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The American Cyclopædia (1879)/Cincinnati, Society of the

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CINCINNATI, Society of the, an association founded by the officers of the American revolutionary army after the peace of 1783. Its object was to commemorate the success of the revolution, and to perpetuate sentiments of patriotism, benevolence, and brotherly love, and the memory of hardships experienced in common. The original draft of its constitution was made by Gen. Knox, and is still extant. The meeting for the organization of the society, held at the quarters of Baron Steuben in New York, on the Hudson river, was composed of the general officers in camp and regimental delegates from the respective lines, the baron presiding as senior officer. Appropriate badges and ornaments were devised, including the eagle and uniting the colors blue and white in compliment to the combined arms through which the revolution had been achieved. The honors of life membership were conferred upon a number of French officers. A fund was formed by the contribution of one month's pay for the relief of members in needy circumstances. The constitution adopted in 1783 declared that the “officers of the American army” associated “themselves into one society of friends, to endure as long as they shall endure, or any of their eldest male posterity; and in failure thereof, the collateral branches who may be judged worthy of becoming its supporters and members.” Jealousy arose against the society, which was supposed thus to be establishing a military order, with the absolute right of inheritance on the principle of the laws of primogeniture. At the first general meeting of the society, held in Philadelphia in May, 1784, a proposition was made to amend the constitution, abolishing all succession of membership, and confining the society to those who had served during the war of the revolution. The amendments then proposed were submitted to the several state societies, but failed to receive their assent, and the constitution as originally adopted remains in force. The right of succession is not absolute, but subject to the judgment of the society that the son, or next in order of descent to a deceased member, is “worthy of becoming a supporter and member;” so that the law of inheritance confers only the right to be voted for, and the society admits or declines to admit according to its estimate of the character of the eldest male descendant. If he be deemed not worthy, the right is held in abeyance. The impression prevailed in the public at large that the germ of an hereditary aristocracy was concealed within the society, and in some of the states charters were for that reason refused to the branch societies. At the second general meeting, held in 1787, Washington was elected president-general, and was reëlected triennially during his life. He was succeeded by Hamilton and the Pinckneys, and the society was in all its vigor during the visit to the United States in 1824-'5 of Lafayette, who was its only surviving major general. The societies of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts had acts of incorporation. The Connecticut society was dissolved in 1804, after a patriotic valedictory by Col. Humphreys. The Delaware society was dissolved about the same time, the more attached of the members carrying their share of the funds into the Pennsylvania society. The New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Virginia societies continued to exist nearly as long, the first, upon its discontinuance, depositing its records in the state historical society, and the last named appropriating its funds toward the endowment of Washington college. The Georgia society also was discontinued, bequeathing its funds to the parent society. Robert Burnet of New York, who died in 1854, was the last survivor of the original members of the association. It has at present six state branches, which hold annual meetings on the 4th of July, viz., Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and South Carolina. The general society meets triennially, and its conventions have been held successively at Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore, Charleston, Trenton, and Boston. Among the earlier honorary members of the Cincinnati of Pennsylvania were Benjamin Franklin, Sharp Delany, and Robert Morris; among those of New Jersey were Elias Boudinot, William Livingston, and Frederick Frelinghuysen; among those in New York were Chancellor Livingston, Gouverneur Morris, Rufus King, Stephen Van Rensselaer, the naval commanders Bainbridge, Biddle, Stewart, Hull, and Perry, and Generals Jackson, Scott, Brown, Cadwallader, Taylor, Worth, Wool, Grant, and others. The best accounts of the society are in the “North American Review” for October, 1853, and in the “Memoirs of the Pennsylvania Historical Society,” vol. vi.


AmCyc Cincinnati Society of the - badge.jpg

Badge of the Society of the
Cincinnati.