benjamin's emblem

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This is George Washington's Order of Cincinattus medal. The Order of Cincinattus was started in May 1783 by Major General Henry Knox and was meant to be an organization for officers who had served in the Revolutionary War. The goal was to keep alive the spirit and ideals of the war. George Washington was elected it’s first President and served in that capacity until his death.

The society is named after the famous Roman general Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus who left his farm to become Roman consul and was made dictator to meet a war emergency. When the war was done with he put down the sword and decline further office, preferring to return to his farm (the parallels with George Washington are obvious). 

The figure of the bald eagle on the medal is what prompted Benjamin Franklin to wish that the official bird of the United States was a turkey. In a letter to his daughter Franklin had nothing good to say about the eagle:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

"With all this Injustice, he is never in good Case but like those among Men who live by Sharping & Robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank Coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the District. He is therefore by no means a proper Emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our Country…

"I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

This particular medal was sold by Sotheby’s last year for $5,305,000