On 11 July 1955, President Eisenhower signed into law a bill that required that the inscription In God We Trust to appear on all paper and coin currency. Representative Charles E. Bennett of Florida introduced the resolution in the House where it swiftly found backing from the Committee on Banking and Currency and support from like-minded Members.
“Nothing can be more certain than that our country was founded in a spiritual atmosphere and with a firm trust in God,” Bennett proclaimed on the House Floor. “While the sentiment of trust in God is universal and timeless, these particular four words ‘In God We Trust’ are indigenous to our country.” Adding “In God We Trust” to currency, Bennett believed, would “serve as a constant reminder” that the nation’s political and economic fortunes were tied to its spiritual faith.
Political rhetoric linking the United States with a divine power, however, emerged on a large scale close to a century earlier, with the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. M.R. Watkinson, a Pennsylvania clergyman, encouraged the placement of “In God We Trust” on coins at the war’s outset in order to help the North’s cause. Such language, Watkinson wrote, would “place us openly under the divine protection.”
During the Cold War, the U.S. government had tried to distinguish itself from the Soviet Union, which promoted state-sponsored atheism. The 84th Congress of 1956 passed a joint resolution “declaring IN GOD WE TRUST the national motto of the United States.” The first dollar bills bearing the inscription entered circulation in 1957.
Shortly after, “In God We Trust” became the official national motto by an act of Congress.
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