European Studies in American History
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The Society of the Cincinnati
Conspiracy and Distrust in Early America
220 pages, bibliog, index
ISBN 978-1-84545-107-3 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (February 2006)
eISBN 978-1-78920-426-1 eBook
“Hünemörder has written a sold history and made a substantial contribution to our understanding of the Society of the Cincinnati and the Controversy that surrounded it.” • The Journal of Southern History
“The chief value of Hünemörder’s book is to place the specific controversy over the Cincinnati so well within the larger context. Students of the early republicwill profit from this study.” • The Journal of American History
“In this study the author has thoughtfully and intelligently described the foundation, especially also the criticism, of the Society of the Cincinnati…Apart from a few minor debatable points, this study can only praised. It is based on original sources, on a comprehensive knowledge of the contemporary and modern literature and is tightly argued.” • Historische Zeitschrift
“The principal strength of Hünemörder's study is its placement of the Society of the Cincinnati within the larger currents of post revolutionary republican ideology. It briefly describes the origins and early development of the Cincinnati, but the main focus is on the Society as a center of controversy in the debates surrounding the new republican polity…In a tightly argued and briskly written examination of the debate surrounding the Cincinnati during the 1780s, Hünemörder succeeds in placing the controversy within the era's larger political culture and thereby contributes to a more nuanced understanding of this unsettled, formative period…Students of the early republic will profit from this study.” • Journal of American History
“This is the first work to treat the issue of creation of the Society of the Cincinnati within the context of the constitutional politics of the American Revolution since 1803. ...the author has brought to light many new documents, particularly printed sources.” • Ken Bowling, The First Federal Congress Project, The George Washington University
In 1783, the officers of the Continental Army created the Society of the Cincinnati. This veterans’ organization was founded in order to preserve the memory of the revolutionary struggle and pursue the officers' common interest in outstanding pay and pensions. Henry Knox and Frederick Steuben were the society's chief organizers; George Washington himself served as president. Soon, however, a widely distributed pamphlet by Aedanus Burke of South Carolina accused the Society of conspiracy. According to Burke, the Society of the Cincinnati was nothing less than a hereditary nobility which would subvert American republicanism into aristocracy. Soon, more critics including John Adams and Elbridge Gerry joined the fray, claiming among other things that the Society was a secret government for the United States or a puppet of the French monarchy. While these accusations were unjustified, they played an important role in the difficult political debates of the 1780s, including the efforts to revise the Articles of Confederation. This books explores why a part of the revolutionary leadership accused another of subversion in the “critical period,” and how the political culture of the times predisposed many leading Americans to think of the Cincinnati as a conspiracy.
Markus Hünemörder teaches American history at the University of Munich. He was the first recipient of the Kade-Heideking fellowship administered by the German Historical Institute in Washington, DC.
Subject: History: 18th/19th Century
Area: North America
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