Gilcrease Museum is temporarily closed for construction.

Get the Full Story

James Madison peace medal, 2nd size / United States


A James Madison silver medal. On the front, there is a bust of the president and the words, “James Madison President of the U.S. A.D. 1809.” The back features two clasped hands, two crossed pipes, and the words, “Peace and Friendship.”

James Madison was inaugurated in 1809 but a peace medal bearing his likeness was not available until 1814, just three years before he left office at the end of his second term.
The medal continues the general design of the Jefferson medal, both front and back. However, a small but important change was made on the reverse. The American arm continues to be partially covered by a military jacket sleeve. In the Madison version, the Indian’s arm is bare; no longer covered with an emblem of the federal eagle. Symbolically, the change represented the freedom of Indian people from government control. Actual relations did not support the symbolism.

Silver peace medals were given to influential Native Americans as a symbol of friendship and allegiance with the United States government. Medals were given on important occasions, like the signing of a treaty, and then only to very influential members of the tribe. The medals held even greater importance than normal during times of war or tension, particularly between the US and Great Britain. The countries would compete for the loyalty and friendship of the tribes, and a chief trading in British medal for a US one signified a change in loyalty (Prucha 2000, xiv). Gradually, the medals original meaning diminished, and they were given as rewards for good behavior. The practice was discontinued in the late 1800s.

Native Americans placed great significance on the peace medals and viewed them not only as a sign of friendship, but of power. A suggested reason for this is the connection they saw between these medals and the shell gorgets worn and decorated to represent power. The gorgets, which typically only chiefs and the elite would wear, held a supernatural power source. Images on a gorget gave the wearer the power of what the image represented. Similarly, to the Native Americans, the image displayed on the medal, the head of the president or king, gave the wearer the leader’s power (Reilly III 2011).

You may be interested in...

James Madison peace medal, 2nd size
United States
circa 1809
Object Type: 
Accession No: 
Previous Number(s): 
6526.39; 65.39
Not On View

Our Online Collections site is a work in progress. If you have information about this item that may be of assistance, please contact us.