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Society of the Cincinnati

The General Society of the Cincinnati is a patriotic, benevolent, and historic association in the United States and France with limited and strict membership requirements. The society was organized at the end of the American revolution by officers who were soon to return home, and it continues to today.

Table of contents
1 Origins
2 Reaction to the Society
3 The later Society
4 Related Links


The first meeting was held at a dinner in Fishkill (near Newburgh), New York in May of 1783 since the British hadn't yet withdrawn from New York City. It was chaired by General Von Steuben and they agreed to stay in contact with each other after the war. Membership was limited to officers who served under George Washington in the French forces or the Continental Army or their descendants.

The Society is named after the Roman dictator Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus who had assumed near total control of Rome to meet a war emergency. When the battle was won, he returned control to the Senate and went back to plowing his fields. The Society's motto reflects that ethic: He gave up everything to serve the Republic. They set the three purposes of the Society:

Within twelve months a constituent Society had been organized in each state and in France. There were about 5,500 originally eligible members, and 2,150 had already joined. Washington was elected the first President General. He served from December 1783 until he died in 1799. The second President General was Alexander Hamilton.

Reaction to the Society

In the years soon after the revolution, membership continued to expand. Members have served in all the major offices of the United States and many state governments. The Society has generally remained true to its founding purpose. But some, including
Thomas Jefferson, were alarmed at the apparent creation of a hereditary elite. Membership eligibility is inherited through primogeniture, and excludes militia members and enlisted men.

Over the years membership rules have remained essentially intact. There is a provision for approving the application of a collateral heir if the direct male line dies out. Membership has been expanded to include descendants of those killed during the war and Naval Officers, but remains highly restrictive. Broader based organizations have been created, including the Sons of the American Revolution and the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR).

The later Society

The first governor of the Northwest Territory, Arthur St. Clair, was a member of the Society. Cincinnati, Ohio was named to honor the society.

The Civil War was a great trial to the Society as it was for all of the United States. Robert E. Lee and many fellow Confederate officers were members of the Society. Nevertheless the Society recovered after the war and remains active into the twenty-first century.

Today's Society supports efforts to increase public awareness and memory of the ideals and actions of the men who created the American Revolution. The current national society has its headquarters in the Anderson House, at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, D.C They also maintain a museum there which is open to the public. There are several active state Societies.

Related Links

The Pennsylvania Society Web pages.