Many people would agree that the paper currency of the United States is simplistic and complex at the same time. A visual contradiction that has evolved little since it was first printed as a national monetary standard sometime around 1865 following the Civil War. It was the first time in the history of the United States that a single currency was utilized and backed by a central organization, the U.S. Department of the Treasury. The Federal Reserve wouldn’t exist as the United States central bank until 1913 following the stock market crash in 1907. What is printed on the front and backs of most of our currency isn’t well-known, and knowing some of the history lends itself to knowing a little of what the founding fathers had intended for our country in 1776.
Great Seal of the United States*
There are two parts (obverse/reverse, like a coin) to the Great Seal of the United States, and it’s most prominently displayed on the back of a $1. Here is a representation of that seal.
This design is largely unchanged since 1885
On the obverse, the coat of arms seal is used much more prominently on various department seals, letterhead, and more commonly seen on Passports. The Eagle, as the national bird, symbolizes strength and the shield covers the body as protection. In the left foot, an olive branch, which is meant to show peace and prosperity. In the right foot, 13 arrows to symbolize the first colonies and their fight to protect their independence. The banner, with the words “E Pluribus Unum” is Latin for “Many of One”. According to Wikipedia, “The traditionally understood meaning of the phrase was that out of many states (or colonies) emerges a single nation. However, in recent years its meaning has come to suggest that out of many peoples, races, religions, languages, and ancestries has emerged a single people and nation—illustrating the concept of the melting pot.”
On the reverse, this has actually never been cut as a seal, but appears most prominently on the back of the current $1. The unfinished pyramid has 13 layers to symbolize the first 13 original states, and being unfinished so as to reflect a growing and expanding Democracy. The bottom layer has the Roman numerals of MDCCLXXVI (1776), which is the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. Above the unfinished pyramid, is the Eye of Providence watching over it. Many believe that this symbol was to represent the Mason religion. The first motto, on the top, “Anuit Coeptis” signifies that Providence has “approved of undertakings”. The second motto, on the bottom, “Novus Ordo Seclorum” is Latin for “a new order of the ages” signifying the Democracy being developed in the United States at the time.
While many believe that this phrase existed on all our currency from inception, it wasn’t actually included as the motto of the United States until the 1950’s. Various coins minted from 1837 to 1938 had sayings similar to “In God We Trust”, which was at the purview of the Mint Director (with Secretary approval) to add or remove the phrase at will. Since 1938 though, the phrase “In God We Trust” has been printed on all coinage minted in the
United States. All during this time, our paper currency had never had anything on it except variations of the Great Seal of the United States, at least, up until 1956.
On July 30, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed into law the following:
- “In God We Trust” is the national motto of the United States
- All U.S. currency and coins are to be printed with this motto
It wasn’t until 1964 to 1966 that the phrase appeared on Federal Reserve Notes.
As this can be a polarizing subject for a lot of people, you might be surprised to know that over 90% of Americans support he inscription on our currency. The fact that it seems like this is a hard subject to discuss is a symptom of mainstream media focusing on what can and does cause controversy. Mainstream media, a topic all by itself, is the cause for a lot of our problems and what we, as Americans, focus on.
I for one don’t mind the phrase being on our currency, nor do I mind it being prominently displayed on posters or in Federal buildings. It is the motto of the United States after all, which was an act of Congress in 1956, reaffirmed by the Senate in 2006, with an additional resolution passed by the House of Representatives in 2011; just in case you were having an issue with the phrase.
What these four words does not indicate is which God is being referred to. My personal opinion is that it is whichever God you believe in, which is the foundation of what this country was founded on; freedom to do what you want within the law and believe what you will. I respect others’ beliefs as others respect my beliefs. How can that ever be a problem?
*Great Seal of the United States – Wikipedia
**In God We Trust – Wikipedia