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The National Motto Celebrates 50 Years

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The National Motto Celebrates 50 Years

By Congressman Joe Pitts

Anyone who has toured the United States Capitol Building knows the history lesson it provides in the heritage of our great nation.

From the paintings of a pilgrim prayer service hung in the Capitol's grand Rotunda to the dozens of statues honoring great leaders from all 50 states, this landmark of freedom and democracy abounds with reminders of our history.

While I'm surrounded by this history whenever I'm on Capitol Hill, I'm most struck each time I walk onto the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives. It is there on the wall directly above the Speaker's rostrum that our national motto is emblazoned for all to see in bold brass letters: In God We Trust.

That simple phrase, acknowledging the ultimate source of our liberty and protection, is familiar to most Americans. We see it on the money we spend every day, but few know the history behind the phrase.

It was in 1956 that the phrase "In God We Trust" was enacted into law as our nation's official motto. But the religious heritage it reflects has been woven throughout the pages of American history from our earliest days.

In 1606, King James I acknowledged the role of providence in undertaking the start of a new colony in America. Stating the highest purpose for the establishment of a new settlement, the colonial charter of Virginia was dedicated to "the Furtherance of so noble a Work, which may, by the Providence of Almighty God, hereafter tend to the Glory of his Divine Majesty."

Fourteen years later, the Pilgrims wrote and signed The Mayflower Compact, establishing, "for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith," a "civil body politick" in the new world.

The Founding Fathers declared American independence from Great Britain by firmly planting their trust in God, culminating the Declaration of Independence with the phrase, "And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."

While such examples of our religious heritage reach back to our very earliest days, it wasn't until 1861 that the process started that would result in the phrase "In God We Trust" being adopted as our national motto.

It was in November of that year that Reverend M.R. Watkinson of Ridleyville, Pennsylvania wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, suggesting that a nation whose heritage was so plainly influenced by a belief in God ought to acknowledge that fact on its currency.

Agreeing with Reverend Watkinson, Secretary Chase directed officials at the Philadelphia mint to prepare a motto suitable for inclusion on our currency, saying, "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."

Eventually, Treasury officials arrived at "In God We Trust" as the phrase best suited for minting, and an 1864 act of Congress authorized the phrase to appear on the U.S. two-cent coin for the first time.

Over the next few years, additional acts of Congress authorized the appearance of the phrase on various other U.S. currencies. In God We Trust had become our unofficial motto.

On July 30, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower finally made it official. That's when he approved a joint resolution of the 84th Congress ordering that the phrase be enshrined as our national motto.

This summer will mark the 50th anniversary of the official recognition of the phrase's national significance. As we recognize this important milestone for our national motto, it is worthwhile to reflect on the heritage behind it as well.

It was Thomas Jefferson who said, "God, who gave us life, gave us liberty." Our national motto reflects America's belief in this simple truth.

It has guided us well since our earliest days. May it continue to do so for many years to come.

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