Indian Peace Medal, undated Thomas Jefferson silver restrike (J-IP-3) NGC MS62. The Indian Peace Medals struck during the administration of Thomas Jefferson were the first in a series of round medals that carried the image of the President of the United States on the obverse, and a symbol of peace and friendship between the US government and Indians on the reverse. It was produced in three distinct sizes, which became the standard for most of the 19th century.
Jefferson medals were created under the watchful eye of William Irvine, who served as Superintendent of Military Stores in Philadelphia, where he purchased goods needed by the War Department for the army and the Indian service. Irvine was responsible for delivering the IPMs to numerous Indian agents found around the United States.
It was in 1801 that Irvine began negotiations with Mint Director Elias Boudinot and Engraver of the Mint Robert Scot. He was informed if such medals were to be produced at the Mint by government employees, then the work would need to be completed “in the recess of the business of the Mint, at noon & at night,” so the work would not interfere with normal functioning of the Mint. Employees of the Mint would be allowed to use public tools and equipment, said the Mint Director, and therefore do the work more cheaply than other craftsmen.
In the end the work was done at the Mint after all. Even though available documentation tells us that Robert Scot was the engraver, however, it was the newly arrived engraver from Germany, John Reich, who did the work on the first set of IPMs. R.W. Julian writes that “Reich was heavily involved in the preparation of the six dies.” Reich had earlier engraved the Jefferson Inaugural medal, and, writes Julian, “There is considerable similarity between the bust of the known Reich pieces with the three found on” the IPMs.
Jefferson and the Indians
Thomas Jefferson had decidedly mixed feelings about the Indians who lived within the boundaries of the United States. He felt them to be a noble race that was “in body and mind equal to the white man.” Jefferson was a student of Indian language and culture, and in his Monticello home was found many artifacts from the Lewis and Clark expedition. A theory of the time called “environmentalism” held that native Americans were considered inferior to white Europeans due to climate and geography. In his book, Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson refuted those beliefs and defended Indians and their culture.
But the same man developed plans for Indian Removal to land west of the Mississippi river, including forced removal. Jefferson detailed his plans about Indian Removal in a series of private letters that began in 1803, but he did not implement them during his administration. Andrew Jackson is often given credit for beginning Indian Removal, due to Congress passing the Indian Removal Act of 1831 during his presidency. But he just put Jefferson’s earlier plans into action. Jefferson wanted to assimilate Indians into a market-based, agricultural society that would create an economic dependency on trade with white people, making them willing to relinquish land in exchange for goods or to satisfy unpaid debts.
In a letter written during the War of 1812, Jefferson said that the British “have seduced the greater part of the tribes within our neighborhood, to take up the hatchet against us, and the cruel massacres they have committed on the women and children of our frontiers taken by surprise, will oblige us now to pursue them to extermination, or drive them to new seats beyond our reach.”
Jefferson Indian Peace Medals struck for Indians and Collectors
Dated 1801, all original Jefferson IPMs were struck on thin silver plates. Then the obverse and reverse were brazed together, banded and ringed at the top for a ribbon so they could be worn around the neck. They were produced in this fashion because the machinery at the Mint probably did not have the capacity to strike a four-inch medal in solid metal in a reasonable amount of time. All three pieces were produced hollow because it would not have made sense to make one hollow and the other two of solid metal. They were created in three sizes: 100 to 105 mm, 76 mm, and 50 to 55 mm.
It was in November of 1841 that the Director of the Mint, Robert M. Patterson, began collecting all official dies that were located outside of the Mint. He regained possession of the Jefferson IPM dies, which had been in storage for thirty years. Franklin Peale immediately began producing restrikes in solid metal for collectors, but the number of them struck before 1861 is unknown. The middle, or three-inch size (76 mm), was the one typically made, however both the larger and smaller sizes were made as special orders even after 1861 when the Mint began selling medals to the public.