Martin Van Buren Continues U.S. Mint's Delayed Presidential Silver Medal Series Today

Having only released just one of the four planned Presidential Silver Medals in 2020, the United States Mint will finally carry on with the series today. Scheduled to go on sale at noon EST, the 8th President of the United States Martin Van Buren will be featured on the 99.9% fine silver medal.

Nicknamed the “Little Magician,” Martin Van Buren served as president from 1837 to 1841. The obverse of the medal will feature the portrait of Van Buren with “MARTIN VAN BUREN,” PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES,” and “A.D. 1837” inscribed around the entire outer rim of the design. The reverse of the medal will feature the same design as all the Presidential Silver Medals to come from the series. Inscribed from top to bottom and in between the design elements are the words “PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP.” Two hands are depicted at the center clasped together in unison, representing the sanctity of friendship and accordance. The cuff of the left wrist features three stripes and buttons while the other wrist is bare. A pipe symbolizing peace and a tomahawk are crossed over each other above the hands.

The History Of Peace Medals

The original silver medals featuring the Presidents of the United States were designed for presentation purposes to Native American chiefs and warriors. This action played a major role in Native American-white relations. However, this transaction symbolizing peace and friendship did not originate within the United States. It was adapted from the French, Spanish, and British culture as they had been practicing this medal dissemination for decades prior to the American adaptation. These medals were upheld to the highest standards and were highly valued among the Native Americans they were given to as they were to either be buried with the chiefs or passed from generation to generation.

The practice of honoring the Native American leaders occurred during important circumstances such as treaty signing ceremonies, important visits to the capital, or a tour of Native American lands by federal officials. The initial proposal of the document drawn up by Lewis Cass and William Clark in 1829 was titled “Regulations for the Government of the Indian Department.” The outline of the document described a list of rules for the distribution of the medals. The rules were as follows and quoted as:

  • 1. They will be given to influential persons only.
  • 2. The largest medals will be given to the principal village chiefs, those of the second size will be given to the principal war chiefs, and those of the third size to the less distinguished chiefs and warriors.
  • 3. They will be presented with proper formalities, and with an appropriate speech, so as to produce a proper impression upon the Indians.
  • 4. It is not intended that chiefs should be appointed by any officer of the department but that they should confer these badges of authority upon such as are selected or recognized by the tribe, and as are worthy of them, in the manner heretofore practised.
  • 5. Whenever a foreign medal is worn, it will be replaced by an American medal, if the Agent should consider the person entitled to a medal.

This list of regulations was never formally adopted but they were practiced and looked to when it came to Native American-white relations. The medals are looked at to reflect the relationship between Native Americans and Americans in a historical context as they are deeply embedded in the designs and the guidelines to which they were distributed.

During the United States’ adoption of these medals, the British were also in competition with Americans for the friendship of the Native American tribes. These medals were of the utmost importance during that time as loyalties of the chiefs would switch from British to the United States and the acceptance of the medals bearing the portrait of the United States President would signify that allegiance.

As the years passed and the relationship between Native Americans and Americans changed significantly during the 19th century, the medals would hold less and less importance and pride. However, it must never be forgotten how critical and meaningful the original tradition of the Native American Peace Medals was regardless of how they ended up. They helped a considerable amount with the relationship curated at the time and are now looked upon as necessary and influential symbols of unity and continued friendship in history despite differences.

Source: United States Mint; Indian Peace Medals in American History by Francis Paul Prucha