Anniversary Post: In God We Trust

In God We TrustOn this day 152 years ago, Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1864. This was when Congress decided it was really, really important to print “In God We Trust” on our money. And why was it so important? Well, for three-quarters of a century, the Christian fanatics had been complaining about God not being mentioned in the Constitution. And so every time something bad happened, they started screaming about how the United States had offended God. It was just like today only not nearly as bad.

In 1864, the Civil War was going on. And that had nothing to do with slavery and economics and all that. No, it was just that God was unhappy. So to pacify the crybabies, Congress passed the law and put “God” on our coins. Because, you know, there is nothing that says “Jesus!” like money.

Then, in the midst of the Cold War, in 1956, “In God We Trust” replaced E pluribus unum as our national motto. Today, of course, conservatives would be outraged that America was pandering to people in Latin America and Spain. But then it was all about the Soviet Union being filled with Godless communists where as we were a “nation of believers.” So we got rid of the truly profound notion of “Out of many, one.” And we replaced it with, “Hope for the best!”

So we mark the anniversary of one of Congress’ more minor betrayals of the founding principles of this country.

19 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: In God We Trust

  1. I believe it had a little to do also with the Civil War being hugely financed through deficit spending. So putting “God” on the greenbacks hopefully would make them seem more worthwhile. Not sure about this . . .

      • I did a minor bit of research without reading all of Salmon Chase’s diaries/letters and while I did find the original name of the Act that overturned the 1837 law restricting what could be on coinage, it is apparent from the US Treasury that only coins were the ones to have the motto from 1864 until 1957 when it first showed up on our money. God and Mammon now were hanging out together.

        Since US notes were being printed at the time, it seems likely that they were not intended to have the motto on them even though that is a really good guess based on the reported lack of trust that paper money had.

        Salmon Chase’s personal correspondence if you ever really need to be bored one day.

        • Nice finds! Although because you didn’t read all the diaries/letters you are ever after to be branded as Lazy.

          • I am too lazy!

            I barely have finished my homework for today and I keep not wanting to do the Memorandum of Points and Authority because the professor doesn’t like me and I don’t like him.

        • Thank you!

          I did know that the phrase was not put on cash until the 1950s. I’m not sure why that was. But I’ve never known nearly as much about paper money as coinage. When I was a kid, it fascinated me because we used to get a lot of old coins as the 7-11.

          • I have a couple of books I had read about the creation of greenbacks, the Secret Service and income taxes.

            All of this stuff is somewhat interconnected. But to this day, I still don’t understand Knox v Lee which says that we can have paper money. Granted it was judicial gobbledygook to cover up the fact that paper and digital money are technically unconstitutional.

    • Thank you! Actually, since I pretty much stopped doing people, this has turned into one of my favorite posts to do. There’s always lots of fodder for rants. Tomorrow’s is on the Library of Congress — and I barely talk the place.

  2. I like Fred Clark’s line: “In 1953, Congress passed a law establishing the National Day of Prayer as an annual observance of religion. Quick, think of another sentence containing the words ‘Congress,’ ‘law,’ ‘establish,’ and ‘religion.” This works for any of the numerous “civil religion” tokens created in the 50’s. They’re not directly harmful, I don’t think, but they’re still illegal and they normalize the idea of a “Christian nation” so that more overtly discriminatory laws find fertile ground.

    • I remember when Congress passed the law adding god to the pledge of allegiance, and my public school made the change immediately, they wouldn’t even wait for the effective date for the change, another anniversary, Flag Day. Jurgan, I don’t know whether you will consider this harmful or beneficial, but this change is the first event that led me to becoming disillusioned with government. After the change, I stopped saying the pledge.

      • Well, I don’t agree with that, either. I’m not sure I like the Pledge’s existence, especially as a mandatory ritual for children (technically, kids are allowed to opt out, but they still hear it every morning). There’s a bit of brainwashing going on. I remember one online conversation where people were discussing the Pledge, and someone from another country was shocked it was a real thing- they said they’d seen it in The Simpsons and just assumed it was a parody.

        • It is disturbing — especially for a country that claims to be so based on individual freedom. Although Mark clearly made that decision as a child, which makes him a whole lot more aware than I was at that age!

    • The 1950s were a bad time for this kind of nonsense. It was due to two things: (1) Eisenhower being something of a religious nut; and (2) us trying to be as much the un-USSR as possible. And I think those two things were in many ways the same. By the 1980s, the problems with the USSR were apparent enough. But I think in the 1950s, people really were uncertain if the communist system might not be more successful at the macro-level. In much of the rhetoric of the time, you hear a kind of compensating. Why was it so necessary to be religious just because the USSR was atheistic? It shows a shocking lack of confidence in the one thing that we supposedly had over the Soviets: freedom. In the name of fighting them, we did lots of things to stifle freedom. And as you indicate, it’s these stupid things like putting “under God” into the Pledge that gives power to “religious freedom” to discriminate today.

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