US Coins

Monday Morning Brief for March 29, 2021: Too many medals?

The Commission of Fine Arts and Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee separately recommended the same designs for the Merchant Mariners of World War II congressional gold medal.

Images courtesy of the United States Mint.

You may have noticed that recent issues of Coin World have included a lot of news articles and commentary about congressional gold medals — new legislation seeking new medals, votes on that legislation, the review of designs for recently authorized subjects.

Congressional gold medals have a long history. The first were authorized by the Continental Congress in 1776 during the American Revolution, and when that body reorganized under the U.S. Constitution of 1787, Congress continued the practice of honoring heroes for their service to the nation. However, are we seeing too much of a good thing?

The initial congressional gold medals issued under the Continental Congress and then by its successor were all military in nature, honoring Army and Navy officers for their successes in battles with Great Britain during the Revolution and then the War of 1812, as well as naval actions in other, smaller conflicts. Indeed, after authorizing medals for heroes of the War of 1812, a hiatus occurred, with the next series of medals issued  in recognition of battles fought in the Mexican-American War of 1846 to 1848. It was not until the late 1840s that Congress began recognizing other accomplishments, such as Dr. Frederick Rose being honored in 1858 with a medal recognizing his efforts to fight yellow fever.

Today, the number of medals has skyrocketed, with contributions honored in a wide range of fields — medicine, sports, civil rights, aviation, space exploration, philanthropy, science and more. Broadening the scope of the congressional gold medal program beyond military conflicts is good. But are too many medals being authorized? That is a tough question and one that Congress should revisit.

We need new guidelines to govern how medals are authorized, while avoiding politicizing the future selection process as much as possible. Congress may want to consider limiting the number of medals authorized in a given year as it already does for commemorative coins.

The concept of a congressional gold medal should not be lessened by issuing too many medals.

It is time to act, now.
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