Posted by: Democratic Thinker | January 11, 2010

Newburgh Crisis: IX—Cincinnatus

Washington Secures the Republic

Following the Battle of Yorktown, the Continental Army encamped at Newburgh, New York. Under-provisioned, unpaid, and in dire straits, the soldier tried various courses of action to obtain the funding promised them by the states and the Continental Congress. Some of their plans were as desperate as their situation and threatened to destroy the republic.

… high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman, LUCIUS QUINTIUS CINCINNATUS, and being resolved to follow his example, by returning to their citizenship, …



The Institution
The Society of the Cincinnati.

On Hudson’s River, 10th May,1783.

Proposals for establishing a Society upon principles therein mentioned, whose members shall be the officers of the American Army, having been communicated to the several regiments of the respective lines, they appointed an officer from each, who, in conjunction with the General Officers, should take the same into consideration at their meeting this day, at which the Honorable Major-General Baron de Steuben, the senior officer present, was pleased to preside.

The proposals being read, fully considered, paragraph by paragraph, and the amendments agreed to, Major-General Knox, Brigadier-General Hand, Brigadier-General Huntington, and Captain Shaw were chosen to revise the same, and prepare a copy to be laid before this Assembly at their next meeting, to be holden at Major-General Baron de Steuben’s quarters, on Tuesday, the 13th inst.

Tuesday, 13th, May, 1783.

THE representatives of the American Army being assembled, agreeably to adjournment, the plan for establishing a society, whereof the officers of the American Army are to be members, is accepted, and is as follows, viz.

It having pleased the Supreme Governor of the Universe, in the disposition of human affairs, to cause the separation of the Colonies of North-America from the domination of Great-Britain, and after a bloody conflict of eight years, to establish them Free, Independent, and Sovereign States, connected by alliances, founded on reciprocal advantages, with some of the greatest princes and powers of the earth.

To perpetuate, therefore, as well the rememberance of this vast event, as the mutual friendships which have been formed under the pressure of common danger, and in many instances cemented by the blood of the parties; the officers of the American Army do hereby in the most solemn manner, associate, constitute, and combine 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.

The officers of the American army having generally been taken from the citizens of America, possess high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman, LUCIUS QUINTIUS CINCINNATUS, and being resolved to follow his example, by returning to their citizenship, they think they may with propriety denominate themselves


The following principles shall be immutable, and form the basis of the Society of the Cincinnati.

An incessant attention to preserve inviolate those exalted rights and liberties of human nature, for which they have fought and bled, and without which the high rank of a rational being is a curse instead of a blessing.

An unalterable determination to promote and cherish, between the respective states, that union and national honour, so essentially necessary to their happiness, and the future dignity of the American empire.

To render permanent the cordial affection subsisting among the officers; this spirit will dictate brotherly kindness in all things, and particularly extend to the most substantial acts of beneficence, according to the ability of the society, towards those officers and their families, who unfortunately may be under the necessity of receiving it.

The general society will, for the sake of frequent communications, be divided into state societies, and these again into such districts as shall be directed by the state Society.

The societies of the districts to meet as often as shall be agreed upon by the state society; those of the state on the fourth day of July, annually, or oftener, if they shall find it expedient; and the general society on the first Monday in May, annually, so long as they shall deem it necessary, and afterwards, at least once in every three years.

At each meeting, the principles of the institution will be fully considered, and the best measures to promote them adopted.

The state societies will consist of all the members resident in each state respectively; and any member removing from one state to another, is to be considered, in all respects, as belonging to the society of the state in which he shall actually reside.

The state societies to have a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and assistant-treasurer, to be chosen annually by a majority of votes, at the state meeting.

Each state meeting shall write annually, or oftener, if necessary, a circular letter, to the other state societies, noting whatever they may think worthy of observation, respecting the good of the society, or the general union of the states, and giving information of the officers chosen for the current year. Copies of these letters shall be regularly transmitted to the secretarygeneral of the society, who will record them in a book to be assigned for that purpose.

The state society will regulate every thing respecting itself and the societies of the districts, consistent with the general maxims of the Cincinnati; judge of the qualifications of the members who may be proposed; and expel any member, who, by conduct inconsistent with a gentleman and a man of honour, or by an opposition to the interests of the community in general, or the society in particular, may render himself unworthy to continue a member.

In order to form funds which may be respectable, and assist the unfortunate, each officer shall deliver to the treasurer of the state society, one month’s pay, which shall remain forever to the use of the state society; the interest only of which, if necessary, to be appropriated to the relief of the unfortunate.

Donations may be made by persons not of the society, and by members of the society, for the express purpose of forming permanent funds for the use of the state society; and the interest of these donations appropriated in the same manner as that of the month’s pay.

Moneys, at the pleasure of each member, may be subscribed in the societies of the districts, or the state societies, for the relief of the unfortunate members, or their widows and orphans, to be appropriated by the state society only.

The meeting of the general society shall consist of its officers and a representation from each state society, in number not exceeding five, whose expenses shall be borne by their respective state societies.

In the general meeting, the president, vice-president, secretary, assistant secretary, treasurer, and assistant-treasurer general, shall be chosen to serve until the next meeting.

The circular letters which have been written by the respective state societies to each other, and their particular laws, shall be read and considered, and all measures concerted which may conduce to the general intendment of the society.

It is probable that some persons may make donations to the general society, for the purpose of establishing funds for the further comfort of the unfortunate; in which case, such donations must be placed in the hands of the treasurer-general, the interest only of which to be disposed of, if necessary, by the general meeting.

All the officers of the American Army, as well those who have resigned with honour, after three years’ service in the capacity of officers, or who have been deranged by the resolutions of Congress, upon the several reforms of the army, as those who shall have continued to the end of the war, have the right to become parties to this institution; provided that they subscribe one month’s pay, and sign their names to the general rules, in their respective state societies—those who are present with the army immediately, and others within six months after the army shall be disbanded, extraordinary cases excepted. The rank, time of service, resolutions of Congress by which any have been deranged, and place of residence, must be added to each name; and as a testimony of affection 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.

Those officers who are foreigners, not resident in any of the states, will have their names enrolled by the secretary-general, and are to be considered as members in the societies of any of the states in which they may happen to be.

And as there are, and will at all times be, men in the respective states eminent for their abilities and patriotism, whose views may be directed to the same laudable objects with those of the Cincinnati, it shall be a rule to admit such characters, as honorary members of the society, for their own lives only: Provided always, That the number of honorary members, in each state, does not exceed a ratio of one to four of the officers or their descendants.

Each state society shall obtain a list of its members, and, at the first annual meeting, the state-secretary shall have engrossed, on parchment, two copies of the institution of the society, which every member present shall sign; and the secretary shall endeavour to procure the signature of every absent member; one of those lists to be transmitted to the secretary-general to be kept in the archives of the society, and the other to remain in the hands of the state-secretary. From the state-lists, the secretary-general must make out, at the first general meeting, a complete list of the whole society, with a copy of which he will furnish each state-secretary.

The society shall have an Order, by which its members shall be known and distinguished, which shall be a medal of gold, of a proper size to receive the emblems, and suspended by a deep blue ribband, two inches wide, edged with white, descriptive of the union of America and France, viz.

The principal figure


Three Senators presenting him with a sword and other Military Ensigns—on a field in the back-ground,
Standing at the door of their cottage—near it
Round the whole,


On the reverse,

Sun rising—a city with open gates, and Vessels entering the port—FAME crowning CINCINNATUS with a wreath, inscribed
With the motto,

Round the whole,

A. D. 1783.