Just Above Sunset Archives
September 21, 2003 Mail
Chain letter - "If you haven't accepted Jesus as your personal savior and decided to follow Christ, well, sit down and shut up! And don't be offended."
We all get those emails that say "read this and pass it on." Usually it's something everyone should join, or if you send it along good luck will come your way. Sometimes it is the start of a grass roots movement. Here's one I got this week.
Well, I sent my friend a response:
Or one might think of T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, and his famous book about, among other things, the middle east and those fanatical Islam folks - The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. In it you will find this: "An opinion can be argued with; a conviction is best shot."
Footnote: The details of our motto and the Pledge...
The regular use of "In God We Trust" on US coins did not begin until 1908, "In God We Trust" was not made an official motto of the United States until 1956, and the motto did not appear on paper money until 1957.
In contrast to the Declaration of Independence, and quite deliberately, the Constitution of the United States contains not a single reference to a deity or to divine inspiration. This was, of course, due to the founding fathers who saw in Europe, and elsewhere, the problems that had been created by the adoption of official religions in nearly all Old World countries. Yet we frequently see the claim that the US was created and remains a Christian nation.
Around 1800, when church affiliation was perhaps 10% (some authorities say up to 17-20%) of the population, the motto on our coins, then the major medium of exchange, was often just "LIBERTY."
In 1776, Congress appointed John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson to design a Great Seal for the new country. The motto they adopted for the Great Seal was E Pluribus Unum, meaning, "from many, one" or "one unity composed of many parts."
Although the design was rejected, the motto was adopted by the designers of the Great Seal and approved by Congress in 1782. The motto was first used on coins of the United States mint in 1795, and both legends, that is, LIBERTY and E Pluribus Unum, were used somewhat regularly on coins throughout the nineteenth century.
By 1860 the proportion of church-related persons in the United States had slowly doubled or tripled to about 40% of the population, and during and following the Civil War, there was a spike in religious fever in America that built on a general feeling, fed by the clergy, that "the Civil War was God's punishment for omitting His name from the Constitution."
In 1863, eleven Protestant denominations banded together to petition the Congress to correct the oversight by the founders and "reform" the Constitution to indicate that the United States was created as and remained a Christian nation. Thus, the so-called National Reform Association submitted the following additions to the preamble:
The "Christian amendment" never gained the approval of the Congress or of any of the states. When introduced again in 1874 it never got out of committee.
In the early 1860s, the NRA (not the gun people) had as members many prominent men including a Supreme Court Justice, William Strong, and two ex-governors of Pennsylvania, J.W. Geary and James Pollock.
The stated and well-known goal of the NRA was the creation of a Christian theocracy in the United States. Although they were unsuccessful in their primary goal of amending the preamble, the organization lasted through the first half of the twentieth century and apparently still had registered lobbyists in the late 1950s.
President Lincoln had in 1861 appointed the NRA member James Pollock as Director of the Mint. In November 1861, a Rev. Mark Richard Watkinson, pastor of a Baptist church in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, wrote a letter to Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase pointing out that the lack of "recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins" was a serious oversight by those responsible for the nation's coinage. The pastor recommended that the Goddess of Liberty be replaced by a specified arrangement of 13 stars, the words "perpetual union," the all-seeing eye crowned with a halo, and a flag with the words "God, liberty, law" written within the folds of the bars. "This," said Watkinson, "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...."
Obviously moved by the letter, Secretary Chase wrote a letter to his Director of the Mint, James Pollock:
Pollock in 1863 submitted several designs to Chase that incorporated variations of the mottos "Our Trust is in God" and "God and Our Country."
Shortly after the designs were submitted in December 1863, Secretary Chase notified Pollock that the mottos were approved but suggested that they should be modified to place "Our God and Our Country" on one coin and "In God We Trust" on another. In 1864 Congress agreed to this proposal by passing a law that contained the words, "...and the shape, mottoes, and devices of said coins shall be fixed by the director of the mint, with the approval of the Secretary of the Treasury."
The nation now officially recognized God as its protector through the agency of the United States mint.
The coinage act of 1864 did not specify the wording to be placed on the coins, and this fact opened the door to further problems as the act provided that the Secretary of the Treasury, acting on the advice of the Director of the Mint, could change the wording at any time.
So nothing much happened for decades. The words appeared on the coins. But the policy of using the words wasn't actually law - it was only policy. Then Teddy Roosevelt came up with some new ideas.
President Theodore Roosevelt, whose term of office started in 1901, was a staunch admirer of the sculptor Saint-Gaudens, and he persuaded Treasury Secretary Shaw to commission Saint-Gaudens to provide new designs for the nations' coinage. Saint-Gaudens, however, disapproved of the use of "In God We Trust" on coins for aesthetic reasons, and it turned out that Theodore Roosevelt also disapproved of the motto "In God We Trust" on coins, but for religious reasons, not aesthetic ones. Roosevelt thought that having the "In God We Trust" motto on common coins that were abused in all sorts of manners was close to sacrilege.
When these views attacking the use of the inscription "In God We Trust" were made public, there was a huge public outcry, and the White House and members of Congress were deluged with protests and petitions from the religious sectors demanding the restoration of "In God We Trust" to the coinage. Oops.
Roosevelt notified the House and Senate leadership that he would "not veto" a bill specifying that "In God We Trust" be inscribed on all coins if it passed both houses. He may have thought the idea was stupid, but he wasn't stupid.
A bill was indeed passed by the House in March and by the Senate in May of 1908; the bill became Public Law No. 120 when signed by Roosevelt on May 18, 1908. The law said in part, "Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, that the motto 'In God We Trust,' heretofore inscribed on certain denominations of gold and silver coins of the United States of America, shall hereafter be inscribed on all such gold and silver coins of said denominations as heretofore."
The extension of the use of the "In God We Trust" motto to paper money came about as paper currency more and more assumed the status of the principal medium of exchange in the country.
As the country had experienced over forty years of exposure to the motto on our coins without serious protest, in the late 1940s some religionists thought it was about time that the motto was placed on our paper currency - to thank the Lord for preserving us through the terrible war that had just ended [ignoring the fact that the German army had the motto "Gott mit Uns" (God with us) inscribed on their belt buckles].
In 1953, Matthew R. Rothert of Arkansas, president of the Arkansas Numismatic Society, presented the idea of putting "In God We Trust" on all paper money to a meeting of his group. The favorable reaction by his audience prompted him to send a written proposal for such a change to Treasury Secretary Humphrey, but he also sent copies of the correspondence to Commerce Secretary Weeks and to President Eisenhower.
This single letter prompted the Eisenhower administration in June 1955 to recommend to Congress a bill (H.R. 619) that would "[provide] for the inscription of 'In God We Trust' on all United States currency and coins." Introduced into the House, a representative from Florida characterized the object of the bill as, "...in these days when imperialistic and materialistic communism seeks to attack and destroy freedom,..." a way to "...strengthen the foundations of our freedom. At the base of our freedom is our faith in God and the desire of Americans to live by His will and His guidance. As long as this country trusts in God, it will prevail. To serve as a constant reminder of this truth, it is highly desirable that our currency and coins should bear these inspiring words '"In God We Trust.'"
Introduced in the middle of all those Cold War issues of the 1950s, this bill was quickly approved by the House and shortly thereafter by the Senate with pretty much no debate. The words "In God We Trust" have appeared on all United States currency issued after October 1, 1957.
Given how fast thus happened, Congressional forces, still energized by McCarthyism and anti-Communism thought it the opportune time to make the "In God We Trust" motto the "national motto." Introduced on March 22, 1956, H.R. Res. 396 was quickly approved and signed into law on July 30, 1956 (36 U.S.C. Section 186).
And concerning the Pledge of Allegiance -
This pledge was issued by the executive committee at the dedication of the World's Fair Grounds in Chicago on October 21, 1892; subsequent research suggested that it was written by the Committee chairman, Francis Bellamy (United States Flag Association, 1939).
Originally consisting of 22 words, the word "to" was added immediately after the first celebration. The pledge was first revised at the First National Flag Conference in 1923 when the words "the Flag of the United States" were substituted for "my Flag," and the words "of America" were added to that phrase at the Second National Flag Conference in 1924.
Just an oddity - the United States is the only country in the world that pledges allegiance to a flag.
The pledge of allegiance did not, however, become the official Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag until Public Law 79-287 was signed on December 28, 1941 by President F.D. Roosevelt to prepare it for service in the war effort.
Nevertheless, the Pledge of Allegiance remained thoroughly secular, as demanded by the Constitution, for 62 years.
Then, in the early 1950s, as with the national motto, a group of religionists used the concerns of the cold war against "Godless" communism to remedy the lack of foresight of the writer of the pledge in omitting any reference to Christianity or, the next best thing, to God. But this time it was a Roman Catholic organization that got the ball rolling when the Knights of Columbus began its campaign.
The Knights of Columbus had apparently in 1951 instituted their own version of the Pledge of Allegiance for use at their meetings that contained the words "under God." Seeing that the time was right, they enlisted the cooperation of the American Legion in lobbying the Executive branch and the Congress to add "under God" to the pledge. President Eisenhower expressed support for the measure, and it was passed on Flag Day, June 14, 1954.
Source for much of this -
Ralph C. Reynolds - president of the Rochester Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Preserving the Wall, Vol. 3, No. 3, the newsletter of the Rochester Chapter.
I lived in Rochester, New York for most of the seventies.