Many members of the Society of the Cincinnati were killed during the Terror

August 9, 2012

Marshal of France Jean-Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau, pictured with the medal from the Society of the Cincinnati.

One of the more agreeable duties that took [the Count of] Rochambeau to Paris was the organization of the French members of the Society of the Cincinnati…. Some difficulties had to be ironed out, since no foreign order was then allowed in France, but the King was so much interested in the whole proceeding that he waived all objections….

Rochambeau distributed the golden eagles…. It was the kind of ceremony he liked, commemorating as it did the links of friendship forged on the battlefield. Rochambeau took great pride in the Cincinnati, but not everybody in France or in America agreed with him about its importance. Benjamin Franklin indulged in some ridicule of the institution and condemned the members as “forming an order of Hereditary Knights….” Jefferson felt that the Society was incompatible with the natural equality of men, and advised the members to “distribute their funds, renounce their existence, and melt up their eagles….”

The Society of the Cincinnati Insignia

By the time Robespierre came into power, when every sign of personal and hereditary distinction was being wiped out, any man known to be in possession of the eagle of the Cincinnati was in grave danger. A Society with so many aristocrats on its rolls was obviously a threat to the Republic. With the overthrow of the French monarchy on August 10, 1792, l’Ordre de Cincinnatus dropped out of sight, not to be heard of again until it was officially reconstituted in 1923. Many of the original members, including the President, Admiral d’Estaing, perished on the scaffold.

Charles Henri Jean-Baptiste, Comte d'Estaing

Arnold Whitridge, Rochambeau: America’s Neglected Founding Father (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1965), pp. 259-260.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 202



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