By Tyson Thorne

Nov 28, 2013

InGodWeTrust large

It had been a cold winter on the north-east coast of the United States in 1861, colder still were the hearts of many in the south. As Abraham Lincoln rose to power, so the 11 states announced their succession from the USA. Only a few weeks later they would announce their Confederate Constitution and a provisional president, Jefferson Davis. War was eminent.

By the time Lincoln was sworn into office in March of that year, the Confederate Union had already established its own government and taken over federal forts in their territories. Certainly the war had begun on land, and soon it would take to the sea as the US began expanding its naval fleet. By the end of the year the board was set for a drama that would take five years to play out.  

While every American, northerner or southerner, was concerned about the lives and status of their family during the conflict, at least one man concerned himself about the reputation of our nation and its God. A couple weeks before Thanksgiving that same year, Rev. M R Watkinson wrote Treasure Secretary Salmon P Chase about his concerns.

With the Civil War fully in view and underway, the good reverend had the courage to state, “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?” Rev. Watkins then proposed the minting of an exquisite coin that would include the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW. By not having God mentioned on the coin of the realm he believed we were distancing ourselves from God, rather than building a crucial connection to him. Later in the same letter he writes, “From my heart I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters” (emphasis mine). To Watkinson, acknowledging our belief and faith in God was of greater importance than Civil War itself.

We should not be mistaken and believe that the reverend was the only man of faith to notice our nations lack of public declaration of God. The Secretary of the Treasury wrote back, “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.” Mr. Chase then went before Congress submitting the notion that our coins should bear the words GOD, OUR TRUST.

The Congressional Wheels of Progress rolled slowly even then, and it would take three years before being legislated, but by the Act of April 22, 1864 it was mandated that the newly designed one cent and newly minted two cent coins ought to bear the motto IN GOD WE TRUST. These words would appear on coins – but not all coins – off and on for 92 years.

In the summer of 1956 the 84th Congress and the President approved a Joint Resolution declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States. Since then our national acknowledgement of God has appeared on every coin and every printed bill. And none of it would have happened if not for the courage of one minister in Ridleyville, Pennsylvania.

Today we should see these words and be reminded that it isn’t wealth in which we trust, or political leaders, or military might but in God and God alone.

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