Wednesday, July 4, 2012

President Roosevelt Drops "In God We Trust"

1907 Proof Ultra High Relief double eagle graded Proof-69 by PCGS
Image courtesy of

One of 20 Ultra High Relief strikes of the 1907 $20 Gold coins just sold for over $2.7 million. Notably missing from this coin was the traditional "In God We Trust" motto. This was no accident as the NY Times reported: "ROOSEVELT DROPPED 'IN GOD WE TRUST'; President Says Such a Motto on Coin Is Irreverence, Close to Sacrilege. NO LAW COMMANDS ITS USE He Trusts Congress Will Not Direct Him to Replace the Exalted Phrase That Invited Constant Levity."

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 13. -- In answer to one of the numerous protests which have been received at the White House against the new gold coin which have been coined without the words "In God We Trust," President Roosevelt has written a letter, which he to-day made public." Here's the PDF

I knew of President Roosevelt's objections regarding sacrilege but I didn't know the phrase was so often used in jest. He wrote:

 "...In all my life I have never heard any human being speak reverently of this motto on the coins or show any sign of having appealed to any high emotion in him. But I have literally hundreds of times heard it used as an occasion of, and incitement to, the sneering ridicule which it is above all things undesirable that so beautiful and exalted a phrase should excite. For example, throughout the long contest, extending over several decades, on the free [silver] coinage question, the existence of this motto on the coins was a constant source of jest and ridicule; and this was unavoidable. Everyone must remember the innumerable cartoons and articles based on phrases like 'In God we trust for the other eight cents'; 'In God we trust for the short weight'; 'In god we trust for the thirty-seven cents we do not pay'; and so forth and so forth. Surely I am well within bounds when I say that a use of the phrase which invites constant levity of this type is most undesirable."

Mr. Roosevelt's trust that "Congress Will Not Direct Him to Replace the Exalted Phrase That Invited Constant Levity" was misplaced. "In 1908, Congress made it mandatory that the phrase be printed on all coins upon which it had previously appeared." This apparently exempted the nickel but that was changed in 1938 with the introduction of the Jefferson nickel. Despite President Roosevelt's concerns of levity, irreverence, and even sacrilege, our long-mandated motto of trust continues to be coined.

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