Editor’s note: In his August monthly Coin World cover
feature, Gerald Tebben looks back at the story of the John F.
Kennedy half dollar as the numismatic community celebrates the
coin's 50th anniversary. This is one of a series of articles from
this feature that will appear online at CoinWorld.com.
Make sure you read other posts in the '50 years later' series:
Ev sheds tears for Ben
While there was no serious opposition to replacing Benjamin Franklin
on the half dollar with John F. Kennedy, sonorous Sen. Everett
Dirksen, R-Ill, took the Senate floor briefly Dec. 18, 1963, to “shed
a few tears” for Franklin.
Dirksen, known for his deep
voice, perfect diction and courtly attitude, rose from his seat,
secured the floor and said, “I presume a case can be made for removing
Benjamin Franklin from the half dollar and substituting the likeness
of the late President Kennedy. Since we have the Lincoln penny, the
Washington quarter, the Jefferson nickel and the Roosevelt dime, the
half dollar is the only fractional coin that does not carry the
likeness of a President.
“While I do not believe there
would be any objection, this action would require a modification of
the 1890 act, which provided that a change cannot be made before 25
years have elapsed, since Ben Franklin has been on the half dollar for
only a period of 15 years.
“I do not say that this is a
particularly hasty action, but I wish to shed a few tears for Benjamin
Dirksen reflected on the impact of Franklin’s
message of “thrift and frugality” on the world before returning to the
issue of displacing him from the half dollar.
continued, “But I suppose times have changed. New philosophies abound.
This is, after all, the decade of deficits. There is a belief that we
can spend ourselves rich.
“Balanced budgets are
old-fashioned. Why mind a rising public debt, since we owe it to
ourselves? Thrift is for children with piggybanks. And frugality is
“So in the decade of deficits, perhaps Mr.
Franklin’s idea that ‘a penny saved is two pence clear, a pin a day’s
a groat a year’ is considered modern twaddle.
to me if Franklin must go — and it distresses me — I should shed a
tear for him and for Poor Richard. When the federal deficit for fiscal
year 1964 and the projected deficits for 1965 and for 1966 are
pronounced, let us ponder that it was Franklin who said:
‘Get what you can, and what you get, hold
‘Tis the stone that
will turn all your lead to gold …
“So as we make this
change, I say ‘Goodbye Benjamin Franklin, apostle of thrift and
frugality. Evidently you are not so popular in this age of the
The Senate approved the change by a voice vote
Dec. 18, with no formal objection.
Check back with CoinWorld.com for the rest of Gerald Tebben's
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