George Washington Papers

[Diary entry: 29 April 1790]

Thursday 29th. Received from the joint Committee of Congress two Acts for my approbation & Signature—viz—one for “Regulating the Military Establishment of the United States” and the other “An Act for the Punishment of certain crimes against the United States.”

Fixed with the Secretary of State on the present which (according to the custom of other Nations) should be made to Diplomatic characters when they return from that employment in this Country and this was a gold Medal, suspended to a gold Chain—in ordinary to be of the value of about 120 or 130 Guineas. Upon enquiry into the practice of other Countries, it was found, that France generally gave a gold Snuff-box set with diamonds; & of differt. costs; to the amount, generally, to a Minister Plenipotentiary of 500 Louisdores—That England usually gave to the same grade 300 guineas in Specie—And Holld. a Medal & Chain of the value of, in common, 150 or 180 Guineas the value of which to be encreas’d by an additional weight in the chain when they wished to mark a distinguished character. The Reason why a medal & Chain was fixed upon for the American present, is, that the die being once made the Medals could at any time be struck at very little cost, & the Chain made by our own artizans, which (while the first should be retained as a memento) might be converted into Cash.

The following Gentlemen dined here—viz—Of the Senate, Messrs. Strong, Doctr. Johnston, Mr. Patterson, Mr. Morris, Mr. Carroll, Mr. Lee, Mr. Walker, Govr. Johnston, & Mr. Gunn and of the House of Representatives, Mr. Sturges, Mr. Benson, Mr. Floyd, Mr. Scureman, Mr. Vining Mr. Smith Maryland, Mr. Bland, and Mr. Sumpter.

two acts: 1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 119–21 (30 April 1790) and 1 STAT. description begins Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of the Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845 . . .. 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67. description ends 112–19 (30 April 1790). present: On 20 April 1790 Louis Guillaume Otto had written to Jefferson suggesting that the United States, in accord with European diplomatic custom, might present former French minister to the United States Anne César, chevalier de La Luzerne, with some token, preferably valuable, in recognition of his services to the United States. Although he opposed such gifts, Jefferson wrote to William Temple Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s grandson and secretary, now in New York, inquiring what practice was followed in other countries and what was “the estimated value and the form” of the gift given Franklin on his departure from France. “Not foreseeing that I might ever have any thing to do with the decision of such a question, I did not inform myself of the usage even in the court with which I resided.” Franklin replied, 27 April, that the usual value of the gift depended on the rank of the recipient and the esteem with which he was regarded. “These Presents vary as to their Nature, consisting either of Jewels, Plate, Tapestry, Porcelain, and sometimes Money” (JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 16:354–56, 363–66). On 30 April Jefferson instructed William Short at Paris to have the gold medal, which the administration had decided on as the gift for departing diplomats, made in France: “The medal must be of 30 lines diameter, with a loop on the edge to receive the chain. On one side must be the Arms of the United States, of which I send you a written description and several impressions in wax to render that more intelligible, round them as a Legend must be ‘the United States of America.’ The device of the other side we do not decide on. One suggestion has been a Columbia (a final female figure) delivering the emblems of peace and commerce to a Mercury, with the Legend ‘Peace and Commerce’ circumscribed, and the date of our Republic . . . subscribed as an Exergum. But having little confidence in our own ideas in an Art not familiar here, they are only suggested to you, to be altered, or altogether postponed to such better device as you may approve on consulting with those who are in the habit and study of Medals” (JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 16:395–96). For a discussion of the final version of the medal, see JEFFERSON [1] description begins Julian P. Boyd et al., eds. The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. 40 vols. to date. Princeton, N.J., 1950—. description ends , 16:xli—xlii.

James Gunn (1753–1801) was born in Virginia but began the practice of law in Savannah, Ga. He served as a brigadier general in the Georgia militia during the Revolution and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1788 and 1789, although he did not attend. In 1789 he was elected to the United States Senate from Georgia.

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