Independence Day! Independence Day! First order of business, my brave gentlemen: let's create a noble order with an hereditary elite!
THE SOCIETY OF THE CINCINNATI is a curious place for a newly self-declared independent republic to rejoice in its ideals and celebrate its freedom from the shackles of oppressive monarchy and all that it represents. The Society whose members were officers of the Continental and French armies who served during the American Revolution, was essentially an aristocratic order with membership eligibility inherited through primogeniture. George Washington proudly became its first Sovereign of the Order, I mean "President-General".
Up to that time, the King of France had not allowed his officers to wear any foreign decorations; but he made an exception in favour of the badge of the Cincinnati, and membership in the Society was so eagerly sought that it soon became as coveted as membership of certain orders of French nobility. In the years after the revolution, membership continued to expand on both sides of the Atlantic. Members were soon serving in all the major offices of the United States and many state governments.
Thomas Jefferson among others were alarmed at the apparent creation of a hereditary elite that excluded enlisted men and in most cases militia officers, unless they were placed under "State Line" or "Continental Line" forces for a substantial time period. Benjamin Franklin was among the Society's earliest critics, though he would later accept its role in the Republic and join the Society under honorary membership after the country stabilized. He voiced concerns not only about the apparent creation of a noble order, but also the Society's use of the eagle in its emblem as evoking the traditions of heraldry. It was in his writings on the Cincinnati Eagle that he also safely attacked its brother symbol, the Great Seal of the United States.
And so on this Independence Day, let's spare a thought for the people, by the people and of the people, who couldn't quite live up to the ideals of America, and couldn't bring themselves to destroying the Old Order, even through that dramatic period of arrested constitutional development.