Steadfast courage and loyalty from the days of Themistocles – Marine Corps Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin

Today, the Marine Corps Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin honors the 240th anniversary of the Marine Corps.

In the History of the United States Marine Corps, published in 1875, author M. Almy Aldrich included the following early background:


The United States Marine Corps has well sustained the high reputation for steadfast courage and loyalty which has been handed down to it from the days of Themistocles.

  1. — The United States Marine Corps came into existence before the organization of the regular Navy. Before a single vessel of the Navy was sent to sea, the Corps was organized.

On the 10th of November, 1775, the following was passed by Congress : —

“Resolved, That two battalions of Marines be raised, consisting of one colonel, two lieutenant-colonels, two majors, and other officers, as usual in other regiments ; that they consist of an equal number of privates, with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war between Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress ; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalions of American Marines.”

Later in the same month, another resolution was adopted providing against filling the Corps with men from the Regular Army. But slight record can be found of the services of the Marines during the first year of the existence of the Corps.

Men were not over-plenty, either for military or naval duty, and several months elapsed before the Corps was fully organized, equipped and ready for duty.

From the hour of their earliest organization, however, the Marines made a noble record for themselves and for their country.

In the early naval fights they played a most important part, amply proving their devotion to the cause in which they were enlisted, and furnishing conclusive evidence of the wisdom of the legislation which called their Corps into existence.

The time of service of the Corps ended, by the terms of the act of November 10, 1775, with the close of the Revolution.

In many scenes of danger and conflict the Marines had turned the tide of battle in favor of the American forces.

Both military and naval officers bore testimony to the bravery and efficiency of the Corps.

Whether in conflicts on land or in the sea-fights, where our forces contended with those of the mother country, the Marines won distinction for themselves, and contributed in no small degree to the final success of the American cause.

At the close of the Revolution, the Corps was disbanded, but Congress, recognizing the value of such an establishment, provided for the re-formation of the organization, and laid the foundation for the present efficient force.

On the 11th of July, 1798, an act was approved “for the establishing and organizing a Marine Corps.”

This act provided that, in addition to the military establishment there should be raised and organized a Corps of Marines, to consist of one major, four captains, sixteen first lieutenants, twelve second lieutenants, forty-eight sergeants, forty-eight corporals, thirty-two drums and fifes, and seven hundred and twenty privates, including the Marines already enlisted, or authorized to be raised for the naval armament.

The Corps was to be formed into as many companies or detachments as the President should direct, with a proper distribution of the commissioned and non-commissioned officers and musicians to each company or detachment.

That the pay and subsistence of the officers, privates and musicians was fixed as follows: To a major, fifty dollars per month and four rations per day; to a captain, forty dollars per month and three rations per day; to a first lieutenant, thirty dollars per month and three rations per day; to a second lieutenant, twenty-five dollars per month and two rations per day; and to the non-commissioned officers, privates and musicians, conformably to the act, entitled “An act providing a naval armament,” as should be fixed by the President.

The President was authorized to continue the enlistment of Marines, until the Corps should be complete; and to appoint the commissioned officers, whenever, in the recess of the Senate, an appointment should be necessary.

The enlistments were to be for the term of three years, subject to discharge by the President, or by the ceasing or repeal of the laws providing for the naval armament.

If the Marine Corps, or any part of it, should be ordered by the President to do duty on shore, and it should become necessary to appoint an adjutant, paymaster, quarter master, sergeant-major, quartermaster-sergeant, and drum and fife major, or any of them, the major or commandant of the Corps was authorized to appoint such staff-officer or officers from the line of subalterns, sergeants and musicians respectively, who should be entitled, during the time they should do such duty, to the same extra pay and emoluments which were allowed by law to officers acting in the same capacities in the infantry.

It was further provided that the detachments of the Corps of Marines, thus authorized, should be made in lieu of the respective quotas of Marines, which had been established or authorized for the frigates, and other armed vessels and galleys which should be employed in the service of the United States.

The President was authorized to detach and appoint such of the officers of this Marine Corps to act on board the frigates and any of the armed vessels of the United States respectively, as he should from time to time judge necessary, anything in the act “providing a naval armament” to the contrary notwithstanding.

The officers, non-commissioned officers, privates and musicians were to take the same oath, and be governed by the same rules and articles of war as were prescribed for the military establishment of the United States, and by the rules for the regulation of the Navy, according to the nature of the service in which they should be employed, and should be entitled to the same allowance, in case of wounds or disabilities, according to their respective ranks, as were granted by the ” Act to ascertain and fix the military establishment of the United States.”

It was provided that “the non-commissioned officers, musicians, seamen and Marines, who are or shall be enlisted into the service of the United States, and the non-commissioned officers and musicians who are or shall be enlisted into the army of the United States, shall be, and they are hereby exempted, during the term of service, from all personal arrests for any debt or contract.”

It was specially provided that the Marine Corps, established by this act, should, at any time, be liable to do duty in the forts and garrisons of the United States, on the sea-coast, or any other duty on shore as the President, at his discretion, should direct.


The Marine Corps Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin shows beside the Marine barracks and commandant’s house, circa 1859.

Marine Corps Commemorative Silver Dollar Coin