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public distresses, in every part of the continent the prevailing anxiety appeared to be to discover new objects upon which to vent dissatisfaction. A bill to repeal the charter of the Bank of North America passed the assembly of Pennsylvania. In New-York, a memorial to incorporate the bank, of which the constitution had been framed by Hamilton, was presented to the legislature early in seventeen hundred and eighty-four; but so prevalent was the jealousy of a moneyed influence, that it was compelled to conduct its affairs during six years without corporate immunities. The cry arose that banks were combinations of the rich against the poor, although, when not abused, their tendency is to raise industrious poverty above an undue influence of wealth.
These were minor indications. The craving appetite of discontent called for food, and the recent combinations of military men, and the dangers of a standing army in time of peace, became fruitful themes of clamour. An association of the officers of the late army, formed at the encampment on the Hudson, “ to preserve inviolate the liberties for which they had bled, to promote and cherish national union and honour, and to render permanent the cordial affection of the officers by acts of mutual beneficence,” under the now venerated title of “the Society of the Cincinnati,” to continue during the lives of the members, with succession to their eldest male posterity, became an object of the most violent and wide-spread hostility. .
The alarm was first sounded in an address under the signature of Cassius, written by Ædanus Burke, a judge of the supreme court of South Carolina, professing to prove that this association created a race of hereditary patricians, and full of trite allusions to the orders which had sprung up during the ages of European barbarism.
This popular topic was echoed throughout the states, and having performed its office in America, was seized
upon by Mirabeau, and depicted with all the power, art, and eloquence of his extraordinary genius.
The distrust thus excited in the minds of the people was cherished by persons, who, having served wholly in a civil capacity, had long been jealous of the superior popularity of Washington and of his companions in arms. One, with cold philosophy, advised them to “melt down their eagles"*-while another, with all the vehemence of “a disordered imagination,” denounced the association as an inroad upon the first principles of equality—the deepest piece of cunning yet attempted—an institution "sowing the seeds of all that European courts wish to grow up among us of vanity, ambition, corruption, discord, and sedition.”+ The outcry which had been so successfully raised was deemed of sufficient importance to require the attention of the society. · A general meeting was convened, at which Washington, the president-general, presided, and an abolition of the hereditary provision was recommended. The following documents relating to this subject, show how entirely the real objects of this association corresponded with its professed purpose, and with what sentiments Washington viewed this impeachment of his pure and elevated patriotism. Hamilton thus represented to him the proceedings of the state society of New-York.
“ Major Fairlie is just setting out on a visit to you, I believe on some business relating to the Cincinnati. The society of this state met some short time since, and took into consideration the proposed alterations in the original frame of the institution. Some were strenuous for adhering to the old constitution, a few for adopting the new and many for a middle line. This disagreement of opin
ion, and the consideration that the different state societies pursuing different courses—some adopting the alterations entire, others rejecting them in the same way—others adopting in part and rejecting in part—might beget confusion and defeat good purposes, induced a proposal, which was unanimously agreed to, that a committee should be appointed to prepare and lay before the society a circular letter expressive of the sense of the society on the different alterations proposed, and recommending the giving powers to a general meeting of the Cincinnati, to make such alterations as might be thought advisable to obviate objections and promote the interests of the society. I believe there will be no difficulty in agreeing to change the present mode of continuing the society; but it appears to be the wish of our members that some other mode may be defined and substituted, and that it might not be left to the uncertainty of legislative provision. We object to putting the funds under legislative direction. Indeed, it appears to us the legislature will not, at present, be inclined to give us any sanction.
"I am of the committee, and I cannot but flatter myself that when the object is better digested and more fully explained, it will meet your approbation.
“The poor Baron is still soliciting congress, and has every prospect of indigence before him. He has his imprudences, but upon the whole, he has rendered valuable services, and his merits and the reputation of the country alike demand that he should not be left to suffer want. If there should be any mode by which your influence could be employed in his favour, by writing to your friends in congress or otherwise, the baron and his friends would be under great obligations to you."
Sincerely do I wish that the several state societies had, or would adopt the alterations that were recommended by the general meeting in May, seventeen hundred and eighty-four. I then thought, and have had no cause since to change my opinion, that if the society of the Cincinnati mean to live in peace with the rest of their fellow-citizens, they must subscribe to the alterations which were at that time adopted.
“ That the jealousies of, and prejudices against, this society were carried to an unwarrantable length, I will readily grant; and that less than was done ought to have removed the fears which had been imbibed, I am as clear in, as I am that it would not have done it; but it is a matter of little moment, whether the alarm which seized the public mind was the result of foresight, envy, and jealousy, or a disordered imagination; the effect of perseverance would have been the same: wherein then would have been found an equivalent for the separation of interests, which, from my best information, not from one state only, but many, would inevitably have taken place ?
“ The fears of the people are not yet removed, they only sleep, and a very little matter will set them afloat again. Had it not been for the predicament we stood in with respect to the foreign officers and the charitable part of the institution, I should, on that occasion, as far as my voice would have gone, have endeavoured to convince the narrow-minded part of our countrymen that the amor patriæ was much stronger in our breasts than theirs, and that our conduct, through the whole of the business, was actuated by nobler and more generous sentiments than were apprehended, by abolishing the society at once, with a declaration of the causes, and the purity of its intentions. But the latter may be interesting to many, and the former is an insuperable obstacle to such a step.
“I am sincerely concerned to find by your letter that the baron is again in straitened circumstances. I am
much disinclined to ask favours of congress, but if I knew what the objects of his wishes are, I should have much pleasure in rendering him any services in my power with such members of that body as I now and then correspond with. I had flattered myself, from what was told me some time ago, that congress had made a final settlement with the baron, much to his satisfaction.”
The state society of New York, of which Baron Steuben and General Schuyler were, at that time, the presid. ing officers, met on the fourth of July, seventeen hundred and eighty-six; on which occasion Colonel Hamilton delivered an oration, and at an adjourned meeting two days after, he presented a report, which was agreed to, in which his views as to the hereditary succession by right of primogeniture, and the distinction between military and civil members, are seen.
“ The committee to whom was referred the proceedings of the society of the Cincinnati, at their last general meeting, beg leave to report, that they have attentively considered the alterations proposed at that meeting to be made in the original constitution of the society; and though they highly approve the motives which dictated those alterations, they are of opinion it would be inexpedient to adopt them, and this chiefly on the two following accounts.
“First-Because the institution, as proposed to be altered, would contain in itself no certain provision for the continuance of the society beyond the lives of the present members ; this point being left to the regulation of charters, which may never be obtained, and which, in the opinion of this committee, so far as affects this object, ought never to be granted, since the dangers apprehended from the institution could then only cease to be imaginary, when it should receive the sanction of a legal establishment. The utmost the society ought to wish or ask from the several