‘What ought to belong to merit only’: Debating Status and Heredity in the New American Republic

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Colleges, School and Institutes


Despite the critique of monarchy and aristocracy that contributed to American Revolutionary rhetoric, not all revolutionaries dismissed the idea of hereditary status. During the 1780s a debate emerged over the proper nature of status and the true location of social power in the new republic, instigated by a new organisation: the Society of the Cincinnati. Subject to withering attacks in its earliest years, the Cincinnati also generated spirited defences. The controversy challenged the dominance of oppositional republican ideology and, in the context of political and economic change, helped some Americans develop a new understanding of power and legitimacy.


Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalJournal for Eighteenth-Century Studies
Early online date2 Jun 2016
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Jun 2016