Sunday, February 17, 2008

TR and "In God We Trust"

I was recently checking trivia facts off a Teddy Roosevelt site (a bad one so I'm not sharing the link) for one of my classes. One of the random facts was that the TR was against the use of "In God We Trust" on coins. I found this interesting because of all the hype in recent years about this motto and so did some research. I found a New York Times article from 1907 that reports on this issue. TR was against the use of the motto on coins because he felt was sacrilegious and cheapened the motto.


June said...

I had always heard that the motto wasn't put on coins until later, during the communism scare of the late 40s and early 50s so never gave TR any thought at all about it one way or the other. I enjoyed getting to read the NYT article-such a quaint writing style- and have to say that I think TR's position was the right one. It shouldn't have been put on... because of his reasoning more so than because of the current argument. That said, now that it's on, I think it has to stay on.

Scott said...

The motto "IN GOD WE TRUST" did not appear on US coinage until 1865. It was prompted by a letter by Rev. M.R. Watkinson from Ridleyville, PA to Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase suggesting the mention on coins. The motto was not mandated on coins in general. Individual laws that govern coinage designs specified its use. For example, the motto does not appear on the Indian Head Cent or the Buffalo Nickel.

President Theodore Roosevelt, who was a religious man, took it upon himself to order redesign of US coins. He thought the designs were hideous and beneath the dignity of a great nation. As part of his effort, he commissioned renown sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design great coins. Saint-Gaudens designed the $20 gold Double Eagle, considered the most beautiful design ever for circulating coinage.

Saint-Gaudens did not add the motto to the coins out of deference to Roosevelt's preference. When the coin was introduced in 1907, rather than admiring the design, many people were up in arms over the missing motto. Roosevelt was not happy. To try to deflect the commentary, Roosevelt wrote a letter to the congress that read in part:

"My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto on coins, or to use it in any kindred manner, not only does no good but does positive harm, and is in effect irreverence, which comes dangerously close to sacrilege... it seems to me eminently unwise to cheapen such a motto by use on coins, just as it would be to cheapen it by use on postage stamps, or in advertisements."

After much pressure and the threat by congress to thwart Roosevelt's pet project, he capitulated and the motto was added to the reverse of the coin around the rising sun. However, the inclusion of the motto was not the law.

It wasn't until 1956 when congress passed a joint resolution proclaiming "IN GOD WE TRUST" as the national motto. Now that the motto was the law, the requirements of the coinage law states that coins would have to include all national mottoes. The coinage in 1956 already included the motto and all new design since has included the motto.

The motto was not included on paper currency. As the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) was updating its intaglio printing process, the design of the $1 silver certificates were also updated. In 1957, the original run of Series 1957 silver certificates did not include the motto. When the new intaglio printing system came on line, the motto was included. Currency collectors like to collect both version of the 1957 silver certificates. Subsequently, the motto appeared on the silver certificates of the 1957-A and 1957-B series.

As the currency evolved, it took BEP 10 years to convert the printing plates to include the motto on all notes. This was made a necessity in 1964 when the US went off the silver standard. At that time, the BEP stopped printing silver certificates and converted the process to Federal Reserve Notes, which is what we use today. The last note to add the motto was the $100 Federal Reserve Note in 1966.

Personally, I agree with Teddy Roosevelt's assessment mentioned above. Roosevelt was an intelligent and insightful person who had more integrity than any president since.

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