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Hünemörder, Markus (2003): The ‘Deepest Piece of Cunning’: Conspiracy Theory and the Society of the Cincinnati, 1783-1790. Dissertation, LMU München: Faculty for Languages and Literatures
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Abstract

In May 1783, the officers of the Continental Army of the United States of America organized themselves into the Society of the Cincinnati. Soon after, the veterans organization became the focus of an elaborate conspiracy theory which falsely accused the officers of trying to establish a hereditary nobility and subvert the young republic. Over the course of the mid-1780s, prominent revolutionary politicans such as John Adams and Elbridge Gerry joined in the outcry. The conspiracy theory became a major political controversy, and even impeded efforts to reform the Articles of Confederation. However, despite their frantic tone and lack of a factual basis, the accusations were not merely a fringe phenomenon created by political crackpots. Instead, the conspiracy theory was deeply embedded in American political culture. When the political and economic problems of the 1780s threatened to disrupt the republican experiment, many revolutionaries looked for a threat that might explain the crisis. They found that threat in the Cincinnati, whose military background, federal organization, and aristocratic trappings made them suspect.