American Society of the French Order of Merit
In 1789, the French Revolution abolished all decorations as marks of inequality, especially because they were inherited and not a recognition of personal merit. In 1802, Napoleon, as First Consul, decided to create the Legion of Honor which was to become the most sought after decoration in the world. In 1811, as Emperor, he created a second decoration, the Imperial Order of the Reunion, which only lasted 4 years. The difficulty in creating a second order rests in it's inevitable perception of having second class status, although it is just as prestigious as the first order.
In 1963, when President Charles de Gaulle decided to create the French Order of Merit, he did so with a very specific purpose in mind. His intention was to replace most of the ministerial decorations with a national mark of distinction. To this day, only four ministerial decorations remain, the Orders of: Arts et Lettres, Palmes Academiques, Merite Agricole and Merite Maritime. The name of the first recipients of the French Order of Merit were annonced on July 14, 1964, Bastille Day.
The Order of Merit has the same structure as the Legion of Honor. Both institutions are organized in a similar manner with three grades—Chevalier, Officier, Commandeur—and two dignities—Grand Officer and Grand'Croix. The Order of Merit has its own status, regulations and hierarchy. In order to avoid competition with the Legion of Honor, its board is presided over by a Chancellor who, by rights, is the Grand Chancellor of the Legion of Honor. The President of the French Republic is the Grand Master of the Order of Merit as well as teh Legion of Honor. The recipients of both Orders are recognized by symbolic and ddiscreet insignias, blue for the Merit, red for the Legion. The medal of the Order of Merit is a blue enameled star. Within its center is the female figure symbolizing the Republic of France.
On July 14, 1996, 33 years after its creation, The American Society of the French Order of Merit, ASFOM, was founded in New York City by Richard Bernstein, Guy Wildenstein and Jean-J. de Saint Andrieu. Many very prominent Americans have received the Order of Merit, and some may even have been awarded both the blue and the red ribbons.
The ASFOM mission statement reads:...to provide a vehicle of contact among and between recipients of the Order, residing in the United States, and to diffuse information to the public as to the meaning and history of the Order, and of French culture and history, in general. The Order seeks to promote appreciation of both French culture in the United States and American culture in France, and to do all to strengthen the traditional friendship that exists between the peoples of the United States and France.