Congressional Gold Medal (CongressionalGlossary.com)

From the Congressional Glossary – Including Legislative and Budget Terms

Congressional Gold Medal


Senators and Representatives are frequently asked to support or sponsor proposals recognizing historic events and outstanding achievements by individuals or institutions. Among the various forms of recognition that Congress bestows, the Congressional Gold Medal is often considered the most distinguished. Through this venerable tradition, the occasional commissioning of individually struck gold medals in its name, for more than two centuries Congress has expressed public gratitude for distinguished contributions, dramatized the virtues of patriotism, and perpetuated the remembrance of great events. This tradition, of authorizing individually struck gold medals bearing the portraits of those so honored or images of events in which they participated, is rich with history.

Although Congress has approved legislation stipulating specific requirements for numerous other awards and decorations, there are no permanent statutory provisions specifically relating to the creation of Congressional Gold Medals. When such an award has been deemed appropriate, Congress has, by special action, provided for the creation of a personalized medal to be given in its name, which would in each instance truly record the approbation of a grateful country.

The Continental Congress had not yet proclaimed its independence from Great Britain when, on March 25, 1776, George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, was tendered the first Congressional Gold Medal for his “wise and spirited conduct” in bringing about British evacuation of Boston. During the next 12 years, the Continental Congress authorized an additional six gold medals for Revolutionary military and naval leaders.

Since 1776, this award, which initially was bestowed on military leaders, has also been given to such diverse individuals as Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, Robert Frost, Joe Louis, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. More recently, Congressional Gold Medals were given to Neil A. Armstrong, the first human to walk on the Moon; Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., the pilot of the lunar module and second person to walk on the Moon; Michael Collins, the pilot of their Apollo 11 mission’s command module; and John Herschel Glenn, Jr., who, in 1962, became the first American to orbit the Earth; Arnold Palmer; and the 100th Infantry Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team, and the Military Intelligence Service, United States Army.

See also Visiting Washington, DC; “What’s the deal with …“; What Your Member of Congress Can Do for You.

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