The motto “In God We Trust” was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during and after the Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize the Deity on United States coins. To quote in part one such letter on the US Treasury web site:
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.
As I read this, it struck me that in many ways, religion in the United States is our version of a monarchy. By which I mean this: a constitutional monarchy is a form of government where the real power is held by the parliament, but the royal family remains as a symbol of the nation.
While politically defunct, monarchies have shown to have particular positive influence in trying times. I’m thinking specifically of the Nazi bombing of London during World War II, Hirohito during the surrender and reconstruction of Japan, and the calming presence of the Thai king in the recent coup.
What of countries without a monarchy? America, without a King during the Civil War, may have had an increased reliance on religion. A republic may find trying times easier to cope with if they have something to replace a monarch, whether it be ethnic bonds or religious strength. That may be one reason for America’s increased religiosity that exists even today. And I think we can see this in other developed nations without a royal family: Korea emphasizes its ethnic heritage perhaps more than any developed nation, while France focuses incessantly on its cultural heritage.