It’s standard now, but for nearly 90 years the motto “In God We Trust” was nowhere to be found on US money.
It was only at the height the War Between the States, when the issue between North and South was far from settled, that Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary Salmon Chase went before Congress to request a law placing the motto on the newly authorized two-cent piece.
The law passed on April 22, 1864, and about 20 million of the now all-but-forgotten copper pieces were struck that year.
It’s not entirely clear why the two-cent piece – which was only minted through 1873 – even came into existence.
It’s likely that part of the reason had to do with the fact that as the war continued, production of gold and silver coinage by the US mint had virtually ceased, severely restricting circulating coinage.
In addition, hoarding had taken not only the gold and silver coins out of circulation, but copper coins, as well, according to numismatist Paul Green.
It’s possible the two-cent piece was seen as a way to help alleviate this problem.
However, the idea of a two-cent piece dates back several decades before the Civil War, according to David Bowers, former president of the American Numismatic Association.