On the Friday before the Independence Day celebration weekend, the U.S. Mint released the Ronald Reagan dollar and Nancy Reagan first spouse coin marking the end of the program.
The Presidential Dollar program has had an interesting history. Passed by congress in December 2005 and later signed by President George W. Bush, the Presidential $1 Coin Act (Pub. L. 108-145) ordered the U.S. Mint to create a $1 coin to commemorate the Nation’s past Presidents and an accompanying $10 gold coin to commemorate the President’s spouse (First Lady). Coins appeared in order that the president served and the president must be deceased for two year prior to the coin’s issue. Since Jimmy Carter is still living, he was bypassed and the last coin was for Ronald Reagan.First Spouse gold coin, they bore the image of the first spouse of the corresponding president with historical information about the spouse on the reverse are issued for each spouse. For the cases where the president was widowed prior to taking office, the obverse of a contemporary coin was used and a historical image is used on the reverse. The only exception was the 2012 coin honoring Alice Paul to coincide with the Chester A. Arthur presidential dollar. Since Arthur was widowed prior to his inauguration, the law gave the honor to Alice Paul, a suffragette who was born during Arthur’s administration. The program ended with the issue of the Nancy Reagan coin.
For the first time in the modern era the date, mintmark, and mottos “E Pluribus Unum” and “In God We Trust” struck into (incuse) the edge of the coin. The last time edge lettering was used on circulating U.S. coinage was in the 1790s.
With the edge lettering a new process for the U.S. Mint, it was no surprised that coins left the Mint without the mottos stamped in the edge. Dubbed the “godless dollar” the error caused an uproar over some people suggesting that the government was conspiring against religion by leaving the motto off of the coin. This was described as either a willful omission or a way to attack religion. There was no narrative that accepted that this was just a mistake.
Our national nightmare ended when congress updated the law (Pub. L. 110-161) to move the motto from the edge to the obverse of the coin. E Pluribus Unum, the date and mintmark was left on the edge.
Then there was the breathless story by National Public Radio that decried the tax dollars being wasted by the approximately $1.4 Billion of dollar coins being stored in the Federal Reserves’ vaults. The story was filled with partial truths and did not properly explain the situation. When I tried to reach out to NPR, I was rebuffed by a reporter who decided a low-level Treasury staffer who did not have the first clue about reality was more credible
While the media was blaming the U.S. Mint and the Federal Reserve, they forgot to read the law. According to the law, there were mintage minimums that congress wrote into the law including the one that said the Sacagawea dollar was to comprise one-third of the dollar coin production. As part of the legislation, the U.S. Mint and Federal Reserve were supposed to promote the coin’s use and provide educational materials for the public.
Congress, who wrote and passed the original legislation, was tripping all over themselves to introduce bills to end the program while pounding their collective chests claiming they were acting in the public interest.
This nightmare ended when then Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner ordered a reduction in the production of all dollar coins. None of the bills introduced to eliminate the dollar coin were ever heard in committee and died at the end of the 113th congress.
But the series couldn’t continue without one more controversy. The way the law was written, it was interpreted that it would end with the first living president. In this case, the program would have ended with the coin honoring Gerald Ford since Jimmy Carter is still living. This did not sit well with the fans of Ronald Reagan who have spent the time since his convalescence and death trying to plaster his name all over everything including an airport that employed air traffic controllers he fired placing the nation’s skies at risk.
The same members of congress that introduced bills to eliminate the program were now demanding the program be extended by one president. Ironically, they waited until after the resignation of Mint Director Edmund Moy and approached the acting Director Richard Peterson. Although Peterson was named acting director, he was a career government employee with impeccable credentials but had to have a different relationship with the politicians than an appointed director would. The matter was deferred to Treasurer Rosie Rios and Secretary of the Treasury Jack Lew who approved the extension of the program.
- George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison
- James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren
- William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, James K. Polk, Zachary Taylor
- Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln
- Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, James Garfield
- Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland
- William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson
- Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt
- Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson
- Richard M. Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan
First Spouse Gold $10 Coins
- Martha Washington, Abigail Adams, Thomas Jefferson’s Liberty,† Dolley Madison
- Elizabeth Monroe, Louisa Adams, Andrew Jackson’s Liberty,† Martin Van Buren’s Liberty†
- Anna Harrison, Letitia Tyler,‡ Julia Tyler,†† Sarah Polk, Margaret Taylor
- Abigail Fillmore, Jane Pierce, James Buchanan’s Liberty,* Mary Lincoln
- Eliza Johnson, Julia Grant, Lucy Hayes, Lucretia Garfield
- Alice Paul,¶ Frances Cleveland (first term), Caroline Harrison,‡ Frances Cleveland (second term)
- Ida McKinley, Edith Roosevelt, Helen Taft, Ellen Wilson,‡ Edith Wilson††
- Florence Harding, Grace Coolidge, Lou Hoover, Anna Eleanor Roosevelt
- Elizabeth Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Jacqueline Kennedy, Claudia Taylor “Lady Bird” Johnson
- Patricia Ryan “Pat” Nixon, Betty Ford, Nancy Reagan
- President was widowed prior to inauguration
- First Spouse died during the president’s term
- Married the president during the president’s term
- James Buchanan was the only bachelor president
- President Chester Arthur was widowed prior to inauguration. However, the authorizing law gives the coin honor to Alice Paul, a suffragette who was born during Arthur’s administration
When the Reagan dollar was issued, 39 presidents representing 40 terms were issued.
Along with Nancy Reagan, 35 other first spouses were honored (Frances Cleveland appeared twice), four different Liberty coins were issued, and one was issued to honor suffragette Alice Paul.
As the program now quietly rides off into the proverbial sunset, maybe it is time to let the America the Beautiful Quarters® complete their run through 2021 and give the circulating commemoratives a rest.
- Coin images courtesy of the U.S. Mint
- Reagan on horsback “April 4, 1986 photo courtesy Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum.” Downloaded from PresidentialPetMuseum.com