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Society of the Cincinnati. [Constitution of the Society of Cincinnati]

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Gilder Lehrman Collection #: GLC02437.02122 Author/Creator: Society of the Cincinnati. Place Written: New York Type: Manuscript document Date: circa 19 June 1783 Pagination: 13 p. ; 33.9 x 21 cm.

Summary of Content: Knox's copy of the Constitution of the Society of the Cincinnati. Knox has docketed on the first page saying "Cincinnati Constitution of &c." This document consists of the minutes of the 10 May 1783 meeting regarding proposals to establish the Society of the Cincinnati (p.1), minutes of the meeting of 13 May 1783, during which the constitution was accepted (p.1), the constitution (titled "The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati) (pp. 2-9) which is clerically signed for Baron von Steuben, and the minutes of the 19 June 1783 meeting. Also includes a transcript of a 3 June 1783 letter (in French) from the Chevalier de la Luzerne accepting the constitution on behalf of himself and fellow French officers, a description of the design of the Society's medal, and a transcript of a 10 June 1783 letter from Major [Charles] L'Enfant regarding that design (pp. 10-13). Primarily written in the hand of John Trumbull, with some passages by another unidentified individual. Pages bound together with string. Written from the "Cantonment of the American Army on Hudson's River."

Full Transcript: [draft]
Cantonment of the American Army
On Hudson's River
10th May 1783 -

Proposals for establishing a society upon principles, therein mentioned, whose members shall be 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,
Brigr. General Hand,
Brigr. 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 Instant. -
Tuesday 13th May 1783 -
The representatives of the American Army being assembled agreeable to adjournment, the plan for establishing a Society, whereof the Officers of the Army are to be members, is accepted and is as follows - [2]
The Institution
of the Society of the Cincinnati

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 advantage with some of the great Princes and Powers of the Earth. -

To perpetuate therefore, as well the remembrance of this vast event, as the mutual friendship 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, 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 Quinctius Cincinnatus, and they think they may with propriety denominate themselves the Society of the Cincinnati -
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 honor so essentially necessary to their happiness and the future dignity of the American
Empire - [3]
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 those 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 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 [4] chosen for the current year - Copies of these letters shall be regularly transmitted to the Secretary General 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 its 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 a conduct inconsistent with a gentleman and a man of honor, 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 months pay [which] shall forever remain 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 interests of these donations appropriated in the same manner as that of the months pay. -
Monies, 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 member 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 representation from each State Society, in number not exceeding five, whose expences shall be borne by their respective State Societies -
In the General meeting, the President, Vice President, Secretary, Assistant Secretary, Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer, Generals, shall be chosen to serve until next meeting. -
The circular letters who 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 - [5]
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 honor, 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 in this institution, Provided, that they subscribe one months pay, and sign their names to the general rules in their respective States 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, resolution 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 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 won 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 lift of its members and at the first annual meeting the State Secretary shall [6] have engrossed, on parchment, two copies of the Institution of the Society, which every member present shall sign, and the Secretary shall endeavor to procure the signature of every absent member, one of these 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 ribbon, two inches wide, edged with white, descriptive of the Union of America & France -
The principal figure, Cincinnatus,
three Senators presenting him with
a sword and other military ensigns
On a field in the back ground, his
wife standing at the door of their
cottage, near it a plough and instruments of husbandry - round the whole Omnia reliquit Servare rempublicam
On the reverse
Sun rising - a city with open gates
and vessells entering the port Fame
Crowning Cincinnatus with a wreath inscribed
Virtulis Promium
Hands joined supporting a heart,
With the motto - Esto perpetua
round the whole
Societas Cincinnatorum, instituta AD 1783

The Society deeply impressed with a sense of the generous assistance this Country has received from France, and desirous of perpetuating [7] the friendships which have been formed, and so happily subsisted between the Officers of the United Forces, in the prosecution of the war, direct that the President General transmit as soon as may be to each of the characters hereafter named, a medal containing the Order of the Society -
Viz: His Excellency The Chevalier de la Luzerne
Minister Plenipotentiary
His Excellency - The Sieur Gerard,
Late Minister Plenipotentiary
Their Excellencies
The Count D' Estaing
The Count De Grasse
The Count De Barras
The Chevalier des Touches
Admirals and
commanders in the navy. -
His Excellency The Count de Rochambeau, Commander in Chief and the Generals and Colonels in his army, and acquaint them that the Society does itself the honor to consider them as members -
That a copy of the aforegoing Institution be given to the Senior Officer of each State line, and that the Officers of the respective state lines, sign their names to the same in manner and from following - Viz -
We the Subscribers, Officers of the American Army, do hereby voluntarily become parties of the aforegoing Institution and do bind ourselves to observe and be governed by the principles therein contained for the performance whereof we do solemnly pledge to each other our sacred honor
Done, in the Cantonment on Hudson's River in the year 1783 [8]
That the members of the Society, at the time of subscribing their names to the Institution, do also sign a draft on the pay Master General, in the following terms - The Regiment to do it regimentally, and the Generals and other Officers not belonging to regiments, each for himself individually
To John Peirce Esquire
Pay Master General to the Army of the United States
Please to pay to ……Treasurer for the ……State Association of the Cincinnati, or his order, one months pay of our several grades respectively, and deduct the same, from the balance which shall be found due to us, on the final liquidation of our accounts, for which this shall be your warrant -
That the members of the several State Societies assemble as soon as may be, for the choice of their President and other Officers, and that Presidents correspond together, and appoint a meeting of the Officers, who may be chosen for each State, in order to pursue such further measures as may be judged necessary -
That the General Officers, and the Officers delegated to represent the Several corps of the Army, subscribe to the Institution of the General Society for themselves and their Constituents, in the manner and form before prescribed -
General Heath
General, Baron de Steuben
and General Knox,
be a committee to [9]
wait on His Excellency the Commander in Chief with a copy of the Institution and request him to honor the Society, by placing his name at the head of it -
That Major General Heath, Second in Command in this Army, be and hereby is desired to transmit copies of the Institution, with the proceedings thereon, to the commanding Officer of the Southern Army - The Senior Officer of each State from Pennsylvania to Georgia inclusive, and the Commanding Officer of the Rhode Island line, requesting them to communicate the same to the Officers under their several commands, and to take such measures, as may appear to them necessary for expediting the establishment of their State Societies, and sending a delegation on to represent them in the first general meeting, to be holden on the First Monday in May 1784.
The meeting then adjourned
Without day
Signed Steuben, Maj General

[10] Cantonment of the
American Army 19th June 1783
At a meeting of the General Officers and the gentlemen delegated by the respective regiments, as a Convention for establishing the Society of the Cincinnati, hereby the request of the President, at which were present.
Major General Baron de Steuben, President
Major Genl Howe ------- Major Pettengill
Major Genl Knox ------- Lieut. Whiting
Brigr. Gen. Patterson ------- Colo. H Jackson
Brigr. Genl. Hand ------- Captain Shaw
Brigr. Gen. Huntington ----- Lt. Colo. Hull
Brig. Genl. Putnam ------- Lt. Colo. Maxwell
Colo: Webb ------- Colo Cortlandt
Lt. Colo Huntington

Gen: Baron de Steuben, acquainted the Convention, that he had agreeable to request at the last meeting transmitted to His Excellency the Chevalier de la Luzerne Minister Plenipotentiary from the Court of France, a copy of the Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, with their vote respecting his Excellency, and the other characters therein mentioned, and that His Excellency had returned an answer, declaring his acceptance of the same, and expressing the grateful sense he entertains of the honor conferred on himself and the other gentlemen of the French nation by this act of the Convention -
That the letter of the Chevalier de la Luzerne be recorded in the proceedings of this day, and deposited in the archives of the Society, and a testimony of the high sense this Convention entertains of the honor done to the Society - by his becoming a member thereof -
[11] The Letter is as follows
Philadelphia 3 June 1783
[The letter is in French] [12]
The Baron having also communicated a letter from Major L'Enfant, enclosing a design for the medal and order containing the emblems of the Institution -
That the bald Eagle, carrying the emblems on its breast, be established as the Order of the Society, and that the ideas of Major L'Enfant, respect it as the manner of its being worn by the members as expressed in his letter, hereto annexed be adopted - That the Order be the same size, and in every other respect comformable to the said design, which for that purpose is certified by The Baron de Steuben, President of this Convention, and to be deposited in the Archives of the Society, as the Original from which all copies are to be made - Also that silver medals, not exceeding the size of a Spanish milled dollar with the emblems, as designed by Major L'Enfant and certified by the President, be given to each and every member of the Society, together with a Diploma on Parchment - wheron [sic] shall be impressed the exact figure of the Order and Medal, as above mentioned, anything in the Original Institution, respecting gold medals to the contrary notwithstanding -
Major L'Enfant's letter is as follows.
[The letter is in French]
See More

People: Von Steuben, Friedrich Wilhelm Ludolf Gerhard Augustin, 1730-1794

Historical Era: The New Nation, 1783-1815

Subjects: Society of the CincinnatiRevolutionary WarRevolutionary War GeneralMilitary HistoryContinental ArmyFraternal OrganizationImmigration and MigrationFranceArt, Music, Theater, and Film

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