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US Mottoes lengthy legacy on coins
In God We Trust, E Pluribus Unum
By Cindy Brake

Mottoes and inscriptions – Liberty, In God We Trust, and E Pluribus Unum – appear on United States coin edges, obverses and reverses.

The original Mint Act (April 2, 1792) mandates "an impression emblematic of liberty with an inscription of the word Liberty and the year of coinage." These requirements would ultimately become Sec. 18 of the Coinage Act of 1873, Sec. 3517 of the revised statutes and later, in uncodified form, was known as 31 USC 342. It is today found in 31 USC 5221.

E Pluribus Unum

The Latin motto apparently was a familiar phrase to literate Americans of the 18th century and appeared in the Gentleman's Magazine, published monthly in London since 1731. The legend e pluribus unum was used on the title pages of the annual volumes that contained a collection of the year's 12 editions of the magazine, states the Web site www.gospelgrace.com/nwo_un/GreatSeal.htm.

Before being placed on federal coins, the motto was adopted for use in the seal of the United States of America. According to the Web site www.greatseal.com/mottoes/unum.html, the phrase e pluribus unum was suggested by the committee Congress appointed July 4, 1776, to design a seal for the United States of America. The center section of the committee's shield for the seal had six symbols for "the Countries from which these States have been peopled." The symbols were a rose to represent England, thistle for Scotland, harp for Ireland, fleur-de-lis for France, lion for Holland and an imperial two-headed eagle for Germany. Linked together around the shield are 13 smaller shields, each with the initials for one of the "thirteen independent States of America."

The phrase unum e pluribus appeared in 1787 on several New Jersey coppers and a gold doubloon or $16 gold piece coined by Ephraim Brasher, a prominent New York City gold and silversmith.

While the designs were not approved, the motto was selected by Charles Thomson six years later when he created the final Great Seal in 1782 and inscribed e pluribus unum on the scroll carried in the beak of the American bald eagle who carries the "power of peace" in his right talons.

According to George Henry Preble in History of the Flag of the United States of America, the motto first appeared on an unauthorized copper coin struck for New York at Newburg, N.Y., by a private mint in 1786.

The phrase unum e pluribus appeared in 1787 on several New Jersey coppers.

The motto also appears on a gold doubloon, or $16 gold piece, coined by Ephraim Brasher, a prominent New York City gold and silversmith. Brasher struck two different styles of gold coin: one in style of Spanish colonial gold coinage, or the Lima-style pieces, and a New York-style piece, which bears the Latin motto.

The reverse of the New York style gold doubloon displays the New York state seal of a sun rising over a mountain with the sea in the foreground surrounded with the legends nova eboraca, columbia and the state motto excelsior. Brasher also signed the coins by adding his last name brasher below the scene.

The obverse of the New York-style doubloon displays the U.S. eagle with shield and the motto unum e pluribus (the "Unum" appears on the left side of the coin, before the "E Pluribus," with the date at the bottom separating the traditional order of the words in the phrase) as well as the date 1787. After making the coins, Brasher counterstamped his eb initials on the reverse; six examples survive with the stamp on the wing and one survives with the stamp on the shield.

The motto "In God We Trust" was intentionally omitted from the new designs of the gold $20 double eagle (shown) and the gold $10 eagle (not shown) introduced in 1907 by Theodore Roosevelt and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Congress ordered the motto be placed on the 1908 coin after the public voiced disapproval.

In 2005, three Brasher doubloons brought a combined price of more than $6 million during Heritage's Platinum Night auction at the FUN convention. A 1786 Lima-style doubloon sold for $690,000; a Punch on Wing version of the 1787 New York-style doubloon sold for $2,415,000; and the unique 1787 Punch on Breast version realized $2,990,000.

The motto was first used on U.S. federal coinage issued under the Constitution on the 1795 Capped Bust, Heraldic Eagle gold $5 half eagle, which presents on its reverse the main features of the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. The phrase is inscribed on the scroll held in the beak of the eagle on the Great Seal of the United States.

The motto was added to certain silver coins in 1798, and soon appeared on all coins made of gold and silver.

In 1834, it was dropped from most gold denominations, to mark the change in the standard fineness of the coins. In 1831, it was dropped from the quarter dollar when the diameter of the coins was made a little smaller. In 1837, it was dropped from the silver dime and half dollar, concurrent with composition and design changes.

Congress' Act of Feb. 12, 1873, would return the inscription to all United States coins. Despite the act, U.S. Mint records reveal that officials did not consider the provisions of the law mandatory. The motto did not appear on all coins struck after 1873 and not until much later were the provisions of the act followed in their entirety.

The motto appears on all coins currently being manufactured.

In God We Trust

A Baptist preacher is credited as the inspiration that resulted in the motto in god we trust. According to the U.S. Treasury, "The motto in god we trust was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins. From Treasury Department records, it appears that the first such appeal came in a letter dated Nov. 13, 1861," written to Chase by the Rev. M.R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pa.

The inscription in god we trust first appeared on the bronze 2-cent coin, following passage of the Act of April 22, 1864. The act authorized the coin and gave the Mint director authority over what mottoes to use on the piece.


Watkinson's proposal was to replace the goddess of liberty with the inscription "Perpetual Union" inside a 13-star ring; within the ring the all-seeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words "God, Liberty, Law."

"This would make a beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object. This would relieve us from the ignominy of heathenism. This would place us openly under the Divine protection we have personally claimed. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters," Watkinson wrote.

Chase instructed James Pollock, director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto expressing in the "fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition."

Designs submitted December 1863 proposed either "Our Country Our God" or "God Our Trust" should appear as a motto on the coins. Chase approved the suggestions with minor changes that included "In God We Trust."

The Mint, however, lacked the authority to make coin design changes. That power rested with Congress under an act dated Jan. 18, 1837. According to Richard S. Patterson and Richardson Dougall in The Eagle and the Shield, a treasury historical summary "found that the Act of January 18, 1837, prescribed the mottoes and devices that should be placed upon the coins of the United States, so that nothing could be done without legislation."

Congress passed the Act of April 22, 1864, changing the composition of the 1-cent coin and authorizing the minting of the 2-cent coin. The 1864 Act also granted the Mint director greater authority over the devices and mottoes used on the 1-cent and 2-cent coins, with the approval of the secretary of the Treasury, and "it is upon the 2-cent bronze piece that the motto In God We Trust first appears," write Patterson and Dougall.

Another Act of Congress passed March 3, 1865, allowed the Mint director, with the Treasury secretary's approval, to place the motto "In God We Trust" on all gold, silver and "other" coins (use of the motto, however, was not mandatory). Under the authority granted by the act, the motto was placed on the gold $20 double eagle, the gold $10 eagle and the gold $5 half eagle starting in 1866. It was also placed on the silver dollar, half dollar and quarter dollar, and on the copper-nickel 3-cent coin, all also beginning in 1866.

e pluribus unum, found on the reverse on the ribbon dangling from the eagle's beak, was first used on U.S. federal coinage issued under the Constitution on the 1795 Capped Bust, Heraldic Eagle gold $5 half eagle. The motto was added to certain 1798 silver coins, and soon appeared on all coins made of gold and silver.

When Congress passed the Coinage Act of Feb. 12, 1873, it slightly modified the authority for the motto: The act said that the Treasury secretary "may cause the motto In God We Trust to be inscribed on such coins as shall admit of such motto."

The use of "In God We Trust" on U.S. coinage has been interrupted.

The motto disappeared from the copper-nickel 5-cent coin in 1883, and did not reappear on that denomination until production of the Jefferson 5-cent coin began in 1938.

Later, the motto was intentionally omitted from the new designs of the gold $20 double eagle and the gold $10 eagle introduced in 1907. The decision was made by President Theodore Roosevelt and sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

According to Ted Schwarz in A History of United States Coinage, Saint-Gaudens questioned the need to place the motto on the coins, writing to Roosevelt, "At one time the words In God We Trust were placed on the coins; I am not aware there was authorization for that, but I may be mistaken. Will you kindly inform me if what I suggest is permissible."

Schwarz writes that Roosevelt was "delighted with the idea of removing the religious inscription from coins. Although the original intent of the motto was to show respect for God, Roosevelt felt it did quite the opposite."

Robert R. Van Ryzin in Twisted Tails Sifted Fact, Fantasy and Fiction from U.S. Coin History, writes that Saint-Gaudens believed simplicity of design was essential, while Roosevelt considered the use of the motto on a coin as sacrilegious.

Saint-Gaudens's son, Homer, wrote in a 1920 article, according to Van Ryzin, that the "removal of the ‘In God We Trust' drew down the lightning of public disapproval."

In response to a general demand, though, Congress ordered the motto restored, in the Act of May 18, 1908; some 1908 eagles and double eagles were struck without the motto before the motto was required. The 1908 act made the motto mandatory on all denominations upon which it had previously appeared; thus the motto was not mandatory on the 1-cent coin and 5-cent coin but could be placed on them by the Treasury secretary or by the Mint director with the Treasury secretary's approval.

The motto has been in continuous use on the 1-cent coin since 1909 with the introduction of the Lincoln design, and on the 10-cent coin since 1916 with the introduction of the Winged Liberty Head type. It also has appeared on all gold coins and all dollar coins, half dollars, and quarter dollars struck since July 1, 1908.

Since 1938, all United States coins have borne the inscription.

U.S. paper money, however, lacked the motto.

Arkansas collector Matthew Rothert is credited with launching a movement in the mid-1950s to have the motto "In God We Trust" placed on U.S. paper money.

Rep. Charles E. Bennett of Florida, after looking into the matter, introduced a bill that was unanimously approved by the House. After Senate approval, the bill became law with the president's signature July 11, 1955. The motto was first used on paper money in 1957.

A law passed by the 84th Congress and approved by the president on July 30, 1956, declared "In God We Trust" the U.S. national motto.

Patterson and McDougall write, "It has been suggested that the United States Supreme Court cast doubt" on the motto's constitutionality when the court ruled in the 1960s that a brief nondenominational prayer in schools violated the Constitution.

In 1977 a lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court claiming the motto violated the First Amendment guarantees of free speech and free exercise of religion. The suit was dismissed in 1978, as were subsequent appeals. In 1979 the Supreme Court refused to hear the case.

More recently, some coins among the first year's Presidential dollar issues were missing edge inscriptions, including the motto in god we trust, earning them the title "Godless dollars" by some.

An amendment in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which became law in 2007, directs the U.S. Mint to move the motto in god we trust on the Presidential dollars from the edge to the coins' obverse or reverse.

The United States Mint plans to make these changes beginning with the 2009 Presidential $1 Coins. Mint mark and e pluribus unum will remain on the edge of the dollar coins.

The Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee favors moving the in god we trust inscription to the reverse of the Presidential dollar rather than the obverse.



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