Note from entry researcher and series editor David Rusk: This is the nineteenth in a series of Tales from Buzzard Point that explores the rich history and traditions of legendary Buzzard Point — a legacy that the current D.C. United ownership may have set aside in selling naming rights for the soccer specific stadium but is forever enshrined in the chants, songs, and hearts of the Black-and-Red faithful.
In researching the history of Fort McNair, Buzzard Point’s next door neighbor, I found the congressional legislation from the Sixth Congress — enacted May 7, 1800 — that established the Washington Arsenal, Fort McNair’s predecessor.
And look what that Congressional Act contained!
Chap. XCVI. An Act for the Regulation of Public Arsenals and Magazines.
Sec. 5. And be it further enacted, That to insure domestic tranquility, no rifle club, shooting range, militia armory, nor meeting hall for any military association, including the Society of the Cincinnati, shall ever be located within one mile of the Washington Arsenal.
Pierre L’Enfant’s plan for the federal district had designated 28 acres of Buzzard Point for military fortifications defending the capital city, and earthworks for one cannon were thrown up in 1791, and the arsenal first occupied the site in 1801.
The modern day Armory, of course, is on the RFK Stadium campus, three miles away from Buzzard Point, as explained by this very law.
The Society of the Cincinnati, however, has an even older pedigree. Major General Henry Knox, Washington’s artillery commander and later his first Secretary of War, founded the Society on May 13, 1783, at Fishkill, New York, as the Continental Army waited for the British to evacuate New York City.
Its membership was pledged to “perpetuate the remembrance of this vast event” (the achievement of American independence), “to preserve inviolate those exalted rights and liberties of human nature,” and “to render permanent the cordial affection subsisting among the officers” of the Continental Army and Continental Navy who served during the Revolutionary War.
The Society of the Cincinnati was named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, who left his farm to accept a term as Consul for the good of the Roman Republic. He served as Magister Populi and assumed lawful dictatorial control of Rome in the Second Punic War against Hannibal after Rome’s horrendous defeat at the Battle of Cannae in 216 BCE. When the immediate crisis had passed, Cincinnatus returned his power to the Roman Senate and went back to plowing his fields.
In the 18th Century, though, the Society named for Cincinnatus was instantly controversial. First was its hereditary nature as membership would be passed down from founding officers to first sons through the generations under the doctrine of primogeniture. An early critic was Benjamin Franklin, who wrote in 1784:
I only wonder that, when the united Wisdom of our Nation had, in the Articles of Confederation, manifested their Dislike of establishing Ranks of Nobility, by Authority either of the Congress or any particular State, a Number of private persons should think proper to distinguish themselves and their Posterity, from their fellow Citizens, and form an Order of hereditary Knights, in direct Opposition to the solemnly declared Sense of their Country.
—letter to his daughter Sarah Bache, January 26, 1784
Of probably greater concern was possible political threat to the young republic. During the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when delegates were debating the method of choosing a president, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts (later, the father of gerrymandering) warned, in the telling of James Madison:
A popular election in this case is radically vicious. The ignorance of the people would put it in the power of some one set of men dispersed through the Union & acting in Concert to delude them into any appointment. [Gerry] observed that such a Society of men existed in the Order of the Cincinnati. They are respectable, United, and influential. They will in fact elect the chief Magistrate in every instance, if the election be referred to the people. [Gerry’s] respect for the characters composing this Society could not blind him to the danger & impropriety of throwing such a power in their hands.
The result was the adoption of the Electoral College, to dilute the power of the masses, rather than a direct election for president.
The same distrust led to the legislation that barred the Society of the Cincinnati from the vicinity of the Arsenal.
So the question isn’t really why the Society of the Cincinnati, since 1937, has made their national headquarters at the former Larz Anderson mansion at 2118 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, on Embassy Row near DuPont Circle.
The real issue is where the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati cannot be located — on Buzzard Point.
Buzzard Point will never be home to the Cincinnati.
Note from Series Editor David Rusk: “Tales from Buzzard Point” includes historical fiction and should be considered a work of homage or parody.
All members of the B&RU Commentariat are invited to submit manuscripts of their own research into the history and traditions of Buzzard Point to firstname.lastname@example.org. All proposed tales must a) involve Buzzard Point, b) have some relationship to football/soccer, and c) demonstrate that Buzzard Point is hallowed ground for D.C. United and that our MLS opponents are doomed to never come away from Buzzard Point with a result.