On this day in 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs a law making “In God We Trust” the national motto. His action came just two years after signing a law adding “Under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance.
“[W]e are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America’s heritage and future,” Eisenhower explained in 1954, “in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country’s most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”
An interesting statement from the man who’d led Allied forces in Europe during World War II. But he would make an even stronger statement a year later.
“Without God,” Eisenhower observed, “there could be no American form of Government, nor an American way of life. Recognition of the Supreme Being is the first—the most basic—expression of Americanism. Thus the Founding Fathers saw it, and thus, with God’s help, it will continue to be.”
Eisenhower wasn’t the first General turned President to feel that God was taking care of our nation. President George Washington felt that America owed its very existence to a divine hand. In his first Inaugural Address, Washington stated: “No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
In this country, of course, no one is forced into any particular religion. We are free to be religious—or we are free *not* to be religious. However, an honest assessment of our history shows that much of our founding was steeped in religious roots. And our national motto reflects that fact.
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks Recorded for the "Back-to-God" Program of the American Legion (Feb. 20, 1955)
Dwight D. Eisenhower, Statement by the President Upon Signing Bill To Include the Words "Under God" in the Pledge to the Flag (June 14, 1954)
George W. Bush, 50th Anniversary of Our National Motto, "In God We Trust," 2006 (July 27, 2006)
George Washington, First Inaugural Address (Apr. 30, 1789)
Tara Ross & Joseph C. Smith, Jr., Under God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State (2007)