Berghahn Books Logo

berghahn New York · Oxford

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Youtube
The Society of the Cincinnati: Conspiracy and Distrust in Early America
Volume 2

European Studies in American History

See Related
History Journals

Email Newsletters

Sign up for our email newsletters to get customized updates on new Berghahn publications.

Click here to select your preferences

The Society of the Cincinnati

Conspiracy and Distrust in Early America

Markus Hünemörder

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

Hb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook from these vendors Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“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: 18th/19th Century History
Area: North America


List of Abbreviations

Introduction: The Society of the Cincinnati and the Confederation Period

  • Notes

Chapter 1. The Price of Peace: The Creation of the Society of the Cincinnati

  • Problems of Supply and Pay
  • Pensions, Commutation, and Congressional Finances
  • The Newburgh Crisis
  • Founding the Society of the Cincinnati
  • Notes

Chapter 2. A Political Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: The Accusations Against the Society of the Cincinnati

  • A Chronology of Fear
  • A French Blessing
  • Patricians of America
  • King George IV
  • The Shadow Government
  • Thieves of Memory
  • Notes

Chapter 3. The Wicked and Traitorous Fabrication: The Society of the Cincinnati Controversy and the Constitution

  • Commutation: Obstacle to Constitutional Reform
  • Fears of Cincinnati Influence over Constitutional Reform
  • Convention and Ratification
  • The New Republic
  • Notes

Chapter 4. One Society of Friends: Reactions of the Society of the Cincinnati

  • The Cincinnati on the Defensive
  • A Society Reformed
  • A Reform Rejected
  • The Impact of a Failed Reform
  • Notes

Chapter 5. Was It All True? The Politics of the Society of the Cincinnati

  • Monarchy
  • Nobility
  • Western Lands
  • Shays’s Rebellion
  • Constitutional Reform
  • Cincinnati Politics under a Federalist Government
  • Cincinnati in the Military
  • Outstanding Pay and Pensions
  • Notes

Chapter 6. Between Two Revolutions: The “Order of the Cincinnati” in France

  • A French Connection
  • A Threat to Republicanism or to Monarchy?
  • Jacobins and Cincinnati
  • Notes

Chapter 7. Guardians of the Republic: The Critics of the Society of the Cincinnati

  • Elbridge Gerry
  • Aedanus Burke
  • Benjamin Gale
  • Eccentricities and Convictions
  • Notes

Chapter 8. Republican Fears and Confusions: The Cincinnati Controversy in Context

  • The Fear of a Standing Army
  • The Jealousy of Power
  • The Problem of Equality
  • Economic Depression and Political Crisis
  • Notes

Conclusion: Political Paranoia and the Cincinnati Controversy

  • Notes

Selected Bibliography

Back to Top

Library Recommendation Form

Dear Librarian,

I would like to recommend The Society of the Cincinnati Conspiracy and Distrust in Early America for the library. Please include it in your next purchasing review with my strong recommendation. The RRP is: $135.00

I recommend this title for the following reasons:

BENEFIT FOR THE LIBRARY: This book will be a valuable addition to the library's collection.

REFERENCE: I will refer to this book for my research/teaching work.

STUDENT REFERRAL: I will regularly refer my students to the book to assist their studies.

OWN AFFILIATION: I am an editor/contributor to this book or another book in the Series (where applicable) and/or on the Editorial Board of the Series, of which this volume is part.