Ask Augustine with Dr. Paul Tambrino
Ask Augustine is a weekly column where professor/author Dr. Paul Tambrino discusses various theological questions with wit, clarity and substance.
Question #38 – Are the Words “In God We Trust” in the Bible?
In God We Trust, the motto on all United States coins, is not in the Bible, but it may have been suggested indirectly by various biblical phrases.
According to Psalm 56:11, David sang, “In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid.” In Job 13:15, the patriarch said to the Almighty, “Though He slay me, I will trust Him.”
According to Matthew 27:43, the chief priests, scribes and elders, mocking Jesus on the cross, said, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’““The underlying thought of In God We Trust…was current long before the motto was first placed on United States coins.”
The underlying thought of In God We Trust, though not expressed in these exact words, was current long before the motto was first placed on United States coins.
Francis Scott Key’s The Star Spangled Banner, which was first printed in The Baltimore Patriot on September 20, 1814, under the title Defense of Fort McHenry, contains the couplet, “Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.’”
In a letter dated April 25, 1861, and addressed to Cassius Lee, Robert E. Lee acknowledged that mediation between the Northern and Southern States was impossible and declared that, “In God must be our trust.”“In 1864 Congress passed an act authorizing the coinage of the two-cent piece, and it was upon these bronze two-cent pieces that the motto In God We Trust first appeared.”
It was during that same year that the Reverend W. R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania, wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase suggesting that the Deity be recognized in some form on American coins.
Acting upon this suggestion, Secretary Chase instructed James Pollock, director of the United States Mint at Philadelphia, to have prepared without delay a device with a motto expressing such national recognition of the Deity.
Secretary Chase wrote, “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.”
Owing to legal difficulties, Pollock did not submit his designs until 1863. One of the mottoes suggested was God Our Trust.
At a cabinet meeting during that same year it was proposed to place In God We Trust on paper money as well as on coins.“Once a design for a coin is approved and accepted, it cannot be changed under the law within twenty-five years without an act of Congress.”
President Lincoln, however, observed dryly that if a legend was to be engraved on the greenbacks he would suggest that of Peter in Acts 3:6, “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I Thee.”
In 1864 Congress passed an act authorizing the coinage of the two-cent piece, and it was upon these bronze two-cent pieces that the motto In God We Trust first appeared.
Later Congress passed an act giving the proper officials authority to place the motto on all coins that would have space for the inscription.
During the second administration of Theodore Roosevelt, Augustus St. Gaudens, the sculptor, prepared some designs for new coins with a view to improving the coinage from an artistic standpoint.
When the double eagle and eagle of the new designs appeared in 1907, the motto In God We Trust was omitted.
President Roosevelt objected to the motto on the coins on the grounds that such use of the beautiful sentiment tended to cheapen it. A storm of criticism all over the country was the result.
Once a design for a coin is approved and accepted, it cannot be changed under the law within twenty-five years without an act of Congress.
Therefore an act of Congress was required to restore In God We Trust on the eagle and the double eagle.
This was done by a bill that passed Congress in 1908, providing that, “the motto In God We Trust heretofore inscribed on certain denominations of gold and silver coins of the United States of America, shall hereafter be inscribed upon all such gold and silver coins of said denominations as heretofore.”
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