Have you ever wondered how “In God We Trust” wound up on our money? You haven’t? Well, okay, but I’m going to share this bit of our national history anyway.
The motto “In God We Trust” has not always been stamped onto our coinage, and certainly not on our bills. Coins began to carry the motto during the Civil War. It was much later in our history that our paper money carried this same motto. In truth, the first paper money was issued by the Massachusetts Bay Colony on February 3, 1690. It was known as a “bill of credit” and was created with the express purpose of financially reimbursing soldiers for their military service during war. It was like an IOU which the bearer could spend or use just as if it was silver of gold. Coins came into existence even earlier by the rebellious minded folks in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. They minted silver coins in 1652, against the orders of the British throne.
In 1775, the colonial leaders of our soon fledgling nation attempted to insert paper money into our economy. Unfortunately, this effort ended in failure primarily because there was no significant backing for the money, such as silver or gold. Paper money did not show up again until the Civil War in the 1860s, but just as before, it did not have solid backing, and fluctuated based upon the fortunes of the war effort. Whichever side of the conflict seemed to have the advantage would also see a strengthening of its dollar value.
It was in 1862 that the U.S. Government first issued paper money. Because of the cost of the war effort, coinage was running low, so paper money was used as a promise to the holder that the government was good for it. These notes became significant because of the green ink used on one side of the bill, thus earning the nickname: Greenback.
During the Civil War there was enacted by Congress the National Banking Act in 1863 establishing a secure monetary system which is in use to this day. This will make you laugh! The first paper money was printed for the values of 1 cent, 5 cents, 25 cents and 50 cents! How times have changed!
So as you can see, our country has only had paper money in continuous use for about 145 years. And another irony in all of this is that paper money is not made from paper. Currency paper is composed of 25 percent linen and 75 percent cotton. Red and blue synthetic fibers of various lengths are distributed evenly throughout the paper. Before World War I these fibers were made of silk.
So when did our paper-money-that-isn’t-paper end up with “In God We Trust” printed on it? Congress passed the law for this addition to our currency in 1955 during President Dwight Eisenhower’s first term in office. It wasn’t actually printed until 1957, and then only on the $1.00 bill. It was not until 1963 that all currency carried the motto, “In God We Trust.”
The story behind this use of the motto is part of our national legacy. In the early 1950s, Matthew H. Rothert, a businessman in Camden, Arkansas who ran a furniture store, was sitting in church one morning probably pulling some bills out of his wallet for the offering when he happened to notice that the paper money did not carry the motto, “In God We Trust,” the way our coins do. He wondered why this was, but then decided to see what he could do about having this changed. Mr. Rothert was aware that U.S. currency was used all over the world. He surmised that with the spread of Communism, what better way than on an international scale, proclaim our nation’s belief in God, than to have it printed on our bills? At any one time, two-thirds of our nation’s money is circulating in foreign countries, including atheistic communist countries. In a letter to Mr. George C. Humphrey, then Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Rothert suggested that paper currency have the motto included. Mr. Humphrey’s reply was, “To put the motto on a bill would require an act of Congress.”
Not one to give up so easily, Mr. Rothert wrote letters to senators, representatives and newspapers. He asked, “Why shouldn’t paper money bear the same inscription as coins? Our paper money should carry a spiritual message to all nations.”
Senator J. William Fulbright, one of Mr. Rothert’s senators from Arkansas, introduced a bill before Congress to include the motto, “In God We Trust,” where it was approved and then signed into law by President Eisenhower on July 30, 1956.
God Bless America!