History of The Society of the Cincinnati

The Society of the Cincinnati was founded by officers at the Continental Army encampment at Newburgh, New York, in May 1783. The organization took its name from the ancient Roman hero Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, an embodiment of civic virtue.

Its founding document, the “Institution”, outlined the aims of the new organization: to perpetuate the memory of the War for Independence, maintain the fraternal bonds between the officers, promote the ideals of the Revolution, support members and their families in need, distinguish its members as men of honor, and advocate for the compensation promised to the officers by Congress.

The Society's original document box, made in 1787 to hold the archives of the Organization, which now consume more than one hundred boxes.

The Society’s original document box, made in 1787 to hold the archives of the Organization, which now consume more than one hundred boxes.

To achieve these aims, the Society called on its members to contribute a month’s pay. In order to perpetuate their fellowship, the founders made membership hereditary. George Washington was the first president general of the Society. The army’s chief of artillery, Major General Henry Knox, was the chief author of the Institution.

Within months of its formation, critics charged that the Society’s real purpose was to impose a hereditary aristocracy on the new republic. Members and non-members rushed to the defense of the Society, which experience proved was not a threat to liberty. The Society’s first decade was a period of energy and growth, and 2,270 officers joined the new organization. Constituent societies were organized in each of the original thirteen states and in France. The state societies met annually, typically around the Fourth of July, and most established traditions for these occasions—banquets, formal addresses, processions, and other ceremonies.

Membership in the Society declined in the early nineteenth century, and several constituent societies dissolved. The South Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey societies continued to operate, though their membership declined. By the middle of the nineteenth century the Society had fewer than three hundred members.

A period of reform and renewal began in 1854, when the Society adopted a new standard providing for the admission of descendants of all qualified officers, even if those officers had not joined the Society at its founding. This “Rule of 1854,” as it is known, doubled the number of lines for membership and provided the basis for the subsequent growth of the organization. It reflected the determination of Society leaders to perpetuate the organization and revive all of the original constituent societies.

The Civil War delayed the realization of their vision, but the national celebration of the centennial of the American independence encouraged interest in membership and the reestablishment of the original state societies. By 1904 all of the American state societies were in operation again. The revival was completed in 1925 with the admission of the reconstituted French Society to the fellowship of the General Society.

The establishment of the Society’s international headquarters at Anderson House in Washington, D.C., in 1938 reflected the ambition of the Society’s leaders to increase the organization’s stature and influence. The Society has continued to grow and flourish. It currently has 4,009 members in the thirteen state Societies and the French Society. In recent decades, the Society has focused its energy on a wide range of educational activities that fulfill the founders’ vision of perpetuating the memory of the American Revolution.

The Origins of the Society 1775–1783

HenryKnox

Major General Henry Knox

The Society of the Cincinnati was founded at the Continental Army encampment at Newburgh, New York, in May 1783. Major General Henry Knox, who was to distinguish himself as the commander of Washington’s artillery, first suggested the idea of a fraternal organization for officers of the Continental Army in 1775, when the Revolutionary War had barely begun. He returned to the idea in the spring of 1783, when the Continental Army, having prevailed in a war lasting eight years, was preparing to disband.

The war had lasted much longer than Knox or anyone else would have predicted. During the course of the war, tens of thousands of men had served in the Continental Army and several thousand had served as commissioned officers. Most of the officers were young men. They had risked their lives and sacrificed their private interests to secure the independence of the United States. Having lived and fought together for so long, many of them had formed fraternal bonds they expected would endure for the rest of the their lives.


They were justifiably proud of what they had accomplished. They had won a long and difficult struggle. With the aid of their French allies, they had defeated one of the great powers of the eighteenth century and had made it possible for their countrymen to establish the first great republic since the fall of the Roman republic nearly two thousand years in the past.

They would take home with them little more than their honor and the satisfaction that they had carried out their duty faithfully and well. Congress had made promises to give them half pay for the remainder of their lives, but, as the army prepared to disband, most of them had not received their regular pay for many months, and few of them had any confidence that Congress, which had been unable to supply the basic needs of the army, would be able to make good on its promises anytime soon. Those who had families to provide for worried about returning home with nothing more than those promises.

The weakness of the Confederation and the impotence of its government was a great concern to them. As the Confederation Congress faded into insignificance, the Continental Army was the only truly national organization. With its dissolution, one of the only institutions binding together Americans from Georgia to New Hampshire would vanish. They worried that the Union, which had been forged in the pressure of war, would weaken and dissolve as soon as that pressure was removed. They also worried that the people of the United States, returning to the pursuits of peace, would forget what the officers of the Continental Army had accomplished and would ultimately forget that American liberty had been established by men who bore arms in its defense.

All these thoughts and emotions—fraternal affection, pride in their accomplishments, frustration with the impotence of the government and its inability to pay the officers and enlisted men, and concern for the fate of the new republic—played a part in the founding of the Society of the Cincinnati and shaped its founding document, the Institution.

The Founding of the Society 1783–1784

Mount Gulian

Mount Gulian

Major General Henry Knox drafted the “Institution” in April 1783 and discussed his ideas with a group of like-minded officers, including his aide Captain Samuel Shaw, Major General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben, and Brigadier General Jedediah Huntington. They called the proposed organization the Society of the Cincinnati, after the ancient Roman hero Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. For his service leading Rome’s army against foreign invaders and for his refusal of rewards for his service, Cincinnatus was the embodiment of civic virtue both in the classical world and eighteenth-century America. Plans for the Society were discussed at a meeting of officers on May 10.

The Institution was formally adopted by a meeting held at General Von Steuben’s headquarters at Mount Gulian, New York on May 13, 1783, which is recognized as the day the Society was officially created. Copies of the Institution were thereafter made and sent to the Continental Line of each state to encourage their officers to organize state societies. The formal, engrossed copy of the Institution, written on parchment, was signed at a meeting in June.

General von Steuben

General von Steuben

The Institution outlined an organization with several purposes. The first was to perpetuate the memory of the War for Independence. It was an axiom of the Revolutionary generation that the citizens of a republic must remain ever vigilant in the defense of their liberties and must keep alive the memory of the virtuous sacrifices that had secured those liberties—or else they might lose them. Keeping alive the memory of the War for Independence remains the Society’s most important public purpose.

The second purpose was to maintain the fraternal bonds formed in the war by giving the departing officers reason to gather in their home states, and at least once every three years at the national level. These two purposes were described first in the Institution and were, by implication, the reason for the provision that followed, making membership in the Society hereditary. The sons, grandsons, and nephews of the original members had not endured the privations and challenges of the war and had no fraternal bonds to maintain, but they were charged with perpetuating “the remembrance of that vast event”—the achievement of American independence in a “bloody conflict of eight years.” The Institution constituted them all—original members and their hereditary successors, as “one Society of Friends.”

The third purpose of the Society was to preserve the liberties for which the officers had fought and to encourage “union and national honor” between the respective states. Concern for liberty, union, and national honor was not a political platform, except in the broadest possible sense. These were concomitants of independence and the consequences of a war effort that had created a new nation out of thirteen distinctively different British colonies. “Incessant attention” to their preservation, to which the Institution pledged the Society’s members, was tied up in perpetuating the memory of the war that had established American liberty, union, and national honor.

The fourth purpose of the Society was charitable, or, in the language of the eighteenth century, “benevolent.” As a consequence of their fraternal attachment, members were to demonstrate “brotherly kindness in all things,” including providing financial support to members in distress and their widows and orphans in times of need. To provide the funds needed for what the Institution termed “the most substantial acts of beneficence,” all original members of the Society were required to subscribe the equivalent of one month’s pay to establish common funds managed by the individual state societies.

The fifth purpose of the Society—nowhere explicitly stated in the Institution but implied by the name, form, and nature of the organization—was to distinguish its members as men of honor, whose civic virtue had been clearly demonstrated by their dedication to the cause of American independence at the risk of their lives and the sacrifice of their private interests. The limitation of membership to officers serving at the end of the war or who had served for at least three years and “resigned with honor,” as well as those displaced involuntarily in the various reorganizations of the army, indicates that the founders did not intend to create a simple organization of veteran officers. Instead, they intended to create an organization of men distinguished by the kind of service that bestowed genuine honor.

The provision of the Institution that makes this purpose most apparent is the one calling for the Society “to have an Order, by which its members shall be known and distinguished.” The order was to be a gold medal bearing images of the Roman republican hero Cincinnatus: on the front, an image of Cincinnatus accepting command and leaving his plow, with a Latin motto, “He gave all to serve the republic,” celebrating his virtuous sacrifice. On the back was to be an image of Cincinnatus returning home, with a winged figure of Fame flying above, blowing her trumpet, with the Latin motto indicating that fame was “the reward of virtue.”

Society of the Cincinnati SealKnox imagined these devices on a round gold medal suspended from a neck ribbon. Pierre L’Enfant, a Continental Army engineer, persuaded him that a badge worn on the lapel, similar to the French Order of Saint Louis, would be more appropriate. L’Enfant designed an elegant badge, consisting of a gold eagle with its wings spread, bearing a cartouche on its breast with the image of Cincinnatus and the motto prescribed in the Institution. This badge or insignia of the Society of the Cincinnati, known informally as the “Eagle,” has been the most important and widely recognized symbol of the organization since 1784, when L’Enfant returned from France, where he went to have the first group of Eagles made. The Eagle was prized by members of the Society, not simply as a symbol of membership, but as proof of their virtuous conduct. It was a badge of honor.

The sixth purpose of the Society was to advocate on behalf of the officers to secure arrears in pay and the half pay for life that had been promised to them. By disbanding the army and returning home without having secured this compensation, the officers acknowledged the subordination of the military to civilian rule. Unlike the military leaders of other successful rebellions, before and since, they would not use the army to impose their will on the government. In this sense, their return to civilian life reenacted the return of Cincinnatus to his farm without claiming or accepting political power.

Unlike Cincinnatus, however, they expected to be paid and created the Society to advocate for their interests. The Institution is nowhere explicit about this purpose of the Society. It did not need to be. During the winter and spring of 1783 the unresolved grievances of the army about pay had pushed enlisted men to the verge of mutiny and some officers to consider how the army might be used to compel Congress to do them justice.

In March the dissident officers, led by Maj. John Armstrong, Jr., an aide to Maj. Gen. Horatio Gates, published placards charging that Congress would allow veterans to “grow old in poverty, wretchedness and contempt.” They called a mass meeting held on March 15. To the surprise of the hundreds of officers present, Washington appeared and made an impassioned speech, advising them to be patient and urging them to oppose anyone “who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood.” At the climax of his remarks, Washington pulled a new pair of reading glasses from his pocket in order to read his officers a letter from a congressman. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray but almost blind in the service of my country.” This moment of quiet drama touched the hearts of all but the most hardened officers and extinguished any possibility of an army coup.

These events were fresh in the minds of the officers who formed the Society of the Cincinnati two months later, and they clearly expected the Society would carry on the effort to secure just compensation. They could not have known that this effort would continue for decades.

George Washington accepting membership into the Society of the Cincinnati as the first President-General in 1783.

George Washington accepting membership into the Society of the Cincinnati as the first President-General in 1783.

George Washington had taken no part in organizing the Society, but he agreed to serve as its first president general. A meeting on June 19, 1783, elected Henry Knox secretary general and Maj. Gen. Alexander McDougall of New York as treasurer general. The other offices—vice president general, assistant secretary general, and assistant treasurer general—were left vacant, pending the Society’s first general meeting, to be convened in 1784.

The thirteen American state societies were formally organized over the following five months. The officers of each state held meetings to organize their society. The Institution defined broad parameters within which these constituent societies were expected to operate, but otherwise afforded them a great deal of autonomy. Knox and the framers of the Institution could not have done otherwise. The new nation was vast and communication slow. Centralization would have been impossible. The Society was one of the first institutions in the new nation organized on a national scale, but the circumstances dictated that it be composed of state societies capable of managing their own affairs.

A French Society soon joined the thirteen American state societies. The Institution provided for the admission of two French diplomats—La Luzerne and Gerard—as well as Admirals d’Estaing, de Grasse, Barras, and des Touches, in addition to General Rochambeau and the generals and colonels of his army. When L’Enfant left for France to commission the Eagles, he had instructions to acquaint these gentlemen with the honor done them and present each with one of the Society’s new badges.

The French officers greeted the honor with great enthusiasm and obtained the king’s permission to accept and wear the order—an unusual privilege at a time when foreign decorations were generally forbidden at court. Under the king’s patronage, French officers held a meeting to create a French branch of the Society in January 1784. French army officers of the rank of colonel and above were deemed eligible for membership, as were all Frenchmen bearing Continental commissions. The admirals were upset that naval captains were not mentioned in the Institution, but L’Enfant advised them that the founders in America intended to include them. From the start, the French Society had a special mission within the Society—to perpetuate the trans-Atlantic fraternity built up during the war and to promote understanding and friendship between France and the United States. This remains a large part of the purpose of the French Society in the twenty-first century.

The Society and its Critics 1784–1800

The Society was not greeted so warmly in the United States. Within months of the adoption of the Institution, critics began to charge that the members planned to use the Society to impose a hereditary aristocracy on the new American republic. The leading critic was a South Carolina judge, Aedanus Burke. In a pamphlet titled Considerations on the Society or Order of Cincinnati, published in Charleston in late 1783 and soon republished all over the country, Burke charged that the Cincinnati would form an American aristocracy, dominating the government and extinguishing the liberties of the people. Dozens of other critics soon joined Burke, and resolutions denouncing the Cincinnati were introduced into several state legislatures. At a moment when Americans were deeply anxious about the future of their untried experiment in republican government, the Society of the Cincinnati stirred fears of a conspiracy to seize power and create a new aristocracy as the first step toward re-establishing a monarchy over America.

The Society had many defenders. Members rushed to publish refutations of Burke’s charges, and non-members commented that an organization to which former lieutenants contributed a month’s wages to help widows and orphans did not seem like a threat to the republic. Society leaders were nonetheless shaken by the unexpected criticism. When the first general meeting of the Society convened in Philadelphia in May 1784, George Washington proposed a series of changes to the Institution, including giving up the idea of hereditary membership—the one aspect of the Society that had excited the most controversy. The meeting approved a revised Institution, eliminating the hereditary provision, but since the original Institution did not outline a procedure for amendment, the delegates decided it would be prudent to submit the revised Institution to the constituent societies for their ratification. Critics were mollified, and the public controversy over the Society subsided.

The May 1784 general meeting was not entirely consumed by the controversy. Just as the delegates discussed the future of the Society, Pierre L’Enfant arrived from Paris with the first group of gold Eagle badges, which were distributed to members. Among them was a special Eagle George Washington had ordered for himself, with a different design than the others, and another quite unexpected one. Officers of the French navy, led by Admiral d’Estaing, had commissioned a unique Eagle to present to Washington, encrusted with diamonds and precious gems. L’Enfant delivered the Diamond Eagle to Washington, who thereafter wore it as his badge of office. At his death, Washington directed the Diamond Eagle be delivered to his successor, Alexander Hamilton. The Diamond Eagle became the official badge of the president general and has been entrusted to each successive president general ever since.

The Society’s first decade was a period of energy and growth, and 2,270 officers joined the new organization. All of the constituent societies began meeting annually, typically around the Fourth of July, and most established traditions for these occasions—banquets, formal addresses, processions, and other ceremonies. States societies often took a leading role in public commemorations of the Fourth of July. The New York Society, led by General Steuben, developed an elaborate ritual to initiate new members. Members of all constituent societies could acquire engraved membership certificates, designed by L’Enfant and signed by Washington and Knox—modern members can acquire the same certificate, signed by the current president general and secretary general. The state societies accumulated charitable funds and began disbursing them to assist members in need and more generally to the widows of Continental officers.

Members of the Society were actively involved in public life during these years, but their political activities were coincidental to their membership. The Society took no political positions and assiduously avoided political partisanship—a stance it has maintained for more than two centuries. The majority of the Society’s members, to the extent their political views can be discerned, favored strengthening the government established by the Articles of Confederation. As military officers, they had commanded men who were unpaid, poorly clothed, badly armed, and frequently hungry because Congress could not provide for the needs of its army. This experience inclined most former Continental officers toward nationalism.

Twenty-one of the fifty-five delegates to the Philadelphia convention that framed the federal Constitution were members of the Society, as were many members of the First Federal Congress and the Washington administration. Secretary General Henry Knox was Washington’s first secretary of war, and Alexander Hamilton, later president general, was Washington’s first secretary of the treasury.

Public anxiety about the Society had long since subsided by the time Washington died in 1799. Delegates from eight state societies met the next year and chose Alexander Hamilton as Washington’s successor. They also decided that the amended Institution proposed in 1784 had been rejected by the constituent societies. They resolved “that the institution of the Society of the Cincinnati remains as it was originally proposed and adopted by the officers of the American army.” This resolution ensured that hereditary succession would be preserved.

Remembering the Revolution 1800–1854

Despite the Society’s reaffirmation of hereditary succession, several constituent societies entered a period of decline after Washington’s death, as the original members aged and the Revolutionary War grew ever more remote. The French Society had been abolished in the early stages of the French Revolution, and many of its members had been killed during the Reign of Terror that followed. The North Carolina Society had ceased to function by 1800. The Georgia Society did not meet after 1800, though it did not dissolve; new officers were elected in 1822, but there is no record of activity in the intervening decades. The Delaware Society dissolved in 1802, dividing its assets among its members. The Connecticut Society dissolved in 1804 and presented the residue of its treasury to Yale College.

Other state societies dissolved during the first decades of the nineteenth century. The Virginia Society, despite the reaffirmation of hereditary succession, did not admit any hereditary members, implicitly anticipating that it would not outlast the founding generation. It dissolved in an orderly manner, entrusting the commonwealth with a fund to provide relief for its widows and turning over the balance of its money to Washington College—now Washington and Lee University. The Virginia Society held its last meeting in 1824. The Rhode Island Society continued in operation until July 4, 1835, when it held its last meeting. The New Hampshire Society continued to hold meetings until 1823, although participation waned. It simply faded away, without any formal act of dissolution. In 1842 the son of the last secretary pronounced the New Hampshire Society extinct and sent its records to the state historical society.

The decline of the Society during the early nineteenth century was not at all uniform. The South Carolina, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey societies continued to operate with vigor and have functioned continuously since 1783. All of them, with the exception of the New Jersey Society, have been intimately associated with the social life of particular cities—Charleston, Baltimore, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia—where members have lived in numbers sufficient to maintain the traditions of the organization. The commemoration of the Revolution in those cities, in particular, has often involved, and in many cases has been led by, the Society or its members. Members of the Maryland Society, for example, led the effort to build the distinguished Washington Monument in Baltimore, completed in 1829. The monument was built on land donated by John Eager Howard, a Maryland Society member and hero of the Revolution. The Society of the Cincinnati of Maryland was later instrumental in establishing the Maryland Historical Society.

Lafayette’s farewell visit to the United States in 1824-1825 reinvigorated the Society. Each of the surviving state societies welcomed Lafayette on his tour of the country. By then the young officers of the Continental Army were in their seventies and their numbers were dwindling. The surviving officers were themselves objects of veneration in 1826—the fiftieth anniversary of American independence.

The Society capitalized on these commemorations to renew its campaign for half pay for life. Congress finally relented in 1828, granting each surviving Continental officer full pay for the remainder of his life. By the end of that year, some 850 former officers were receiving full pay. After forty-five years, the Society’s efforts to secure the compensation promised by the Continental Congress came to a close. By then the Society had fewer than three hundred members—including a large proportion of hereditary members.

The Revolutionary generation was almost extinct by 1844, when William Popham, a ninety-two year old former major in the New York Continental Line, was elected president general. He was the last veteran of the American Revolution to be entrusted with the Diamond Eagle. By then some old officers had begun to suggest that the Society ought to dissolve. “Perish the thought!” Popham replied. “I will never consent to consign to eternal oblivion an Institution which received the sanction of Washington.”

Popham lived until 1847 and was the last Continental officer to serve as an officer of the Society. His successor, Henry Alexander Scammell Dearborn, was the first hereditary member to serve as president general. Without a concerted effort to attract more hereditary members, he warned, the Society “will cease to exist within a third of a century.

Reform and Revival 1854–1925

The last surviving Continental officer, Robert Burnet, Jr., a member of the New York Society, died on November 29, 1854. That same year, the Society elected a new president general—Hamilton Fish of New York—and revised the terms of membership. Since its first years, the Society had only admitted descendants of original members as hereditary members. The descendants of qualified officers who did not join the Society at its beginning were deemed ineligible. The 1854 general meeting adopted a new standard, providing for the admission of descendants of all qualified officers, even if those officers had not joined the Society.

The “Rule of 1854,” as it is known, doubled the number of lines for membership, to more than four thousand. Five of the six active state societies embraced the new standard. The Pennsylvania Society, after being the first constituent society to adopt the new rule, subsequently discovered that their incorporating documents contained the original Institution and could not be changed without an act of the Pennsylvania Legislature. That position still holds today.

The adoption of the Rule of 1854 reflected the determination of Hamilton Fish and other Society leaders to perpetuate the Society and revive all of the original constituent societies. The Society had passed into the hands of a new generation of leaders—mostly sons and grandsons of original members—who were dedicated to renewing the organization and its prominence in American life.

The Civil War delayed the realization of their vision. The South Carolina delegation did not attend the Triennial Meeting in 1860, and neither South Carolina nor Maryland was represented at the Triennial in 1863, but the fraternal spirit of the northern members was reflected in a toast offered on that occasion: “Our sister societies of the Cincinnati . . . Dear to us, every one of them, in the memories of the Past, in the Hope of the Future.” The fraternal bond between North and South was renewed in 1869 when South Carolina delegates took their place at a Triennial Meeting. The election of a South Carolina Society member as vice president general in 1872 demonstrated that the estrangement of the war was only temporary. As it emerged from disunion and civil war, in fact, the Society was on the verge of a major period of renewal.

The national celebration of the centennial of American independence encouraged interest in membership in the Society of the Cincinnati and the reestablishment of the dissolved state societies. The Rhode Island Society was reconstituted in 1877 and readmitted to the fellowship of the General Society in 1881. The Connecticut and Virginia societies were readmitted in 1896; New Hampshire, Delaware, and North Carolina in 1902; and Georgia in 1904.

The late nineteenth century was a period of steady growth and creative accomplishment for the Society, which took a leading role in the many commemorations of the period. The Society sent delegates to the dedication of the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital in 1885 and to events commemorating the centennial of the Constitution in 1887 and the inauguration of Washington in 1889. The Society was actively involved in the erection of plaques and statues memorializing the heroes of the Revolution, including the statues of Rochambeau and Lafayette in Washington’s Lafayette Square. Both of those heroes are depicted wearing Eagles. The Rhode Island and South Carolina societies combined their efforts to locate the remains of Nathanael Greene and move them to the Greene Monument in Savannah. The grandest memorial effort was in Philadelphia, where the Pennsylvania Society took the lead in erecting a monumental equestrian statue of George Washington, dedicated by President William McKinley in 1897.

The revival of the Society was completed with the reconstitution of the French Society. The idea was discussed as early as 1881, when the Society commemorated the centennial of the victory at Yorktown, but did not take hold until the First World War. The Society signaled its support for American intervention in the war with a formal resolution recalling the decisive support of France in our War of Independence: “Remembering that it was the aid of France that made the United States a nation, we welcome the opportunity to repay the debt which was then incurred and to help a people whom we love and admire.” The French Society—dormant since the French Revolution—was reorganized after the war and formally readmitted to the fellowship of the General Society in 1925.

A Revolutionary Society in the Modern Era 1925 – present

By the time the French Society was reconstituted, Society leaders had begun to discuss the need to establish a permanent headquarters. In 1938 this need was filled by an extraordinary gift. Isabel Anderson, acting on the wish of her late husband, Larz Anderson of the Virginia Society, gave the Society their elegant Washington mansion for use as its headquarters and as a memorial to the officers in the Continental service. Anderson House, as the mansion is called, has been the headquarters of the Society since 1938, serving as the fraternal center of the international organization and home to the Society’s library, museum, and educational programs.

The establishment of an international headquarters in Washington reflected the ambition of the Society’s leaders to increase the organization’s stature and influence. It led to a dramatic increase in the number of members actively involved in the work of the General Society. For most of its history, the business of the General Society had been conducted by a few long-serving officers—too few to manage an increasingly large and complicated organization. In 1937, the General Society established a non-profit corporation to manage its programs and its tangible assets, with a corporate board drawn from the fourteen constituent societies and a series of committees charged with managing and supporting different aspects of the Society’s work. Since 1951, presidents general have been limited to a single three-year term and rotation in all General Society offices has become the norm.

In recent decades, the Society has focused its energy on perpetuating the memory of the American Revolution and the ideals of the original members through a wide range of educational activities aimed at a broad public audience. It has become “one Society of Friends,” dedicated to carrying out the purposes defined by the Institution. The constituent societies sponsor a wide range of educational efforts to memorialize the heroes of the Revolution and their ideals. The General Society maintains a growing scholarly library of materials on the era of the American Revolution, with one of the world’s finest collections on the art of war in the age of Washington and Rochambeau. The General Society also mounts exhibitions based on its museum collections, which include a wide range of art and artifacts associated with the American Revolution and the history of the Society. Anderson House, which is one of the finest historic house museums in Washington, attracts visitors from every state and dozens of foreign countries every year. It has become, particularly in the last decade, a magnet for scholars and increasingly for teachers and students of the Revolutionary era, with public lectures, symposia, and other activities that fulfill the founders’ vision of perpetuating the memory of “that vast event,” the establishment of American independence.