A few Lines on this Subject when you are at Leisure will very much oblige them as well as
TO ELBRIDGE GERRY.
[Ms., Samuel Adams Papers, Lenox Library; a text is in J. T. Austin, Life of Elbridge Gerry, vol. i., pp. 422-424.]
Boston April 19th 1784
My dear sir,
Mr Higginson was so obliging as to show me your Letter to him dated the 4th of March. I was happy in having adopted an opinion of the Cincinnati so similar to what I found yours to be. I think I am as sensible as any Man ought to be of the important Services of our late Army, and am very desirous that their full Share of Merit may be gratefully acknowledgd & rewarded by the Country. This would have been done, (for the Prejudice of the People against the Gratuity of five years pay began to subside) had they not adopted a Plan so disgustfull to the Common Feeling. It appears wonderful that they could imagine a People who had freely spent their Blood & Treasure in Support of their equal rights & Liberties, could so soon be reconciled to the odious hereditary Distinction of Families. This Country must be humiliated & debased to a great Degree, before they will patiently bear to see Individuals stalking with their assumed honorary Badges, & proudly boasting “These are the Distinctions of our Blood.” I cannot think that many of our Officers entertained such an Idea of haughty Pre-eminence; but the human Mind is so captivated with the Thought of being elevated above the ignoble Vulgar, that their Sons, if they should not themselves, when they perceive the Multitude grown giddy with gazing, may assume more than the mere Pageantry of Nobility. When Men begin to applaud themselves, they are not easily perswaded to believe they can take a greater Share of Honor than justly belongs to them. They will be pleasd with the Adulatory Addresses of other Men & flatter themselves that they are intitled to Power and Authority as well as the ostentatious Show of Superiority above their Equals. I confess I do not barely dislike the order. With you I think it dangerous & look upon it with the Eye of Jealousy. When the Pride of Family possesses the Minds of Men it is threatning to the Community in Proportion to the Good they have done. The unsuspecting People, when they are in a Mood to be grateful, will cry up the Virtues of their Benefactors & be ready to say, Surely those Men who have done such great things for us, will never think of setting up a Tyranny over us. Even Patriots & Heroes may become different Men when new & different Prospects shall have alterd their Feelings & Views; and the undiscerning People may too late repent that they have sufferd them to exalt themselves & their Family upon the Ruins of the Common Liberty. The Cincinnati are very unpopular here; you will wonder then that one of the Order has had a Majority of the Votes of this Town for a Senator