the Washington obverse the motto should begin with the word OUR, so as to read OUR GOD AND OUR COUNTRY. And on that with the shield, it should be changed so as to read: IN GOD WE TRUST.”
In 1864, After refining the design and mottos, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ first appeared on the two-cent coin.
On March 3, 1865, Congress passed a new law that allowed for the changes be made to the coins, using the new motto on all US gold and silver coins. It appeared on the gold double-eagle, gold eagle and gold half-eagle.
In 1866, the new motto ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ was placed on the silver dollar, half-dollar, quarter and the three-cent coin which was made of nickel.
On February 12, 1873, Congress passed another law authorizing the use of ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ on all coins as was appropriate.
By the late 1800s, the motto ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ had disappeared from a number of US coins.
On May 18, 1908, Congress acted to rectify the omission of the motto and passed a law mandating that it be place on all coins which had originally bore the motto, except for the one-cent and five-cent coins.
In 1909, the motto ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ was placed on the one-cent coin.
In 1916, the motto ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ was placed on the ten-cent coin.
On this day, July 30, 1956, just two years after signing legislation that added the phrase ‘Under God’ to the Pledge of Allegiance, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the bill, P.L. 84-140, into law mandating that the motto ‘IN GOD WE TRUST’ be added on all paper currency printed by the US Mint.
Historians argue about Eisenhower’s religious background. Some say he was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness and others say he was a Mennonite, but all agree that by the time he joined the army as a young man that he had pretty much abandoned what faith he had. However, it is recorded that in 1953, while serving as President of the United States, that Dwight David Eisenhower was baptized as a Presbyterian. His new found faith undoubtedly played an important role in his signing of the changes to the Pledge of Allegiance and adding the motto to all paper currency.
Sources for the above includes: President Eisenhower signs “In God We Trust” into Law; History of ‘In God We Trust’; In God We Trust; How ‘In God We Trust’ Got on the Currency in the First Place; Salmon P. Chase Biography