The Liberty on the Draped Bust: Ann Willing Bingham



Bust_dollar_obverseThe Draped Bust coin obverse design, in use from 1795 to 1807, was designed by Mint engraver Robert Scot to replace the Flowing Hair design, which was almost unanimously disliked. Though it cannot be conclusively proved, it is likely that Ann Willing Bingham, a socialite and considered one of the most lovely women of her day, was the inspiration for the Liberty on this coin. She was the subject of many portraits painted by Gilbert Stuart, who created the image that Scot used for his engraving of Liberty on the Draped Bust coins.


Stuart_annewillingbinghamAnn Bingham was a regular correspondent of Thomas Jefferson, as well as other luminaries of the American Revolution. Her letters were influential in convincing Jefferson of the need for the Bill of Rights, which would offer much greater protection to the citizens of the newly formed country than just the Constitution alone. Jefferson proposed the Bill of Rights to Madison, likely leaving her name out, and Madison drew up the document which was adopted by Congress.


bingham_anne_smOn a personal level, she often matched wits with Jefferson. Consider this passage from a letter from Bingham to Jefferson, dated June 1, 1787: “I agree with you that many of the fashionable pursuits of the Parisian Ladies are rather frivolous, and become uninteresting to a reflective Mind; but the Picture you have exhibited, is rather overcharged. You have thrown a strong light upon all that is ridiculous in their Characters, and you have buried their good Qualities in the Shade. It shall be my Task to bring them forward, or at least to attempt it…The Women of France interfere in the politics of the Country, and often give a decided Turn to the Fate of Empires. Either by the gentle Arts of persuasion, or by the commanding force of superior Attractions and Address, they have obtained that Rank and Consideration in society, which the Sex are intitled to, and which they in vain contend for in other Countries.”


She loved the intellectual life of the European continent, and tried to recreate it in her Philadelphia social circles. Members of the Federalist party, like Alexander Hamilton, and other founding fathers, including George Washington, were regular visitors for friendly debates and discussions.


Abigail Adams wrote about her, “[Mrs. Bingham is] the finest lady I ever saw. The intelligence of her countenance, or rather, I ought to say, its animation, the elegance of her form, and the affability of her manners, convert you into admiration.”


After the birth of her third child, Ann fell very ill (probably with tuberculosis), and set sail with her family for the more favorable climate of Madeira. She never reached it: she died en route in Bermuda, at the age of 37.

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