The Order of Lincoln was established in 1964 by Proclamation of Illinois Governor Otto Kerner, Jr., to honor individuals whose contributions to the betterment of humanity have been accomplished in Illinois, or, whose achievements have brought honor to the state because of their identity with it, whether by birth or residence, or whose dedication to the principles of public service inspire all Illinoisans to respond to what Lincoln called ‘the better angels of our nature’.
To ensure that no political connotation should surround the award, an independent, non-partisan entity was established to administer the program. Thus, the Order of Lincoln and the Lincoln Academy (based respectively upon the French Legion of Honor and the French Academy) were established, with Michael Butler, the Academy’s first chancellor, as its primary architect.
In 1989, as part of the Academy’s twenty-fifth anniversary, Governor James R. Thompson declared the Order of Lincoln to be ‘the state’s highest award’ and every Illinois Governor since then has so described it.
Each honoree receives a warrant signed by the Governor and bearing the Great Seal of the State of Illinois, certifying his or her investiture as a Laureate of the Order of Lincoln.
The insignia of the Order of Lincoln is a variant of the Maltese cross (with ten points rather than eight) — a white-enameled, red-bordered Maltese asterisk. The obverse displays the Arms of the State of Illinois encircled by the inscription ‘Palmam Qui Meruit, Ferat’ (‘Let him who merits bear the palm’ — words from Horatio Viscount Nelson). The center is supported by cross pieces of perforated gold, encircled by leaves of violet. The reverse central disc features the likeness of President Lincoln in gold and on a gold ground, encircled by the inscription ‘The Lincoln Academy MCMLXV’. The cross is suspended by an oval circlet of green and gold enameled oak leaves and is suspended from a ribbon in the colors of the state’s symbols: red for the state bird, the cardinal; violet for the state flower; and green for the state tree, the oak.