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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Origin of a Famous Hereditary Order

By Elias Boudinot (1740–1821)

[Born in Philadelphia, Penn., 1740. Died at Burlington, N. J., 1821. Oration before the New Jersey Society of the Cincinnati, 4 July, 1793.]

MANKIND, considered as brethren, should be dear to each other; but fellow-citizens who have together braved the common danger—who have fought side by side,—who have mingled their blood together, as it were in one rich stream,—who have labored and toiled with united efforts to accomplish the same glorious end, must surely be more than brethren—it is a union cemented by blood.

I can no longer deny myself the felicity, my beloved friends and fellow-citizens, members of a Society founded on these humane and benevolent principles, of addressing myself more particularly to you, on a day, which in so peculiar a manner shines with increasing lustre on you, refreshing and brightening your hard-earned laurels, by renewing the honorable reward of your laborious services in the gratitude of your rejoicing fellow-citizens. Methinks I behold you on the victorious banks of the Hudson, bowed down with the fatigues of an active campaign, and the sufferings of an inclement winter, receiving the welcome news of approaching peace, and your country’s political salvation, with all that joy of heart and serenity of mind, that become citizens who flew to their arms, merely at their country’s call, in a time of common danger. The war-worn soldiers, reduced to the calamities of a seven years’ arduous service, now solemnly pause and reflect on the peculiarity of their critical situation. The ravages of war had been extended through a country dearer to them than life, and thereby prevented that ample provision in service or reasonable recompense on their return to private life, that prudence required and gratitude powerfully dictated. They thought that the distresses of the army had before been brought to a point. “That they had borne all that men could bear; their property expended—their private resources at an end—their friends wearied out and disgusted with incessant applications.” But another trial, severer than all, still awaits them; they are now to be disbanded and a separation to take place more distressing than every former scene! Till now the severe conflict was unseen or unattended to. Poverty and the gratitude of their country are their only reward.

True, they are to return to their friends and fellow-citizens with blessings on their heads. The general liberty and independence are now secured,—but yet want and dire distress stare many in the face. They are to return to wives and children, long used to dependence on the cold hand of charity, in hopes of a sure support from the success of the common cause, when their husband, father or child returned glorious from the field of conquest. Alas! these flattering hopes now are no more. Their country’s exhausted treasury cannot yield them even the hard-earned pittance of a soldier’s pay. Being urged on one hand by the subtle poison of inflammatory, violent and artful addresses, under the specious mask of pretended friendship (the last expiring effort of a conquered foe),—warned on the other hand by the experience, wisdom, and rational conduct of their beloved commander, their father and long-tried friend,—they solemnly deliberate.

Some guardian angel, perhaps the happy genius of America, ever attendant on the object of her care, raises the drooping head, wipes the indignant, falling tear from the hardy soldier’s eye, and suggests the happy expedient!

Brotherly affection produces brotherly relief—the victorious bands unite together—they despise the infamous idea—they refuse to listen to the siren’s song—they form the social tie—they cast in the remaining fragment of their scanty pay, and instead of seizing their arms and demanding their rights by menace and violence, they refuse “to lessen the dignity or sully the glory they had hitherto maintained. They determined to give one more proof of unexampled patriotism and patient virtue, rising superior to the pressure of their complicated sufferings, and thereby afford an occasion to posterity to say, had that day been wanting, the world had not seen the last stage of political perfection, to which human nature is capable of attaining.”

The glorious certainty of peace, purchased by their sufferings and perseverance, now rouses the patriotic fire. They again rejoice in the event; they unite in a firm, indissoluble bond, “gratefully to commemorate the event, which gave independence to America,—to inculcate to latest ages the duty of laying down in peace, arms assumed for public defence in war,—to continue their mutual friendship, which commenced under the pressure of common dangers, and to effectuate every act of beneficence, dictated by a spirit of brotherly kindness to any of their number and their families, who might unfortunately be under the necessity of receiving them;” and by this unanimous act establish this sacred truth, “that the glory of soldiers cannot be well completed without acting well the part of citizens.”

This, gentlemen, is your origin as a Society—the source from whence you sprang, and this day we are carrying on the work first begun in these social principles.