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The Complex History of 'In God We Trust'

February 21, 2018 in Blogs

By David Mislin, The Conversation

The motto doesn't reflect universally shared historical values.


In his address to the National Prayer Breakfast on the morning of Feb. 8, President Donald Trump emphasized the centrality of faith in American life. After describing the country as a “nation of believers,” Trump reminded his audience that American currency features the phrase “In God We Trust” as does the Pledge of Allegiance. He also declared that “our rights are not given to us by man” but “come from our Creator.”

These remarks come a week after Trump linked religion with American identity in his first State of the Union address. On Jan. 30, he similarly invoked “In God We Trust” while proclaiming an “American way” in which “faith and family, not government and bureaucracy, are the center of the American life.”

But the history of such language is more complex than Trump’s assertions suggest.

The place of “In God We Trust,” and similar invocations of God in national life, have been a subject of debate. From my perspective as a religious history scholar, they reflect a particular view of the United States, not a universally accepted “American way.”

The Civil War

Political rhetoric linking the United States with a divine power emerged on a large scale 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.”

Putting the phrase on coins was just the beginning.

In 1864, with the Civil War still raging, a group supported by the North’s major Protestant denominations began advocating change to the preamble of the Constitution. The proposed language – which anticipated President Trump’s remarks about the origin of Americans’ rights – would have declared that Americans recognized “Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government.”

If the amendment’s supporters had succeeded in having their way, Christian belief would be deeply embedded in the United States government.

But, such invocations of God in national …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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