What's The Difference
Between Sons of the Revolution
and Sons of the American Revolution?
What is the origin of the Sons of the Revolution and what are its qualifications for membership? What is the origin and what are the qualifications of the Sons of the American Revolution with which we neither directly nor indirectly are affiliated? These questions are often asked. It is the purpose of this letter to answer them.
There are three societies composed of men having ancestors living in the country at the time of the Revolutionary War:
The Society of the Cincinnati,
The Society of the Sons of the Revolution,
The Society of the Sons of the American Revolution.
The Society of the Cincinnati was organized in the cantonment of the American Army at Verplanck on the Hudson on May 13, 1783, by George Washington and his associate officers. Eligibility is restricted to officers holding commissions in the Army or Navy during the Revolution or that one descendant of such officer who would inherit under the laws of primogeniture.
When, later, it was found that the constitution of the Cincinnati could not be amended so as to admit descendants in junior lines of original members, there was conceived the idea of forming the Society of the Sons of the Revolution. A meeting took place December 18, 1875. After debate and careful consideration the name "Sons of the Revolution" was adopted. A second meeting was held at the New York Historical Society on January 15, 1876. The purposes of the Society were declared to be to revive and maintain the patriotic spirit of the heroes who had achieved independence of the United States; to collect and secure for preservation the historical records and documents relating to the War of the Revolution and to promote social intercourse and good-feeling among the members.
On December 4, 1883, the Society was reorganized and on May 3, 1889, it was incorporated. When speaking of it on March 22nd, 1884, the Hon. Hamilton Fish, President General of the Cincinnati, declared that he regarded the Sons of the Revolution "a younger brother of the Cincinnati laboring to perpetuate the same principles and inheriting the same memories which belonged to the Cincinnati.''
Fraunces Tavern which had been a house of public entertainment since 1762 and memorable for meetings of the Sons of Liberty in 1775 is chiefly identified in its Long Room with General Washington's farewell to his Officers on December 4th, 1783. Subsequently it was the happy fortune of our Society to acquire this historic structure which having been by it renovated and restored has since been made the Society's permanent Headquarters.
Anticipating that in due time residents in the several States who were actuated by the same spirit as the "Sons of the Revolution" would desire to adopt its name, its principles, its insignia and organize coordinate and co-equal State Societies, a provision for that contingency was inserted in the constitution. Permission however so to do was to be requested of the original Society the better to enable the latter to ascertain whether the petitioners were qualified by descent and personal worthiness to the incorporators of a Society of the Sons of the Revolution. Among the first of the State Societies to be incorporated were those of Pennsvlvania and the District of Columbia succesively.
It was further contemplated by the founders of the Sons of the Revolution that in the formation of prospective State Societies and after their number had grown there might properly he constituted a general society formed to take charge of the general interests, precisely like the Cincinnati, and in due season a General Society of the Sons of the Revolution was established upon the basis of the
Society of the Cincinnati.
The constitution of the General Society was adopted by the representatives of the Societies of New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia in Washington on April 19, 1890, and the General Society thus organized met for its first session in Philadelphia, April 4, 1891.
The Sons of the American Revolution was organized in the year 1889. Its constitution, Article III, Section 1, among other things contained a phrase "recognized patriot," as a propositus, which as construed permitted applications from persons whose claim for consideration was that their ancestor sometime during the Revolutionary Period served as a Selectman, Town Clerk, Justice of the Peace, signed the Association Test, took the Oath of Fidelity, took the Oath of Allegiance, served on a Coroner's Jury, etc.
The constitution of the Sons of the Revolution, Article II, respecting membership in its material parts, reads: "Any male person above the age of twentyone years ... who is descended from an ancestor as the propositus who either as a military, naval or marine officer, soldier, sailor or marine or official in the service of any one of the thirteen original Colonies or States or of the National Government representing or composed of those Colonies or States assisted in establishing American Independence during the War of the Revolution between the 19th day of April, 1775, when hostilities commenced, and the 19th day of April, 1783, when they were ordered to cease.
"PROVIDED that when the claim of eligibility is based on the service of an ancestor in the 'Minute Men' or 'Militia' it must be satisfactorily shown that such ancestor was actually called into the service of the State or United States and performed garrison or field duty.
"PROVIDED FURTHER that when the claim of eligibility is based on the service of an ancestor as a 'sailor' or 'marine,' it must in like manner be shown that such service was other than shore duty and regularly performed in the Continental Navy, or the Navy of one of the original thirteen States, or on an armed vessel, other than a merchant ship, which sailed under letters of marque and reprisal, and that such ancestor of the applicant was duly enrolled in the ship's company, either as an officer, seaman, or otherwise than as a passenger.
"PROVIDED FURTHER that when the claim of elegibility is based on the service of an ancestor as an 'official,' such service must have been performed in the civil service of the United States, or one of the thirteen original States, and must have been sufficiently important in character to have rendered the official specially liable to arrest and imprisonment, the same as a combatant, if captured by the enemy, as well as liable to conviction of treason against the Government of Great Britain.
"Service in the ordinary duties of a civil office, the performance of which did not particularly and effectively aid the American Cause, shall not constitute eligibility."
There are two fundamental differences between the Sons of the Revolution and the Sons of the American Revolution. The first lies in the corporate structure, the second in the qualifications for membership. The Sons of the American Revolution is a National Society with its State Societies reporting to an Annual Congress of the National Society and, in large part, subordinate to its decrees, whereas, the Society of the Sons of the Revolution is organized upon the plan of our own Government of the States and the Nation. All rights, powers and privileges not expressly yielded to the General Society repose in the several State Societies. Thus we are, as it were, a democracy of self-government and self-determination, a union of societies each possessed of autonomy, each, to regulate all matters respecting its own affairs. Such authority reflects the thought of the days when the Union of States was being effected bv the Nation's builders.
The other essential and fundamental difference relates to personnel. The qualifications that we establish as a condition precedent to membership are not such as involve a propositus or ancestor who is a Selectman, Town Clerk, Town Treasurer, Justice of the Peace, one who served on a Coroner's Jury or was
engaged in similar activities. We base essentially the descent, for qualifications in the Society, upon one who actually bore arms for his country or who assisted in establishing American Independence during the War of the Revolution between the 19th day of April, 1775, and the 19th day of April, 1783.
In conclusion: ( 1) the Sons of the Revolution is the original Society; and (2) qualifications for membership therein are far more restricted.
John Vernou Bouvier, Jr.
February 1st, 1930
President, New York Society Sons of the Revolution.
The Bulletin. Sons of the Revolution in the State of California. Vol. 5 No. 2. pp 1-2. March, 1930.