Cincinnati, General Society of The
The true and authentic sources of information about this Society over which there has been so much debate ever since 1783 are in transactions, proceedings, and other papers published by the Society itself. Chief among these is Proceedings of the General Society of the Cincinnati with the Original Institution of the Order (Sherman, printer; Philadelphia; 1847). This perpetuates in a better form a copy of the Institution that had been published in Philadelphia by John Steele, in 1785, except that it omits a number of letters included in the latter.
A sufficient amount of original sources is accumulated if to the above two brochures is added A Journal of the General Meeting of The Cincinnati in 1784, by Major Winthrop Sargent; Philadelphia; 1859. Of the storms of printed objections to the Society the most famous was Consideration of the Order of Cincinnati, by The Count De Mirabeau; London ; 1785. The plan as stated in the General Institution was to enable the officers of the Revolutionary Army to have a national society of their own with a branch in each state; that its first purpose was to perpetuate the fellowship of the army in the field, and its second purpose to give relief to the needy in its circles; it was assumed that to be a member would in itself be a military honor; and-it was this which aroused the storm of objections-"as a testimony of election to the memory and the offspring of such officers as have died in the service, their eldest male branches shall have the same right of becoming members as the children of the actual members of the society."
This constitution was adopted and the Society was formed on it at the Verplanck House, Steuben's Headquarters, near Fishkill, shortly before demobilization.
Washington was the first President-General, elected in 1787, two years before his inauguration as first President; he was succeeded by Alexander Hamilton; C. C. Pinckney; Thomas Pinckney; Aaron Ogden ; Morgan Lewis; William Popham, H. A. S. Dearborn; Hamilton Fish ; William Wayne; Winslow Warren. The last original member died in 1854. The Society is still in existence. In the accumulated literature belonging to the Society the most valuable is a series of sermons and orations delivered before the General Societies or the State Branches between 1784 and about 1825 ; almost without exception they are discussions by able spokesmen of the nation (President Timothy Dwight of Yale was one of them), of its problems, anxieties, and of the conceptions of the American republican system and of its National Government. They are a better portrait of what was going on in the minds of responsible and representative Americans in the critical period between 1787 and 1825 than many volumes of general history.
(The documents referred to above, along with a number of others, are preserved in the Iowa Masonic Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.)
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