James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Elnathan Haskell, 12 September 1783

From Elnathan Haskell

RC (LC: Madison Papers). Salutation, “The Honbl Mr. Madison.” Cover addressed to “The Honorable Mr. Madison Princeton. Honored by Major Sergant.” Docketed by JM, “Institution of the Cincinnati from E. Haskill Sepr. 12. 1783.” “Sergant” was probably Major Winthrop Sargent (1753–1820). Between 1787 and 1801 he was successively the surveyor, secretary, and governor of the Northwest Territory. Enclosed with the letter are twelve folios docketed, “Institution of the Cincinnati.” Below this, JM added, “inclosed by Majr. Haskell in his letter of Sepr. 12. 1783.” The designation of Haskell as “Majr.” suggests that JM wrote this portion of the docket on or after 30 September 1783 (n. 3, below).

Philadelphia 12th Septr 83.

Dear Sir

I procured from a friend of mine a sight of the Institution of the Cincinnati and from it have made a copy which I beg you to accept.1

Major Jackson2 acquainted me yesterday that at the moment of his leaving Princeton a member of Congress had mentioned to him that my affair was referred to the war office, but that it had not reached it. Whether it is at this or any other Stage I shall be obliged by your attention to it.3

I am Dear Sir Your most obdt Sert

E. Haskell

1The “copy” is in Captain Haskell’s hand. The unidentified “friend” was probably an officer with the main army at West Point, who perhaps had come to Philadelphia for the express purpose of informing officers in General Robert Howe’s command of the formation of the Society of the Cincinnati. Elnathan Haskell (1755–1825), aide-de-camp to General Howe, had risen from sergeant to captain in the Massachusetts line. At the time of his removal to South Carolina in 1789, Washington characterized him as “a worthy man” (Bradford Adams Whittemore, Memorials of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati [Boston, 1964], p. 239; Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Sources, 1745–1799 (39 vols.; Washington, 1931–44). description ends , XXX, 173; JM Notes, 21 June, and n. 4; JM to Randolph, 30 June, n. 6; 8 July; Delegates to Harrison, 5 July 1783, and n. 3).

The enclosure, which is headed “Cantonment of the American Army on Hudsons River 10th May 1783,” includes: (1) note of a meeting on that day, presided over by “Major General Baron De Steuben” and attended by other “General Officers” and representatives of “the several regiments of the respective lines.” This meeting, after discussing “Proposals for establishing a Society” to be composed of “officers of the American Army,” referred them for revision to a committee of four, Major General Henry Knox, chairman; (2) note of a similar meeting three days later at which the committee’s report, in the form of an “Institution” for the society, was adopted; (3) the “Institution” of “the Society of the Cincinnati,” embracing paragraphs successively setting forth the cause for forming an hereditary organization; its name and the reason for choosing it; the “immutable” guiding “principles” to shape policies; the federative organization and the means of maintaining close liaison among the state branches; the officers, their tenure and how chosen; the procurement and use of funds “for the relief of the unfortunate members, or their widows and orphans”; rules of eligibility for membership, including a limited number of distinguished American civilians, as well as French military officers and a few French diplomats closely associated with the Revolution; the society’s colors and “medal,” with a description of its obverse and reverse, including the mottoes, Omnia relinquit servere Rempublicam (“He abandons everything in order to serve the republic”), Virtutio Premium (“First in valor”), Esto perpetua (“May it endure forever”); and a resolution prescribing the pledge to which “the officers of the respective State Lines,” who desired to become members, must agree when they signed their names below the copy of the “Institution” to be provided the “Senior officer of each State Line.” The “Institution” has been printed often—e.g., Edgar Erskine Hume, Sesquicentennial History and Roster of the Society of the Cincinnati in the State of Virginia, 1783–1933 (Richmond, 1934), pp. 26–41.

2Major William Jackson, assistant secretary at war (Papers of Madison description begins William T. Hutchinson, William M. E. Rachal, et al., eds., The Papers of James Madison (7 vols. to date; Chicago, 1962——). description ends , IV, 37, n. 1).

3In Philadelphia on 1 September, Haskell wrote to Theodorick Bland: “When I had the pleasure of seeing you last, you may remember I mentioned my intention of soliciting Congress for the rank of major, and the principles on which I should make the request. Since that I have had an opportunity of explaining myself more fully to Mr. Madison, who does me the honor of handing to the President [Elias Boudinot] my petition, and who will, I believe, bring forward the question” (MS in Bland Papers, Va. Historical Society). Although unmentioned in the journal, this may have been done by JM between 25 and 30 August, when he was attending Congress in Princeton (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXIV, 521, n. 1, 525; JM to Randolph, 30 Aug. 1783).

General Howe supported Haskell’s plea by writing on 4 September to General Benjamin Lincoln, secretary at war. Since Lincoln was “at the northward” inspecting military posts, Congress the next day referred Howe’s letter to Jackson for report (NA: PCC, No. 149, III, 119–21; No. 185, III, 77; No. 186, fol. 122). On 22 September Jackson proposed that Haskell be promoted to the brevet rank of major in recognition of his several “extra-confidential” staff missions, “which it appears that he has discharged with honor to himself and benefit to the service.” On 30 September 1783, five days after listening to Jackson’s report, Congress adopted his recommendation (NA: PCC, No. 149, 199–202; JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 541, 634, and n. 1). Although JM was in Congress on 25 September and may have spoken on that day in favor of Haskell’s petition, he did not attend on 5 and 30 September (JCC description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford et al., eds., Journals of the Continental Congress, 1774–1789 (34 vols.; Washington, 1904–37). description ends , XXV, 537, 613, 635).

Index Entries