Why is ‘In God we trust’ the motto of the USA, what is its origin and meaning?
The phrase is etched onto the currency and has its roots in the American civil war.
‘In God we trust’ is the official motto of the US, as well as Florida state. It was first made the official motto in 1956, replacing ‘Out of many, one’ which was never official but the de facto phrase. The change was made to affirm the difference between the atheist and communist Soviet Union, the great enemy of the US in that period of history.
Many states have laws affirming the neccesity to have the motto present in every classroom and a number of legislative acts have mandated its use on coins. According to a 2003 poll by USA Today, CNN, and Gallup, 90% of Americans support the inscription on coinage. That is not to say the motto is free of controversy. It’s overt Christian message s interpreted by some to be in violation of constitutional rights for free and open religious worship.
What is the history of the motto?
A similar phrase ‘In God is our Trust’, appears in the 1814 poem “Defence of Fort McHenry” by Francis Scott Key. The poem was written in reaction to the British invasion in 1812. Key wrote ‘And this be our motto--’In God is our Trust’ in the final stanza. The poem became the basis of the national anthem ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’
Fast forward to the American civil war and the Union Secretary of State, Salmon P. Chase was keen to have the Unionists depicted as favoured by God as God was mentioned by name in the constitution. Chase himself was an avowed Episcopalian, or Anglican, devotee.
In December 1863 it was decided that future coins would have the motto printed onto them but it took until 3 March, 1865 that Congress passed the bill, coincidentally the final bill Abraham Lincoln would sign before his assassination. Banknotes were not mandated to have this engraving until 1955.
Despite its religious tone the phrase is never found verbatim in the Bible.