Report of a Committee of the New York State Society
of the Society of the Cincinnati1
[New York, July 6, 1786]
The Committee to whom were referred the proceedings of the Society of the Cincinnati, at their last General Meeting,2 beg leave to report: that they have attentively considered the alterations proposed at that meeting to be made in the original Constitution of the Society; and though they highly approve the motives which dictated those alterations, they are of opinion it would be inexpedient to adopt them, and this chiefly on the two following accounts:
1st. Because the Institution, as proposed to be altered, would contain in itself no certain provision for the continuance of the Society beyond the heirs of the present members; this point (being left to the regulation of charters which may never be obtained, and which, in the opinion of this Committee, so far as affects this object,) ought never to be granted, since the dangers apprehended from the Institution could then only cease to be imaginary when it should secure the sanction of a legal establishment. The utmost the Society ought to wish or ask from the several legislatures, is to enable it to appoint trustees to hold its property, for the charitable purposes to which it is destined.3
2d. Because, by a fundamental article, it obliges the Society of each State to lend its funds to the State,4 a provision which would be improper for two reasons: one, that in case the Society might be able to dispose of its funds to much greater advantage, the other, that the State might not always choose to borrow from the Society.
That while the Committee entertain this opinion with respect to the proposed alterations, they are at the same time equally of opinion, that some alterations in the original constitution will be proper, as well in deference to the sense of many of our fellow citizens, as in conformity to the true spirit of the Institution itself.
The alterations they have in view respect, principally, the duration or succession of the Society, and the distinction between Honorary and Regular Members. As to the first, the provision intended to be made appears to them to be expressed in terms not sufficiently explicit,5 and as far as it may intend an hereditary succession, by right of primogeniture, is liable to this objection, that it refers to birth what ought to belong to merit only, a principle inconsistent with the genius of a Society founded on friendship and patriotism. As to the second, the distinction holds up an odious difference between men who have served their country in one way and those who have served it in another,6 a difference ill-founded in itself, and improper in a Society where the character of Patriot ought to be an equal title to all its members.
The Committee, however, decline proposing any specific substitute for the parts of the original Constitution which appear to them exceptionable, as they are of opinion, any alterations necessary to be made, can only be digested in a General Meeting of the Society, specially authorised to agree upon and finally establish those alterations. With a view to this, they beg leave to recommend that a Circular Letter be written from the Society to the different State Societies,7 suggesting the expediency of instructing and empowering their delegates at the next General Meeting, to concur in such alterations as may appear to that meeting proper, after a full communication of what shall be found to be the sense of the several societies.
The Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati … Together with Some of the Proceedings of the General Society, and of the New-York Society (New York, 1851), 51–53.
1. Hamilton, History description begins John C. Hamilton, Life of Alexander Hamilton, a History of the Republic of the United States of America (Boston, 1879). description ends , III, 126, states that H “presented a report,” implying that he was its author. In the Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, cited above, the report is prefaced by the statement that “Col. HAMILTON presented the following report.” In the edition of the transactions of the society prepared by John Schuyler in 1886 (Institution of the Society of the Cincinnati, 91), it is stated only that “this report was signed by Richard Morris, Alexander Hamilton, David Brooks, Edward Dunscomb and Robert Troup as the Committee.” Although H doubtless presented the report, no proof of his authorship has been found.
2. For an account of the inauguration of the Society of the Cincinnati and the amendments to its original constitution proposed at the general meeting of 1784, see H to George Washington, November 25, 1785.
3. The amendment to which H refers reads, in part, “… the several State meetings shall, at suitable periods, make applications to their respective legislatures for grants of charters” (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 , 32).
4. Section 12 of the revised “Institution” read: “The funds of each State meeting shall be loaned to the State by permission of the legislature; and the interest only, annually to be applied for the purposes of the Society” (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 ).
5. The original “Institution” of the society provided that the members form a “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 worth of becoming its supporters and members” (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 , 14). The amended “Institution” of the society stated that hereditary succession should be abolished.
6. The “Institution” of the society stated that “… 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” (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 , 17–18).
8. Richard Morris, chief justice of the State of New York, was made an honorary member of the society in 1786. David Brooks served as assistant clothier general for New York troops from 1780 to 1782. Edward Dunscomb was a captain during the Revolution. Robert Troup had served as aide-de-camp to Major General Horatio Gates.