For Hillary Rodham Clinton, it's just another first. While she became the third woman to receive the prestigious Liberty Medal, she is the first former female Secretary of State and former First Lady to receive the honor.
Clinton received the 2013 Liberty Medal this evening during a presentation at the National Constitution Center.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, was supposed to present the medal to the former U.S. Senator and First Lady of United States, a Democrat, but instead Constitution Center President Jeff Rosen bestowed the honor. Both Bush and Clinton have been linked to possible presidential runs in 2016.
The Liberty Medal, which was presented for the 25th consecutive time, was awarded to Clinton in recognition of her "exemplary commitment to furthering the constitutional ideals of liberty and equality, in particular, among her many achievements, Secretary Clinton has made the rights of women and girls a global priority and she has championed freedom of speech on the Internet," Rosen said.
Throughout her 15-minute speech, Clinton, 65, repeatedly cited historical figures and their abilities to work together to solve problems and resolve conflicts.
She said historical figures such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin knew that "In a democracy, citizens cannot sit on the sidelines, that we have to get into the arena, as Teddy Roosevelt called it.
"And participate in the debates that shape our country's future," she said.
And sometimes, she added, sometimes it can get a bit noisy.
"But that is the American way," she said. "It's right in a democracy for us to debate, for us to disagree, forcefully even. It's what distinguishes us from authoritarian societies where decent is forbidden."
Today, she said, we are once again in the middle of some big, noisy debates.
What are the demands of America's global leadership in a changing world? How do we respond when international rules of the road are violated? How do we provide both security and liberty, at home and abroad?
"Every era faces its own questions, and has to fashion its own answers," she said. "And we are no different."
Clinton acknowledged the conflict in Syria, the middle-eastern country in the midst of a civil war, which garnered national attention after a lethal chemical attack against men, women and children was reported in a suburb of its capital city, Damascus, on Aug. 21.
"That violates a universal norm at the heart of our global order," she said. "Yet it demands a strong response from the international community led by the United States."
She said the debate on whether Syria's president should be reprimanded for his use of chemical weapons on civilians and have those weapons taken, is yet another example of debate that "is good for our democracy."
"As our founders knew," she said, "fervent arguments are the life blood of self-governement."
As Secretary of State, traveling around the globe, Clinton said she saw first hand how American unity, "leads to strength, but discord leads to perceived weakness."
"In our finest moments of any era, we achieve great things and provide a model of democracy that inspires people everywhere," she said. "But when we let partisanship override citizenship, when we fail to make progress on the challenges facing our people here at home, our standing in the world suffers."
The group held a press conference on the Independence Mall lawn across from the Constitution Center ceremony yesterday in which foundation members announced its inception and awarded its own medal – the 2013 Defender of Liberty Medal – posthumously to four people who "made grave sacrifices to uphold and defend the United States Constitution."
Co-founder Terri Adams said awarding Clinton the Liberty Medal on the eve of the anniversary of the attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, in 2012 is inappropriate.
The four recipients of the medal are Ambassador Chris Stevens, Foreign Service Officer Sean Smith and Navy SEALs Tyrone Woods and Glen Doherty.
The group claims to honor “Independence Hall as the physical and symbolic foundation of the American nation."