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Patriotic trivia for the Fourth of July. July 4, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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It’s me, Richard Saunders of “Poor Richard’s Almanac” fame, here today to remind you that two of the things we take for granted are comparatively recent additions to our national identity. In fact, we owe them both to the Civil War.

You might think that the Pledge of Allegiance is as old as the Declaration of Independence, but in fact, it was written by a socialist Baptist preacher, Francis Bellamy, in 1892. When our nation was founded, a long struggle between States’ Rights—the notion that every state was sovereign, and central government should be minimalized, espoused by Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, and many other Founding Fathers—and a strong central government, promoted by George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and others, split our nation into two political parties, the Federalists (those in favor of strong central government) and the Republicans (those in favor of sovereign states and weak central government).

It’s obvious to us that the strong central government option won, but it wasn’t obvious to U.S. citizens before the Civil War. In fact, States’ Rights played prominently in the mobilization of citizens against the Crown and the lighting of the fuse that sparked the Revolution. It also was the justification behind the Confederacy’s breaking away from the North.

With our five-minute attention spans, we don’t realize what a long-lasting impact the Civil War had on Americans. Though the war itself ended in 1865, a nation ripped apart and crudely patched back together was still reeling and healing when Reverend Bellamy wrote “one nation, under God, indivisible” almost 30 years later. To this day, we reinforce this vow of unity every time we recite the Pledge.

The other aftereffect of the Civil War was the shift of our national motto from “E Pluribus Unum” to “In God We Trust.” This is rather ironic, given that “E Pluribus Unum” means “from many, one,” reinforcing the idea of a United States emerging from diverse colonies, and then states. It was also the chosen motto of the Founding Fathers, who set the shape for and values of our nation.

But in the aftermath of the Civil War, with so many dead and injured on both sides, so many ripped from their homes and families, the nation turned to God for comfort and consolation. The first coins to display “In God We Trust” appeared in 1864, prompted by another preacher, the Reverend M.R. Watkinson. It took almost a hundred years to appear on our currency (paper money), in 1957. President Dwight Eisenhower made it our country’s official motto in 1956, when we were still recovering from the aftermath of World War II, and still looking to God to save us from a nuclear apocalypse.

What would the Founders make of the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God We Trust” as our national motto? God only knows. But I wish I could go back and ask them.

Warmly,

Richard Saunders

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