Historical Highlights

The George Cohan Congressional Gold Medal

May 28, 1936
The George Cohan Congressional Gold Medal Collection of the U.S. House of Representatives
About this object
Dedicating 40 years of service to the House of Representatives, John Taber of New York served on the Appropriations Committee thoughout his tenure.
On this date, the Committee on the Library reported favorably on H.R. 4641, to award the Congressional Gold Medal to entertainer George M. Cohan. Cohan, a prolific composer, lyricist, and producer, penned hit Broadway songs such as “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “The Yankee Doodle Boy.” The first entertainer to receive the medal, he was recognized particularly for his composition of the patriotic songs “Over There” and “A Grand Old Flag.” The report authorizing the gold medal included testimony from Representative Theodore Peyser of New York who supported the measure, he said, “Not because [Cohan] is a song writer, not because he is one of the most popular and foremost actors of the day, not because he has lent a helping hand to thousands, but because of his ability to instill in the hearts of the growing citizenry a loyal and patriotic spirit for their country and what it stands for in the eyes of the world.” Although there was precedent for honoring non-military individuals, there was also concern about whether an entertainer should receive the accolade. Members questioned whether Cohan’s award for the amorphous quality of “patriotism” was worthy of the medal and its expense. Even after H.R. 4641 was signed into law, Congressman John Taber of New York tried to block the appropriation of $700 for the medal. He claimed that, in 1937, this amount could “take care of a relief family for over a year,” and he elaborated further that “[I]n such times as these I cannot be a party to voting that sort of appropriation. I hope that the House will throw it out.” Congressman William P. Connery, Jr., of Massachusetts rebutted this statement, claiming that Cohan had often supported down-and-out actors from his own pocket, and that “a man who has been responsible for the recruiting of thousands of American soldiers during the World War, a man who has brought up the morale of the American people, who by his patriotic songs made young men go to the recruiting office and join the colors, is entitled to at least a $700 gold medal.” Taber’s objection was voted down. President Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Cohan the medal on May 1, 1940.

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