No Motto vs. Motto – Does God’s name belong on our coins?

The motto “In God We Trust” first appeared on our coinage during the Civil War. It was included on most every Liberty Head gold coin minted from 1867 to 1907. The new Saint-Gaudens design, however, lacked this important inscription.

Roosevelt, at whose behest this coin was designed, specifically asked for its exclusion. He knew the lifestyles of many of the men out West where these coins were most seen in circulation. He did not believe the Lord’s name should be used on coins that were spent in saloons, gambling halls and brothels. The President expressed this view in a letter to Reverend Roland C. Dryer dated November 11, 1907:

“My own feeling in the matter is due to my very firm conviction that to put such a motto [In God We Trust] 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. A beautiful and solemn sentence such as the one in question should be treated and uttered only with that fine reverence which necessarily implies a certain exaltation of spirit. Any use which tends to cheapen it, and above all, any use which tends to secure it being treated in a spirit of levity, is from every standpoint profoundly to be regretted.”

President Roosevelt’s wishes were followed – temporarily. None of the 1907 and half of the 1908 $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coins have the motto “In God We Trust”.

The United States Congress viewed the issue differently and wanted to boldly state that our nation believed in and trusted in God. It wanted those beliefs proclaimed on all our coins, especially our largest gold coins. Congress would soon win out.

During 1908, Congress prevailed and the Mint added “In God We Trust” to the design of the nearly one ounce $20 gold coins. From late 1908 until the $20 Saint-Gaudens’ end in 1933, all Saint-Gaudens double eagles were struck with the motto “In God We Trust.”

Consequently, the motto “In God We Trust” appears on every $20 Saint-Gaudens gold coin except those minted in 1907 and the beginning of 1908. This year and a half constitute just a small fraction of the twenty-seven-year period of coinage. Only 5.2 million of the “No Motto” coins were originally minted. In contrast, more than 65.8 million $20 gold coins were struck with the motto “In God We Trust.” Many of both types were confiscated and melted after the Executive Order outlawing private ownership of gold in 1933.





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