The Society of the Cincinnati is unique because:
- It is the oldest military hereditary society in this country.
- It is also our first military beneficial society. Each Original Member was obliged to pledge to his State Society one month's officer's pay, the interest therefrom going to those members and their families "unfortunately" in need. At a time when military pensions were not yet a reality due to the virtual unwillingness of Congress to tax, this had an immediate and continuing importance. The Pennsylvania Society alone, up to about 1860, gave over $60,000 to support needy members, their widows, and children. The Society worked to influence Congress for pensions for surviving Revolutionary veterans, an end achieved in 1832. Subsequent American military pensions stem from the Society's early initiative.
Membership is open to descendants of Continental Army and Navy officers who were original members, who died in service, or who joined in their lifetime. Membership passes by right through the eldest son of the eldest surviving son successively from the Original Member. If the eldest surviving son line fails, then, in many State Societies, including ours, membership goes by election to the "most worthy" direct or collateral male descendant.
The Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati also recently adopted what is known as the Rule of 1854—a resolution of the 1854 Triennial allowing for the admission of hereditary representatives of otherwise qualified officers who did not join the Society when it was formed in 1783.
About the Pennsylvania Society
On October 4, 1783, officers of the Pennsylvania Continental Line met at the City Tavern in Philadelphia and established the Pennsylvania Society, becoming the ninth of the constituent branches to be formed. They elected as their first officers: Maj. Gen. Arthur St. Clair, president; Brig. Gen. Anthony Wayne, vice president; Lt. Col. Josiah Harmar, secretary; Brig. Gen. William Irvine, treasurer; and Col. Francis Johnston, assistant treasurer.
The Pennsylvania Society is one of only six constituent societies continuously active since its founding. Over the past two centuries, the Pennsylvania Society has supported many historic preservation and commemorative projects, including the erection of the equestrian Washington Monument near the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the rebuilding of the City Tavern, the site of many early meetings of both the Pennsylvania and General societies.