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.