Hamilton Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Thursday, January 7, 2016

In a White House ceremony Nov. 24, Lee Hamilton was one of 17 Americans to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

This was the Medal citation: “A leading voice on foreign policy and national security, Lee H. Hamilton has played a pivotal role in developing solutions to some of the most complex challenges of our time. His leadership in Congress reflected his profound commitment to preserving the safety and integrity of our nation, and his role in promoting civic engagement has made an impact that will endure for generations to come. Lee H. Hamilton has helped steer the course of American history in a spirit of bipartisanship, and he continues to strengthen the homeland and promote diplomacy.”

In his remarks at the ceremony, President Barack Obama offered these words of praise: ‘At its best,’ Lee Hamilton once said, ‘representative democracy gives us a system where all of us have a voice in the process, and a stake in the product.’ In his 34 years in Congress, Lee Hamilton was a faithful servant to that ideal, representing his district, his beloved Indiana, and his country with integrity and honor. As head of the House Foreign Affairs and Intelligence committees, he helped guide us through the Cold War and into a new era of American leadership. He is a man widely admired on both sides of the aisle for his honesty, his wisdom and consistent commitment to bipartisanship. From serving as vice chair of the 9/11 Commission to making Congress more effective, Lee remains a tireless public servant and a trusted advisor and friend to many, and I am proud to count myself among them.”

Created in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, the Presidential Medal of Freedom is presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.

From 1965 to 1999, Hamilton served Indiana in the U.S. House, where his chairmanships included the Committee on Foreign Affairs, the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the Select Committee to Investigate Covert Arms Transactions with Iran. He also was Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, working to promote long-term economic growth and development, global market competition, and sound fiscal policy. And he was Chairman of the Joint Committee on the Organization of Congress, promoting integrity and efficiency in the institution.

Since retiring from Congress, Hamilton has been at the center of efforts to address some of our nation’s highest-profile homeland security and foreign policy challenges. 

He served as Vice Chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (known as the 9/11 Commission), which issued its report in 2004. He was Co-Chairman, with former Secretary of State James A. Baker, of the Iraq Study Group, which in 2006 made recommendations on U.S. policy options in Iraq. He was Co-Chairman, with former Sen. Spencer Abraham, of the Independent Task Force on Immigration and America's Future, which issued a report in 2006 calling for reform of the nation’s immigration laws and system.

From 1999 through 2010, Hamilton was President of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, an institution in Washington, D.C., where scholars, policymakers and business leaders engage in comprehensive and non-partisan dialogue on public policy issues.

Hamilton in 1999 founded the Center on Congress at Indiana University, and served as its director for 16 years. Now at IU-Bloomington, Hamilton is a distinguished scholar in the School of Global and International Studies, and a professor of practice in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. He writes a biweekly column on Congress and representative democracy, which is distributed by the IU Center on Representative Government, and he writes a regular column on foreign affairs for The Huffington Post.

When first notified of the Medal of Freedom honor, Hamilton said, “There are an awful lot of people who helped me get [this award], including my family, staff members and, of course, the Indiana voters who have supported me over the years. Their support has been enormously meaningful and has enabled me to do what I was able to do."

IU President Michael A. McRobbie said, “Lee Hamilton is a true statesman who demonstrated unsurpassed commitment to serving the people of Indiana during his more than three decades as a member of Congress. Lee also has had an immeasurable impact on U.S. foreign policy, and he continues to be a clear voice for a strong but measured approach to the complex global issues this country faces.

"This recognition is a fitting tribute to Lee’s vast contributions to his home state and his country, and we are immensely fortunate to have Lee as a distinguished faculty member of the IU School of Global and International Studies, where he can share his wealth of knowledge and experience with the university community."

Hamilton is the author of three books: How Congress Works and Why You Should Care (Indiana University Press); Strengthening Congress (Indiana University Press); and A Creative Tension: The Foreign Policy Roles of the President and Congress (Woodrow Wilson Press). He co-authored with former Gov. Thomas Kean Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission (Knopf).

Hamilton was born in 1931 in Daytona Beach, Fla. His family relocated to Tennessee and then Evansville, Ind. He graduated from DePauw University and Indiana University law school, and he studied for a year at Goethe University in Germany. A former high school and college basketball star, he was inducted into the Indiana basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Before his 1964 election to Congress, he practiced law in Chicago and Columbus, Ind. He was married to Nancy Ann Hamilton for 58 years until her death in 2012. They have three children and five grandchildren.