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Commems Collection: 1937 Battle Of Antietam 75th Anniversary - Origin Story - Part II

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 Posted 05/27/2022  08:05 am Show Profile   Bookmark this topic Add commems to your friends list Get a Link to this Message
Continuing from where I left off in Part I...

The 75th Congress convened in January 1937. On its first day in session, Representative David John Lewis (D-MD) re-introduced his Battle of Antietam bill; it incorporated the changes recommended by the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency - namely, a maximum mintage of 50,000 and a minimum order size of 25,000. Otherwise, the language was the same as in his initial bill.

On the following day, Senator Millard Evelyn Tydings (D-MD) re-introduced his previous bill; it also was updated to include the 50,000/25,000 parameters. In contrast to the 74th Congress, in the 75th Congress, the Senate took the lead.

Tydings' bill was immediately referred to the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency. The Committee took about six weeks to report back, but once it did, it acknowledged the technical issues experienced by the House bill in the previous Congress and recommended that the new bill pass.

In between the meeting of the 74th and 75th Congresses, the Treasury had ramped up its objection to the continued approval of commemorative coins. This fact was seized upon by Senator Charles Linza McNary (R-OR) who worked to derail the coin's passage by focusing on the Treasury's new position vs. the fact the only reason the bill was being discussed was a clerical error in the previous Congress. Regardless of how many different ways Senator Tydings tried to remind all of the bill's unusual situation - and previous approval - Senator McNary continued raising objections.

Interspersed within the back-and-forth dialogue of Senators Tydings and McNary, Senator William Edgar Borah (R-ID) questioned the appropriateness of issuing commemorative coins for Civil War battles. Tydings explained the significance of the Battle of Antietam and referenced the Battle of Gettysburg half dollar that had previously been approved. Borah continued to press, however, asking the question: "Why now?"

Tydings explained that the coin would provide financial support for the planned 75th anniversary commemorations without the organizers having to request a Federal appropriation. The year before, Congress had created the United States Antietam Celebration Commission but did not include an appropriation when it did so (the Senate actually removed the small appropriation that the House had included). Senator Alben William Barkley (D-KY) also chimed in to explain that the coin profits generated would be used to support the Antietam battlefield commemoration events. The statements of these two appear to have placated Senator Borah as he discontinued his challenge.

Rather than specifically arguing against the merits of the Antietam coin bill, McNary argued for equal treatment for all commemorative bills introduced by the review Committee. As an example of a recent disparity, he noted a bill in the previous Congress for Marcus Whitman and the Whitman Mission Centennial that was amended and turned into a medal bill (he referred to them as tokens) before passage, rather than being approved as a coin bill; see 1936 Whitman Mission Centennial for more. McNary insisted on postponing consideration of the Antietam bill until the Committee on Banking and Currency could formalize and publish its policy on commemorative coins. As such, the bill was passed over.

A few days later, the Tydings bill was again brought up for consideration and Senator McNary was silent - the result of a backroom deal or acknowledgement that he was fighting a losing battle? (no pun intended.) Senator Lewis Baxter Schwellenbach (D-WA) did rise, however, and request assurance from Senator Tydings that the Committee's favorable report on the Antietam bill did not reflect a new policy by the Committee that supported the continued passage of commemorative coin bills. Tydings assured him that no such revised policy was in place, that the Committee acknowledged the special circumstances surrounding the Antietam bill and that the Committee had yet to finalize its ongoing policy (but that it was working on one).

With such an assurance in place, the bill was engrossed, read a third time and passed. It was then sent to the House where it was referred to the Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures. The Committee reported it back favorably, but a debate ensued when the bill was brought up for consideration.

Representative John Taber (R-NY) raised the issue of past abuses by sponsors of US commemorative coins. Representative David John Lewis (D-MD), who had introduced the companion bill in the House, addressed the issue by referencing the Commission appointed to oversee the anniversary celebrations and its involvement in the coin's distribution and assured all that "Not a single one of these coins will get into the hands of the profit mongers."

Representative Charles Albert Plumley (R-VT), a self-professed coin collector and member of the Antietam Battle Commission, then rose and provided a moving summary of the Battle of Antietam and showed his support for the bill by stating, "to fail to accord to the Battle of Antietam the recognition that is its due as the outstanding field battle of the war would be a serious error."

Objections continued to be voiced, however, and the bill was about to be passed over when Mr. Harold Knutson (R-MN) proposed that Representative Lewis be given five additional minutes. Several Representatives rose in either direct or indirect support of the bill - George Anthony Dondero (R-MI), Claude VanCleeve Parsons (D-IL), Clifton Alexander Woodrum (D-VA) and John Joseph Cochran (D-MO) all spoke on behalf of the bill.

Representative William Michael Citron (D-CT) then addressed the House. He stated that while he was in favor of commemorating the Battle of Antietam, he was against authorizing a coin that could be manipulated by a small number of individuals who controlled the bill's 50,000 maximum mintage and could abuse the collector community via artificial market scarcity and price escalation.

Before Citron's issue could be debated, the five minutes allotted to Mr. Lewis expired. The Speaker of the House, William Bankhead (D-AL) then called for passage of the bill via unanimous consent. The call was objected to by Joseph William Martin, Jr. (R-MA), which was enough to postpone further action.

Two weeks later, the bill came up again for consideration. This time, no Antietam-specific objections were raised, but the issue of the House Committee continuing to recommend new commemorative coins was brought up by Representative Jesse Paine Wolcott (R-MI). Mr. Cochran, as a senior member of the House Committee on Coinage, Weights, and Measures, again rose to address the issue.

Mr. Cochran was able to address Mr. Wolcott's concerns, pointing out that the Committee reported the Antietam bill favorably in recognition of the special situation surrounding it, and that it was very unlikely that new commemorative coin bills would be reported out (excepting the Norfolk, VA and Bay Bridge amendment bills already reported due to promises made in the previous Congress.)

With Wolcott's issues addressed, consideration of the Antietam bill was able to proceed. It was approved with the minor wording changes that had been recommended by the House Committee and sent to the Senate. The Senate concurred with the House changes - without issue - and thus made it available for the President's signature. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the Battle of Antietam coin bill into law on June 24, 1937.

So, an approval that originally appeared destined to be relatively smooth and easy became difficult and contentious due to a clerical error!

Ultimately, the Mint in Philadelphia struck all of the 50,000 coins authorized, but the majority (~32,000) went unsold and were returned to the Mint to be melted. An unexpected outcome for a coin that, today, is often viewed as one of the more attractive and desirable members of the series.

1937 Battle of Antietam 75th Anniversary Half Dollar

For a discussion of the policy eventually developed by the Senate Committee on Banking and Currency, see:

- Quick Bits #44 - Committee On Banking And Currency

The first part of the 1937 Battle of Antietam half dollar Origin Story can be found here, Part I.

For other of my posts about commemorative coins and medals, including more on the history of the Battle of Antietam half dollar, see: Commems Collection.

Collecting history one coin or medal at a time! (c) commems. All rights reserved.
Edited by commems
05/27/2022 08:11 am
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 Posted 05/27/2022  08:53 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add Coinfrog to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Great backstory, thank you as always.
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 Posted 05/27/2022  10:38 am  Show Profile   Bookmark this reply Add jbuck to your friends list Get a Link to this Reply
Wow! This was certainly an atypical journey to passage. Not surprised there may have been a backroom deal involved. Interesting to think this one might not have made it.
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