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Jean Jules Jusserand (1855–1932). With Americans of Past and Present Days. 1916.

V. The Franklin Medal

Philadelphia, April 20, 1906

ON the occasion of the second centennial of Franklin’s birth, a solemn celebration, lasting several days, was held in Philadelphia, under the auspices of the American Philosophical Society, founded by himself more than a century and a half before.

Many Americans of fame took part in the celebration, such men as the Secretary of State Elihu Root, Senator Lodge, Horace H. Furness, former Ambassador Joseph Choate, the President (not yet emeritus) of Harvard, Charles W. Eliot, Doctor Weir Mitchell, and many others. Several foreign nations were represented; England notably by one of her sons who has succeeded in the difficult task of adding lustre to the name he bears, Sir George Darwin.

In accordance with a law passed by Congress two years before, a commemorative medal was, on that occasion, offered to France. The speech of acceptance is here reproduced solely to have a pretext for reprinting the generous and memorable address of presentation by the then Secretary of State, Mr. Elihu Root; and also in order to help in better preserving the souvenir of a more than graceful act of the United States toward France.


EXCELLENCY: On the 27th of April, 1904, the Congress of the United States provided by statute that the Secretary of State should cause to be struck a medal to commemorate the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin, and that one single impression on gold should be presented, under the direction of the President of the United States, to the Republic of France.

Under the direction of the President I now execute this law by delivering the medal to you as the representative of the Republic of France. This medal is the work of fraternal collaboration by two artists whose citizenship Americans prize highly, Louis and Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The name indicates that they may have inherited some of the fine artistic sense which makes France pre-eminent in the exquisite art of the medallist.

On one side of the medal you will find the wise, benign, and spirited face of Franklin. On the other side literature, science, and philosophy attend, while history makes her record. The material of the medal is American gold, as was Franklin.

For itself this would be but a small dividend upon the investments which the ardent Beaumarchais made for the mythical firm of Hortalez and Company. It would be but scanty interest on the never-ending loans yielded by the steady friendship of de Vergennes to the distressed appeals of Franklin. It is not appreciable even as a gift when one recalls what Lafayette, Rochambeau, de Grasse, and their gallant comrades were to us, and what they did for us; when one sees in historical perspective the great share of France in securing American independence, looming always larger from our own point of view, in comparison with what we did for ourselves.

But take it for your country as a token that with all the changing manners of the passing years, with all the vast and welcome influx of new citizens from all the countries of the earth, Americans have not forgotten their fathers and their father’s friends.

Know by it that we have in America a sentiment for France; and a sentiment, enduring among a people, is a great and substantial fact to be reckoned with.

We feel a little closer to you of France because of what you were to Franklin. Before the resplendence and charm of your country’s history—when all the world does homage to your literature, your art, your exact science, your philosophic thought—we smile with pleasure, for we feel, if we do not say: “Yes, these are old friends of ours; they were very fond of our Ben Franklin and he of them.”

Made more appreciative, perhaps, by what France did for us when this old philosopher came to you, a stranger, bearing the burdens of our early poverty and distress, we feel that the enormous value of France to civilization should lead every lover of mankind, in whatever land, earnestly to desire the peace, the prosperity, the permanence, and the unchecked development of your national life.

We, at least, can not feel otherwise; for what you were to Franklin we would be—we are—to you: always true and loyal friends.


On behalf of the French Republic, with feelings of gratitude, I receive the gift offered to my country, this masterful portrait Franklin, which a law of Congress ordered to be made, and which is signed with the name, twice famous, of Saint-Gaudens.

Everything in such a present powerfully appeals to a French heart. It represents a man ever venerated and admired in my country—the scientist, the philosopher, the inventor, the leader of men, the one who gave to France her first notion of what true Americans really were. “When you were in France,” Chastellux wrote to Franklin, “there was no need to praise the Americans. We had only to say: Look; here is their representative.”

The gift is offered in this town of Philadelphia where there exists a hall the very name of which is dear to every American and every French heart —the Hall of Independence—and at a gathering of a society founded “for promoting useful knowledge,” which has remained true to its principle, worthy of its founder, and which numbers many whose fame is equally great on both sides of the ocean.

I receive it at the hands of one of the best servants of the state which this country ever produced, no less admired at the head of her diplomacy now than he was lately at the head of her army, one of those rare men who prove the right man, whatever be the place. You have listened to his words, and you will agree with me when I say that I shall have two golden gifts to forward to my government: the medal and Secretary Root’s speech.

The work of art offered by America to France will be sent to Paris to be harbored in that unique museum, her Museum of Medals, where her history is, so to say, written in gold and bronze, from the fifteenth century up to now, without any ruler, any great event, being omitted. Some of the American past is also written there—that period so glorious when French and American history were the same history, when first rose a nation that has never since ceased to rise.

There, awaiting your gift, are preserved medals struck in France at the very time of the events, in honor of Washington, to commemorate the relief of Boston in 1776; a medal of John Paul Jones in honor of his naval campaign of 1779; another medal representing W. Washington, and one representing General Howard, to commemorate the battle of Cowpens in 1781; one to celebrate the peace of 1783 and the freedom of the thirteen States; one of Lafayette; one of Suffren, who fought so valiantly on distant seas for the same cause as Washington; one, lastly, of Franklin himself, dated 1784, bearing the famous inscription composed in honor of the great man by Turgot: “Eripuit cælo fulmen, sceptrumque tyrannis.”

My earnest hope is that one of the next medals to be struck and added to the series will be one to commemorate the resurrection of that great city which now, at this present hour, agonizes by the shores of the Pacific. The disaster of San Francisco has awakened a feeling of deepest grief in every French heart, and a feeling of admiration, too, for the manliness displayed by the population during this awful trial. So that what will be commemorated will not be only the American nation’s sorrow, but her unfailing heroism and energy.

Now your gift will be added to the collection in Paris; it will be there in its proper place. The thousands who visit this museum will be reminded by it that the ties happily formed long ago are neither broken nor distended, and they will contemplate with a veneration equal to that of their ancestors the features of one whom Mirabeau justly called one of the heroes of mankind.

The Franklin ceremony had occurred at the time of the San Francisco catastrophe, at a moment when, communication having been cut, anxiety was intense.

I had spoken without instructions, but the French Government took their representative’s words to the letter. The medal was ordered, and was for Bottée, the artist, a former recipient of the “Grand Prix de Rome,” a work of love. It shows on one side the city rising from its ruins, surrounded with emblems of recovered youth and prosperity. On the other side the image of the French Republic is seen offering from over the sea a twig of laurel to America.

One single copy in gold was struck, and the presentation took place in rebuilt San Francisco, in 1909, the medal being received by the statesman and poet, the translator of the sonnets of Heredia, Edward Robeson Taylor, then mayor of the city.