This Week in History: Congressional Gold Medals


Story Number: NNS190404-09Release Date: 4/4/2019 10:43:00 AM
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By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Nichael Botts, USS George Washington Public Affairs

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (NNS) -- Beginning in 1775, Boston was the American headquarters of the British army. On March 5, 1776, after months of preparation, Gen. George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, ordered his men to begin bombarding the city. 

After a few days of heavy artillery fire from Dorchester Heights, a series of small hills with a commanding view of Boston and its harbor, and other high ground areas around Boston, British Gen. William Howe, noticing that he and his troops would not be able to defend the city with the decisive positioning of the Continental Army, decided it would be in his best interest to withdraw the British army from Boston..  

On March 17, 1776, the British occupation of Boston ended when all British troops evacuated the city and sailed to the safety of the British colony of Nova Scotia in present-day Canada.

On March 25, 1776, because of his decisive victory during the Battle of Boston, Washington was awarded the first Congressional Gold Medal by the Continental Congress for his “wise and spirited conduct” in bringing about the British evacuation of Boston.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest expression of national appreciation for distinguished achievements and contributions. The medal can be awarded to any individual the Senate and the House of Representatives deem fit. To be awarded the medal, legislation must be co-sponsored by at least two-thirds of the members of the House and 67 Senators before the nomination will be considered.

The Congressional Gold Medal is considered to carry the same prestige as the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The main difference between the two is that the Gold Medal is awarded as an act of Congress while the Medal of Freedom is awarded personally by the president of the United States, although Congress can authorize the president to award the Gold Medal to its recipients.

The Congressional Gold Medal has been awarded to 163 individuals, institutions, and events. In the beginning, the medal was awarded to citizens involved in the American Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Mexican War, but Congress later widened the scope to include actors, authors, entertainers, musicians, pioneers in aeronautics and space, explorers, lifesavers, notables in science and medicine, athletes, humanitarians, public servants, and foreign recipients. The American Red Cross was the first organization to be awarded the medal in 1979.

After Congress deems a Congressional Gold Medal appropriate to award to an individual or group, legislative action provides for the creation of the medal on an ad hoc, “for this” in Latin, basis. Each medal is designed by the United States Mint to commemorate the person and achievement for which the medal is awarded, thus making each medal unique in appearance and design.

Following the nomination, the design for the Congressional Gold Medal is finalized, and the medal is struck. Usually, a ceremony is held to formally award and honor the recipient of the medal.

Since its inception after the American Revolutionary War, the Congressional Gold Medal has been a crucial way for Congress to publicly recognize significant events, individual achievements, and exemplary institutions. The medal is “the highest civilian honor award program…[to] honor national achievement in patriotic, humanitarian, and artistic endeavors.”

All facts in this article, as well as additional information about the Battle of Boston, can be found at https://www.battlefields.org/learn/revolutionary-war/battles/boston and https://www.mountvernon.org/library/digitalhistory/digital-encyclopedia/article/siege-of-boston/. More information about Congressional Gold Medals can be found from the Congressional Research Service at http://crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R45101.

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