Founded in May 1783 at Steuben's headquarters near Newburg, N.Y. by officers of the Continental army and navy, the Society of the Cincinnati was at one time one of America's most controversial organizations. In Liberty Without Anarchy, Minor Myers relates how the officers, who had not been paid for four years, began to circulate rumors of a military coup. The society, with Washington as President-General, was formed to exert political pressure on Congress to guarantee payment in response to the angry men. Many Americans, Thomas Jefferson principal among them, viewed the new organization with suspicion, as a seedbed for a hereditary American aristocracy. As Myers points out, the fears were well-founded: many society members were monarchists, and in 1786 Steuben himself wrote to Prince Henry of Prussia inquiring whether he might be interested in becoming king of the United States. Prince Henry declined. The interest in monarchy ended with the adoption of the federal Constitution in 1787, with many society members as delegates to the Convention, but it was not until 1827 that the original pay dispute was resolved and the officers awarded a pension. With unprecedented access to the society's papers and documents, Minor Myers has produced a highly readable history of this fascinating organization, in which he concludes that the Society is an important reminder of the road the American revolutionaries avoided--the road that led from revolution to army coup to military dictatorship--a road taken by most of the armed revolutions of the last two hundred years.
Minor Myers, Jr. was President of Illinois Wesleyan University until his death in 2003. In addition to his research on the Society of the Cincinnati, he wrote on diverse subjects, including early American furniture, baseball, and Roman coinage.