To George Washington
[New York, November 25, 1785]1
Major Fairly2 is just setting out on a visit to You I believe on some business relating to the Cinninnati. The society of this state met some short time since and took into consideration the proposed alterations in the original frame of the Institution.3 Some were strenuous for adhering to the old constitution a few for adopting the new and many for a middle line. This disagreement of opinion and the consideration that the different state societies pursuing different courses—some adopting the alterations entire others rejecting them in the same way—others adopting in part and rejecting in part—might beget confusion and defeat good purposes—induced a proposal which was unanimously agreed to, that a Committee should be appointed to prepare and lay before the society a circular letter expressive of the sense of the society on the different alterations proposed & recommending the giving powers to a General meeting of the Cinninati to make such alterations as might be thought adviseable to obviate objections and promote the Interests of the society.4 I believe there will be no difficulty in agreeing to change the present mode of continuing the society; but it appears to be the wish of our members that some other mode may be defined and substituted & that it might not be left to the uncertainty of Legislative provision. We object too to putting the funds under legislative direction. Indeed it appears to us the Legislatures will not at present be inclined to give us any sanction.
I am of the Committee and I cannot but flatter myself that when the object is better digested & more fully explained it will meet your approbation.
The Poor Baron5 is still soliciting Congress, and has every prospect of Indigence before him. He has his imprudencies; but upon the whole he has rendered valuable services; and his merits and the reputation of the Country alike demand that he should not be left to suffer want. If there could be any mode by which Your influence could be employed in his favour; by writing to Your friends in Congress or otherwise, The Baron and his friends would be under great obligations to you.
I have the honor to be with sincere esteem &c. Your Obedt & hum serv
ALS, George Washington Papers, Library of Congress.
1. In JCHW description begins John C. Hamilton, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1851). description ends , I, 428, and HCLW description begins Henry Cabot Lodge, ed., The Works of Alexander Hamilton (New York, 1904). description ends , IX, 412, this letter is dated November 23, 1785.
2. Major James Fairlie, a resident of Albany, New York, was aide-de-camp to Baron von Steuben from July, 1778, to the end of the American Revolution.
3. The Society of the Cincinnati, formed in 1783 by Revolutionary War officers, restricted its membership to officers of the American army who had served honorably for three years. The general society was divided into state societies. George Washington was the first president general of the society.
At its first general meeting, held in Philadelphia in May, 1784, fifteen amendments were offered to the plan for the society which had been drawn up a year earlier. The most important amendment was one abolishing hereditary succession, a principle which had occasioned frequent and bitter attacks on the society as an undemocratic, autocratic organization. The proposed alterations were submitted to the respective state societies for ratification. For the proposed amendments, see Schuyler, Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati description begins John Schuyler, Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, Formed by the Officers of the American Army of the Revolution, 1783 (New York, 1886). description ends , 31–33. Although there is no record of a meeting of the New York State Society in 1785, the committee appointed to prepare a circular letter on the proposed amendments, to which H refers later in this letter, must have been appointed in that year.
4. The committee consisted of H, Richard Morris, David Brooks, Edward Dunscomb, and Robert Troup. Their report, dated July 6, 1786, was presented to the meeting of the New York State Society that was held on that date (Schuyler, Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati description begins John Schuyler, Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, Formed by the Officers of the American Army of the Revolution, 1783 (New York, 1886). description ends , 91).
5. For an account of Baron von Steuben’s claims against the Continental Congress, see “Report on the Claim of Baron von Steuben,” December 30, 1782.