Engraved document on parchment (14 1/2 x 21 3/4 in.; 368 x 556 mm), accomplished in a secretarial hand and signed ("Go: Washington") as president of the Society of the Cincinnati and countersigned by the Henry Knox ("HKnox") as secretary, engraved vignettes by Auguste L. Belle after Jean-Jacques André LeVeau depicting America in knight's armor trampling upon the British standard and the American eagle casting the British lion and Britannia out to sea with thunderbolts, depictions of both sides of the medal of the Order of the Cincinnati within roundels, [Philadelphia], 5 May 1784, being the certificate of membership admitting Lieutenant Thomas Foster to the Society; light mat burn at edges; withal, in the finest possible condition. Half blue morocco folding case, red morocco labels gilt.
A beautifully preserved copy of the Order of the Cincinnati, signed at the very first general meeting of the Society: Washington inducts a "Minuteman" into the august fraternal organization. Thomas Foster began his military service as militiaman at the battles of Lexington and Concord. He steadily rose in rank, as recorded in The Historical Register of the Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, being promoted first to Sergeant (18 March 1777), and subsequently to Ensign (26 November 1779) and then Lieutenant (6 October 1780). He held this commission, which made him eligible for membership in the Society of the Cincinnati, until 3 June 1783.
When the Society gathered in Philadelphia at the beginning of May 1784, its final establishment was very much in doubt due to opposition based on the fear that the Society could develop into an American aristocracy. George Washington, the president of the organization, entered the proceedings determined to either reform the Society or abolish it. Surviving notes that Washington prepared for the convocation show that his overriding objective was to "reconcile the Society to the Community." Towards that end, he suggested a number of changes to the Society's constitution, most notably, "Strike out every word, sentence, and clause which has a political tendency." Washington's proposals were largely accepted, and the very first membership certificates—including Thomas Foster's—were issued to the members attending the general meeting on 5 May 1784.
The Order of the Cincinnati was conceived of by Henry Knox who wished to establish a fraternal organization for all officers who had served in the War for Independence and "any of their eldest male posterity." The Order was founded in early May 1783 at the headquarters of General Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben at Verplanck House in Fishkill, New York. The three guiding principles of the organization were: First, "An incessant attention to preserve inviolate those exalted rights and liberties of human nature, for which they have fought and bled. ... " Second, "An unalterable determination to promote and cherish between the respective States, that union and national honor so essentially necessary to their happiness, and the future dignity of the American empire." Third, "To render permanent the cordial affection subsisting among the officers. This spirit will dictate brotherly kindness in all things, and particularly, extend to the most substantial acts of beneficence, according to the ability of the Society, towards those officers and their families, who unfortunately may be under the necessity of receiving it."
In addition to the certificate of membership, Knox provided that "The Society shall have an Order, by which its members shall be known and distinguished, which shall be a medal of gold, of a proper size to receive the emblems, and suspended by a deep blue riband two inches wide, edged with white, descriptive of the union of France and America, viz: The principal figure, Cincinnatus: Three Senators presenting him with a sword and other military ensigns—on a field in the background, his wife standing at the door of their cottage ... On the reverse, Sun rising—a city with open gates, and vessels entering the port—Fame crowning Cincinnatus with a wreath." The Order was designed by Pierre L'Enfant and retained much of Knox's vision but on a scale appropriate for the size of the medal. The beautifully engraved roundels on the certificate by Auguste L. Belle, on the other hand, faithfully follow Knox's allegorical program.
The concept of using Cincinnatus as an emblem of the Order was particularly resonant with Americans since the life of this mid-fifth century Roman nobleman and farmer closely paralleled that of many who had served, with George Washington in the vanguard. Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus was called upon to repel two hostile tribes that threatened Rome. He issued his orders, which were efficiently carried out, and vanquished the enemy. Although elected a dictator for six months and voted a triumph by the Senate, Cincinnatus stepped down just after fifteen days and returned to private life on his farm. Similarly, at the conclusion of hostilities, Washington returned to his plantation at Mount Vernon. Washington remained president of the Cincinnati until his death in 1799. As both president of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and as first president of the United States, 1789–1797, Washington continued to link the interests of the Society with those of the nation.
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