Abraham Lincoln Presidential Campaign Medal
Subject: Abraham Lincoln, American, 1809 - 1865
Designer: William Leggett Bramhall, American, 1839 - 1902
Manufacturer: Scovill Manufacturing Company, American, incorporated 1850
Transfer from the Yale University Library, Numismatic Collection, 2001, Gift of Irving Dillaye-Vann, B.A. 1897
In an effort to control rampant inflation and stop speculation in government land, on 11 July 1836, President Andrew Jackson issued the Specie Circular, declaring that after 15 August, public lands could only be purchased with gold and silver coinage. The decree caused a run on the nation's financial institutions resulting in the suspension of all coin payments on 10 May of the following year. The Panic of 1837, which caused a five-year depression and record unemployment, left a dearth of small change in circulation, particularly copper cents. In order remedy the crisis, entrepreneurs, businesses and municipalities began to issue their own coinage, which came to be known as "Hard Times" tokens. The mottos and motifs found on Hard Times tokens often commented on major social and political issues of the day. Such was the case with a token issued in 1837 by the American Anti-Slavery Society. Established in Philadelphia in 1833 by William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), the Society quickly became the nation's largest abolitionist organization: in 1835 it had over 400 local chapters, and by 1838 had grown to 1,350 chapters comprising a quarter million members. In November of 1837, The Emancipator, the Society's official weekly paper, advertised "Anti-Slavery COPPER MEDALS, similar in appearance to new cents." The Society, which had commissioned the medals from the Belleville, New Jersey, firm of Gibbs, Gardener and Company, intended to sell them to "friends of liberty" at their New York headquarters. The ad described the medal, noting, "On one side is a female slave, in chains, in an imploring attitude, with the motto, 'Am I not a woman and a sister?' [pl. 00a]?On the reverse side is, in the centre, the word 'LIBERTY,' surrounded by a wreath-and outside, in a circle, 'United States of America [pl. 00b].'" The motif of the suppliant slave derives from the seal of Great Britain's Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, founded in 1787. That year, the English potter Josiah Wedgwood, a leading member of the Society, produced jasperware cameos bearing the emblem for free distribution to the organization's supporters [fig. 1]. In 1788, when Wedgwood sent a quantity of the cameos to Benjamin Franklin, president of the Pennsylvania Society for the Abolition of Slavery, the elder statesman commented that the "Figure of the Suppliant?may have an Effect equal to that of the best written Pamphlet in procuring favour to those oppressed People." The image, which has been called "the single most common visual representation of a black slave," would become popular on both sides of the Atlantic, inspiring the female counterpart used by the American Anti-Slavery Society. The editors of the The Emancipator hoped their medal would have an effect surpassing their newspaper, writing, "The friends of liberty have it in their power to put a medal into the hands of every person in the country, without cost, containing a sentiment of immense value. It is a tract that will not be destroyed. If it falls into the hands of an enemy of liberty, he will 'read and circulate.'" Even after the era of "Hard Times," tokens continued to be a popular vehicle for political expression since they were small, relatively inexpensive to produce, and easily disseminated. During the Presidential election of 1860, William Leggett Bramhall, onetime curator at the American Numismatic Society, avid token collector, and ardent Republican, designed and issued a pro-Lincoln antislavery token or "medalet." According to Bramhall, the medalet, which was a slightly altered version of one he had issued the previous year, was originally "intended both as a political toy and as material for exchange with other collectors." The obverse of the medalet [pl. 01a] features an American eagle nearly identical to that found on the gold $2.50 coin, the so-called "Quarter Eagle," designed by Christian Gobrecht, Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, and produced from 1840 until 1907. Around the eagle, a slogan reads, "SUCCESS TO REPUBLICAN PRINCIPLES." The reverse [pl. 00b], dated 1860, depicts two crossed palm fronds, a symbol of triumph, and a six-pointed star, amidst the motto, "MILLIONS FOR FREEDOM NOT ONE CENT FOR SLAVERY." The inscription is derived from, "Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute," which was first uttered by Congressman Robert Goodloe Harper of South Carolina in a 1798 address, but by 1800 had become a popular slogan concerning America's refusal to pay annual tribute to the Barbary States-consisting of Algiers, Morocco, Tripoli and Tunis-for free passage along their coast. Bramhall's paraphrasing of the motto was undoubtedly intended to equate the savagery of the Barbary pirates with the brutality of slavery. The medalets were struck by the Scovill Manufacturing Company of Waterbury, Connecticut, which produced seven in silver, seventy-five in copper, and fifteen thousand in brass, including the present example. The antislavery sentiment expressed by Bramhall's token proved popular with abolitionists. On 5 December 1861, after the onset of the Civil War, Martin F. Conway, Kansas's first congressman and leader of its free-state movement, repeated the epigram in a speech before Congress. Conway, popularly known as the "Patrick Henry of Kansas," declared the federal government's first priority should be the immediate and unconditional emancipation of all slaves. Until this was the case, Conway vowed he would "not vote another dollar or man for the war." While Conway's wish would be partially realized on 1 January 1863, when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing all slaves in Confederate-held territory, the complete abolition of slavery in the United States was only accomplished with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in December 1865. G. C. B.
This object is on view at the gallery.
Helen A. Cooper et al., Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: American Art from the Yale University Art Gallery, exh. cat. (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2008), 14546, no. 84, ill.
Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery's complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.