A Coin Toss
Written by Donald L Hughes 2015
Walking along a parking lot, it is not all that uncommon to come across a penny lying, oft’ times face-down, in the grime and dirt. I always stoop to pick it up, brush it clean with my thumb, and put it in my pocket. But for a brief moment, I close my eyes and say a quick prayer of thanksgiving, not for the good fortune of finding a penny to add to my net worth, but for the reminder to put my trust in God that day. That reminder comes from the motto written on it, “In God We Trust”, and indeed it is there just for that purpose.
Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from people all across the nation during the Civil War urging the U.S.to recognize the Deity on the coins. As a result, he instructed James Pollock, Director of the Mint at Philadelphia, to prepare a motto:
“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.”
“In God We Trust” first appeared on our coins in 1864, and on paper currency in 1957. In July of 1956, Dwight Eisenhower signed into law declaring this to be the national motto of the United States.
It is clear to this author, at least, that it was never meant to force a person to believe in God. That is up to the individual religious sects and clergy, and indeed many of them are finely apt to the task. It was meant for a much different purpose, to express that this nation, and its citizens, should be reminded where to put their trust. Especially during turbulent times. It is always abundantly clear that putting trust in another man, or men elected to represent other men to do what’s right is misplaced trust. We cannot rely on the character, or moral compass, of mortal men to do what is right on behalf of someone else. Invariably, men will look out for their own cause and agenda before that of the people, and the founding fathers of this nation worried a great deal about that. They formed a republic based on divine-given rights of individuals, but knew it was to be governed by mortal, imperfect men. So checks and balances were put into place. But alas, so few actually put their trust in God to carry the day. Mark Twain, in his usually poignant way, said it best, “ In God We Trust was a fine motto, simple, direct, gracefully phrased; it always sounds well – in God we trust. I don’t believe it would sound any better if it were true.”
We have such disrespect for not only what the coins say, but what the coins represent. Each time a coin, or other form of currency is used in a transaction, it is a promise that the people of the United States fully backs the value of that transaction. It strengthens us as a nation, and as a people. Once while living in Thailand, I saw a man arrested for stepping on a coin to stop it from rolling onto the street. Why? Because he stepped on the face of the King, and that nation won’t tolerate disrespect of the King! Theodore Roosevelt once thought about taking the motto off of our coins, not because it was a secular concern, but because he did not like the phrase, “In God We Trust” showing up in disrespectable places such as speak-easys and gambling parlors! He understood what that motto represented. May we learn to put our trust in God, and not in the government, someone else, or even ourselves. Next time you pick up a coin, remember that and say a quick prayer of thanksgiving for the reminder.
A Coin Toss