(Pelham, Alabama) — In November 2019 Whitman Publishing will release In God We Trust: The American Civil War, Money, Banking, and Religion. The 352-page hardcover volume will be available from booksellers and hobby shops nationwide, and online (including at www.Whitman.com). Here, author William Bierly discusses his motivation in writing the book.
My book In God We Trust is an effort to address different issues of the American Civil War than most histories do. Most deal with its military aspects, covering the battles and the generals. Others explore the politics of the war. In God We Trust endeavors to illuminate two other angles.
One is the conflict’s religious, spiritual side, in which the Confederacy and the Union contested in an ideological struggle for what they viewed as “God’s favor.” Which side was the more Christian, the more righteous, the holier one, and how could they demonstrate their greater holiness? Indeed, Abraham Lincoln discussed this in his second inaugural address. This struggle took various forms but included the Confederacy placing a religious reference in its new constitution, thus creating a contrast to the federal constitution, which was viewed as being “Godless.” The reactions to this in the North had various manifestations, one of which was the ultimate adoption of the motto “In God We Trust” on federal coinage.
The second aspect is the financial and monetary side of the war. This includes the larger picture of how the war was financed through taxes, tariffs, and the issuance of bonds and “greenbacks,” but also the issues of how ordinary people coped with everyday purchases during the coin shortages that developed during the war.
As the story unfolds, the spiritual and monetary issues come together with the motto “In God We Trust” on the coinage.
I recall a quote from the prolific numismatic writer Q. David Bowers, stating that “mainstream” history and coin collecting seldom intersect. From the collecting side the focus is on the coins themselves, often neglecting the historical context from which they emerged or which they in turn influenced. From the history side, coins are largely ignored, regarded as insignificant parts of the bigger story.
Bowers has cited his conversation with a noted history professor, an expert on the Civil War, who was completely unaware of Civil War tokens, issued during the war as a means to alleviate coin shortages and now a popular collectible among numismatists. By the professor being unaware of these tokens, Bowers realized he was missing a significant element of what everyday life was like during the war, of which the tokens were evidence. In a similar way, the pattern coins highlighted in my book are artifacts that illustrate and help tell the story of how “In God We Trust” came about.
The financial issues of the war led to significant changes in the monetary system of the United States. These include the introduction of a standardized national currency issued under federal authority, and the development of a national banking system. These greatly facilitated the United States in emerging as a modem industrial and financial power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
“In God We Trust” on U.S. coinage has grown into an iconic element of American culture. It has become in the years since the Civil War the official national motto of the United States. It has over the years excited both strong approval and strong opposition. Controversy surrounds it to the present day.
It is my hope that the discussion of these issues in my new book will provide the reader with a fuller understanding and deeper perspective on the Civil War. I also hope to impart a better understanding of how our money and banking systems came to be what they are.
By William Bierly; foreword by Q. David Bowers
Hardcover, 6×9 inches, 352 pages, full color
Retail $29.95 U.S.