E. Pluribus Unum or In God We Trust: The US Official Motto

Ask most Americans what phrases adorn their currency and “In God We Trust” and “E Pluribus Unum” should be the common responses. Chances are it’s the former rather than the latter that will be recalled first, and given that it’s also the nation’s official motto – as decreed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on July 30, 1956 – this result is not surprising.

Yet, “E Pluribus Unum” also occupies an important place in American history, enough so that the phrase has regularly been mistaken as the official motto. It was first used by the United States’ founding fathers in 1782 when it was incorporated into the Great Seal of the United States. This phrase, meaning, “out of many, one,” symbolized the independent colonies coming together to form a single nation. Fifty states and several territories later, the phrase continues to wield plenty of power.

“In God We Trust,” as the official motto, also symbolizes the strength of our nation in the face of adversity. It was the same in the 1950s when sentiment favoring adoption of this motto swelled, following a steady rise that began with the end of World War II, a conflict that caused many Americans to seek a higher power for guidance, solace and hope. A year earlier, in 1955, Congress approved the insertion of the words “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance and mandated use of “In God We Trust” on all U.S. paper money. Eisenhower then sealed the deal.

Still, many American officials get it wrong. During construction of the Capitol Visitors Center, a three-level, 580,000-square-foot space beneath the U.S. Capitol, a plaque was hung declaring “E Pluribus Unum” to be the official U.S. motto. The plaque has since been corrected.

President Obama, as well, incorrectly identified “E Pluribus Unum” as the national motto in a 2011 speech. Congress seized upon the mistake to pass a resolution confirming the designation of “In God We Trust” as the nation’s official motto, while encouraging the display of the words in all public schools and government buildings.

Both are important phrases in the consciousness and definition of the United States, but only one can be the nation’s official motto: “In God We Trust.”

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