George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Weedon, 2 December 1788

From George Weedon

Fredericksburg Decr 2d 1788

Dear Sir

I have the honor of transmiting you a copy of the proceeding of the last meeting of the Virginia Society of Cincinnati held in Richmond the 13th & 14th of Novr 1788.1

A very severe fit of the gout which crippled me for three months has deprived me the pleasure of Visiting you at Mount Vernon this fall agreeable to promise. With very great esteem and respect I am my Dear Genl Your Obt Servt

G. Weedon


George Weedon (c.1734–1793) of Westmoreland County, Va., kept a tavern in Fredericksburg. Weedon was an officer in the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War, and during the Revolution he commanded one of the Virginia regiments in the Continental army before becoming a brigadier general in 1777. After he married Margaret Gordon in 1764 Weedon took over the management of the popular Fredericksburg tavern owned by her parents. GW was a frequent visitor at the tavern during his trips to Fredericksburg. After the Revolution, Weedon served on the Fredericksburg city council and as mayor. At this time he was living at his house—the Sentry Box—on Caroline Street in Fredericksburg.

1The enclosures are in DLC:GW. In June 1783 at the “meeting of the General officers, and the gentlemen delegated by their respective regiments, as a convention for establishing the Society of the Cincinnati,” GW was elected president-general to serve until the general meeting of the society in May 1784 (“Minutes of the First Meeting of the Cincinnati,” in Hume, Society of the Cincinnati, description begins Edgar Erskine Hume, ed. General Washington’s Correspondence concerning the Society of the Cincinnati. Baltimore, 1941. description ends 8). Even before the May meeting he was disturbed by the criticism engendered by the newly formed society. It numbered among its opponents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Elbridge Gerry, and, perhaps the Cincinnati’s most vociferous critic, South Carolinian Aedanus Burke, who published an attack on the society, Considerations on the Society or Order of Cincinnati, in Philadelphia in 1783. On 8 April 1784 GW wrote to Jefferson requesting that “with frankness, and the fullest latitude of a friend, you will give me your opinion of the Institution of the Society of Cincinnati.” Jefferson replied, 16 April, observing that GW’s connection with the society had been a “matter of anxiety” to him and recapitulating the arguments of the society’s opponents—that “it is against the Confederation; against the letter of some of our constitutions; against the spirit of them all—that the foundation, on which all these are built, is the natural equality of man, the denial of every preeminence but that annexed to legal office, & particularly the denial of a preeminence by birth.” By the time the general meeting convened in Philadelphia in May 1784, GW had decided that alterations in the society’s charter, or “Institution,” were essential to still the clamor. His proposals for changes in the institution, which paraphrased many of Jefferson’s objections, included the abolition of the hereditary provision for members, the elimination of general meetings, a separate organization of officers in France, and an admonition to “strike out every word, sentence, and clause which has a political tendency”(GW to the Society, 4 May 1784). Although the membership acceded to all of his suggestions except for the abolition of general meetings, some of the authority for implementing the changes was passed to the state societies. At the May meeting GW reluctantly accepted the presidency for the next three years. The receipt in November 1785 of the comte de Mirabeau’s critical pamphlet Considérations sur l’ordre de Cincinnatus, based on Burke’s earlier pamphlet and sent to GW by Jefferson, helped keep alive GW’s own apprehensions: “the alterations which took place at the last general Meeting have quieted the clamours which in many of the States were rising to a great height; but I have not heard yet of the incorporation of any Society by the State to which it belongs—wch is an evidence in my mind, that the jealousies of the people are rather asleep than removed on this occasion” (GW to Arthur St. Clair, 31 Aug. 1785). The next general meeting of the Cincinnati was scheduled to convene in May 1787 in Philadelphia at the same time as the Constitutional Convention was meeting in the city. As GW later recalled, he had “by a circular letter to the Several State Societies requested that I might not be re-elected President, on account of my numerous avocations: the last General Meeting was pleased so far to indulge me, as to make it a condition to induce my acceptance, that I should be absolutely excused from all trouble & application incident to the office; and that the whole business should devolve on the Vice-President, General [Thomas] Mifflin” (GW to Barbé de Marbois, 4 April 1788). For GW’s comments on the society’s problems, see also his letters to James Madison, 16 Dec. 1786, and to Henry Knox, 2 April 1787. By the time he was elected president of the United States, GW’s involvement in the society’s affairs was as minimal as he could make it although he was by now convinced that the opposition had been “a most unreasonable prejudice against an innocent institution. . . . I have not. . . escaped being represented as short-sighted in not foreseeing the consequences, or wanting in patriotism for not discouraging an establishment calculated to create distinctions in society, and subvert the principles of a republication government. Indeed, the phantom seems now to be pretty well laid; except on certain occasions, when it is conjured up by designing men, to work their own purposes upon terrified imaginations” (GW to William Barton, 7 Sept. 1788, in Fitzpatrick, Writings, description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. 39 vols. Washington, D.C., 1931–44. description ends 30:87–89). GW retained the presidency of the Cincinnati until his death.

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