History of the Society of the Cincinnati

History of the Society of the Cincinnati

The Society of the Cincinnati is given a special place on this site because it is the oldest military hereditary society in the United States, and has a special place in American history.  In many ways, the Society of the Cincinnati laid the foundation as a model for most hereditary societies which came after it.

The Society began as the brainchild of Major General Henry Knox.  Supported by George Washington, Knox initiated the Society and helped draft the Institution upon which it is based.  The basis for the creation of the Society of the Cincinnati was to provide a means of ongoing fellowship for the officers of the Continental Army, and to develop charitable funds to assist the families of original members.  The Society also acted on behalf of the Army's officers in an effort to secure military pensions for surviving Revolutionary War veterans. 

The structure of the Society is multi-faceted, with significant authority residing within the individual State societies, of which there are thirteen, as well as a French society.  The General Society of the Cincinnati was established by the leading officers of the Continental Army, and representatives from each State line in 1783.  The organizational meetings were held at the Verplank House in Fishkill, New York; home of Major General Baron von Steuben, who also presided over the first meetings.  The Society was founded in May, 1783.

George Washington served as the first President General of the Society of the Cincinnati from December 1783, until his death in 1799.  His advocacy of the Society's interests, as well as the sheer strength of his reputation helped establish the Society of the Cincinnati during its formative years; a time when some opposition to the Society existed. Washington's leadership stabilized and guided the Society of the Cincinnati as President General for the first sixteen years of its existence.


The name of the society is derived from the story of the Roman farmer, Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus.   In the Fifth Century, B.C., Cincinnatus, a farmer, was called upon to leave his fields and lead Rome into battle.  After returning victorious, Cincinnatus returned to his fields until he was called upon to serve as temporary dictator of early Rome.  Once again, he  laid  down his  power to return to a normal

life when his job was done.  Thus is evidenced in the motto of the Society, "He gave up everything to serve the republic."  This example of unwavering service, and a willingness to lay down personal power for the good of the republic is the model upon which the Society of the Cincinnati was based.  Far from the dangerous aristocracy it could have become, the Society demonstrated an adherence to the principles upon which it was founded, and followed the example of the noble Cincinnatus.

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