The Coinage Act of 1864 was passed one hundred and fifty years ago today. Among other provisions it granted to the Secretary of the Treasury a two cent coin. On this coin first appeared the motto In God We Trust. Salmon P. Chase, Secretary of the Treasury had been looking for an opportunity to place such a motto on coins since he received the following letter dated November 13, 1861 from the Rev. M. R. Watkinson:
Dear Sir: You are about to submit your annual report to the Congress respecting the affairs of the national finances.
One fact touching our currency has hitherto been seriously overlooked. I mean the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins.
You are probably a Christian. What if our Republic were not shattered beyond reconstruction? Would not the antiquaries of succeeding centuries rightly reason from our past that we were a heathen nation? What I propose is that instead of the goddess of liberty we shall have next inside the 13 stars a ring inscribed with the words PERPETUAL UNION; within the ring the allseeing eye, crowned with a halo; beneath this eye the American flag, bearing in its field stars equal to the number of the States united; in the folds of the bars the words GOD, LIBERTY, LAW.
This 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. From my hearth I have felt our national shame in disowning God as not the least of our present national disasters.
To you first I address a subject that must be agitated.
Chase wrote on November 20, 1861 to the Director of the Mint:
Dear Sir: 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.
You will cause a device to be prepared without unnecessary delay with a motto expressing in the fewest and tersest words possible this national recognition.
This could not be done without Congressional authorization as the 1837 Coinage Act set forth the inscriptions on coins. With the 1864 Coinage Act Chase had the authority to place In God We Trust on the new two cent coin.