Ralph Earl (1751—1801)

attrib. Ralph Earl (1751—1801)

Oil on canvas. Buckman Tavern, Lexington Historical Society, Lexington, MA.

by Ralph Earl (1751—1801)

Oil on canvas; 64 5/8 in. x 49 5/8 in. Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, CT.

by Amos Doolittle (1754—1832)

Engraving on copper; colored. First advertised for sale in New Haven, Connecticut, on 13 December 1775.

by Amos Doolittle (1754—1832)

Engraving on copper; colored. First advertised for sale in New Haven, Connecticut, on 13 December 1775.

by Amos Doolittle (1754—1832)

Engraving on copper; colored. First advertised for sale in New Haven, Connecticut, on 13 December 1775.

by Amos Doolittle (1754—1832)

See original

by Amos Doolittle (1754—1832)

Engraving on copper; colored. First advertised for sale in New Haven, Connecticut, on 13 December 1775.

As students of Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau are always reminding us, the age of reason was really an age of sentiment. In this too, Washington was a man of his age. When he established the first general decoration in the American Army, the Purple Heart, it was not (as it became in the twentieth century) an award available to all soldiers wounded in the line of duty. Only privates and noncomissioned officers could win the original Badge of Military Merit, a cloth-shaped heart sewn over the man’s actual heart, which allowed him to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do. The symbol was not of heart’s blood shed, but of virtue proceeding from the heart. Limiting the award to nonofficers was meant to indicate that great virtue can be shown regardless of rank — that in Washington’s words, the road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.

Garry Wills
Cincinnatus: George Washington & the Enlightenment (1984)