This Day in the Law
July 12

Medal of Honor Authorized by Congress (1862)

On July 12, 1862, U.S. Congress authorized the Medal of Honor for use. The Medal of Honor is the highest military decoration awarded by the United States government. It is given to members of the armed forces who distinguish themselves "conspicuously by gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States."

The first formal system for rewarding American soldiers was established by George Washington in 1782, when he created the Badge of Military Merit. The Badge of Military Merit fell into disuse after the Revolutionary War, but the concept of a military award for individual gallantry by members of the armed forces had been established and other medals soon followed. The Certificate of Merit was established during the Mexican-American War, and the Navy Medal of Valor was established during the Civil War.

The Army wanted something similar to the Navy Medal of Valor, so a resolution was introduced to Congress to establish a medal for members of the Army and other armed forces. On July 12, 1862, the Medal of Honor was officially established by Congress. The Navy Medal of Valor also became known as the Medal of Honor, thus establishing one medal for all armed forces.

Members of all branches of the U.S. military are eligible to receive the medal, as are civilians who act in a "soldier-like manor." Each branch of the military has a unique medal design, with the exception of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard, which both use the Navy's medal. The Medal of Honor is presented to the recipient or, in the case of posthumous awards, to next of kin, by the President of the United States.