Aztec Club of 1847
The Aztec Club of 1847 is a historic society founded in 1847 by United States Army officers of the Mexican–American War. It exists as a hereditary organization including members who can trace a direct lineal connection to those originally eligible.
Similar to the earlier Society of the Cincinnati, which arose out of the officer class of the American Revolutionary War, the Aztec Club was predecessor of the veterans' organizations like the Grand Army of the Republic and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States which were formed by veteran officers after the American Civil War.
The Aztec Club of 1847 is, in point of age, the second ranking American patriotic society, coming next after the Society of the Cincinnati. Included in the roster of original members, which lists some 160 military officers are, in the words of K. Jack Baurer, "most of the major figures of the Mexican War army and a large group whose fame would come a decade and a half later as leaders of the Union and Confederate Armies in the Struggle of 1861-1865. It is the only military society to which Robert Edward Lee belonged. By an Act of Congress, its medal is to this day authorized for wear on America's military uniforms.
After the last battles of the Mexican-American War a sizable force of regular U.S. Army troops occupied Mexico City; on October 13, 1847, a meeting of officers was held in the city to form a social clubhouse for their entertainment. The original organizers were Robert C. Buchanan, Henry Coppée, John B. Grayson, John B. Magruder, Franklin Pierce, Charles F. Smith, and Charles P. Stone. The club's first president, elected that evening, was John A. Quitman.
The site chosen for the club was the former home of the Mexican minister to the United States, an 18th-century palace originally built for the Viceroy of New Spain, just off the Plaza de la Constitución, the Zócalo of the conquered city. On January 13, 1848, a formal club constitution had been adopted, with a $20 initiation fee. Commanding general of the occupying army, Winfield Scott was voted into honorary membership.
By March, the constitution had been printed, along with a list of the original members, all officers serving in Regular or Volunteer units of the U.S. Army or U.S. Navy. Officers from state militia organizations were not eligible for membership. The constitution stated the club's purpose was to give members a place to live together, dine together, and otherwise entertain their guests, allowing members to pool resources while stationed in the City of Mexico. When it became apparent the army would soon leave the city for home, members met on May 26 to determine the future of the club, electing officers for a term to end September 14, 1852, intending a reunion of members on or before that date at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Persifor F. Smith was elected as club president to replace Quitman, who had already returned to Washington, D.C. Grayson was elected as "substitute president" and "acting treasurer." In June, the club, consisting of 160 regular and three honorary members, was declared adjourned. In November, 1848, honorary club member Zachary Taylor, hero of the Battle of Buena Vista, was elected President of the United States.
Six of the club's members have been the standard bearers of their respective parties for President of the United States: Zachary Taylor, Franklin Pierce, Ulysses S. Grant, Winfield Scott, George B. McClellan and Winfield S. Hancock. Of these, three have been elected to and have administered that great office. Two of its members have been candidates for Vice President of the United States, John A. Logan and Simon Bolivar Buckner, and a long line of its distinguished members have held high place in Congress, in the professions and other prominent fields of civic authority and in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
As the Aztec Club was formed only 14 years prior to the outbreak of the American Civil War, many of its members rose to prominence during that conflict, with a significant number becoming generals in either the Union or Confederate armies.
Club membership was dispersed during the years following the war; in 1852 a group of members met at USMA, and on their behalf Fitz-John Porter wrote a letter proposing a new slate of officers, with Benjamin Huger as new club president. In November 1852, Franklin Pierce was elected President of the United States, the second of three Aztec Club members to be elected to the office.
During the 1850s, the society did not meet, though society members often led reunions of Mexican–American War veterans. John Quitman attended many such reunions, and hosted former comrades at his Monmouth plantation at Natchez, Mississippi. Since the club's original constitution seemed inadequate to the needs of such an association, Quitman called a meeting at Delmonico's in New York City, New York to be held on September 14, 1855, the eighth anniversary of the club's dedication, to form a new "Montezuma Society" designed for the purpose of "...renewing and cultivating those ties of fellowship and sympathy, which are naturally so prone to exist between men who have served together in War ." Matthew C. Perry, recently returned from his trip to Japan, was elected the president of the new society. By 1859, both Perry and Quitman had died, and with them the Montezuma Society.
On September 14, 1867, a meeting of the Aztec Club was held at Astor House in New York City. Robert Patterson, original member and last president of the Montezuma Society was given the chair by motion, with Peter V. Hagner as treasurer and George Sykes to serve as acting secretary. At this meeting, practices were established which would make the organization enduring. Officers were elected, an annual meeting was designated, a list of members printed, and commemorative insignia ordered designed and distributed to members and families of the 65 deceased club members as of the printing. A practice was established that members would elect the club vice-president, elevated to office when the president died or retired. As a result, Patterson retained presidency of the club from 1867 to 1881. Under Patterson's leadership the club evolved from a society of military comrades to an organization which first included sons of eligible but deceased officers, and eventually (after his death) became an association of lineal descendants.
In November, 1868, twenty-one years after the cessation of hostilities in Mexico City, Ulysses S. Grant, an original member of the Aztec Club, was elected President of the United States, the third member to do so. Many of the club's annual meetings had been held at Patterson's Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home, but at President Grant's offer, in 1874 the meeting was held at the White House.
Following the War of the Rebellion (America's Civil War), members of the Aztec Club began a series of significant annual meetings which resulted in the Club's evolution into a hereditary society which exists to this day.
Undoubtedly one of the more memorable annual meetings of this time period, the members gathered on September 14, 1874 at Willard Hotel, Washington, D. C. The main focus of this meeting was the growing desire to position the Aztec Club for the future, thereby ensuring its perpetuity.
At 7 o'clock, P. M., September 14, 1874, in pursuance of the invitation of General Ulysses S. Grant, President of the United States, a member of the Club, the members present repaired to the White House to dine with him. They were received by the President and Mrs. Grant, and at half past seven were ushered into Dinner in the State Dining Room.
On September 15, 1881 at the invitation of George William Childs, Philadelphia publisher, journalist and philanthropist, the Aztec Club met and dined at his newly constructed hotel, Hotel Bellevue, at Wayne Station on the Pennsylvania railroad. General Robert Patterson, longtime President of the Aztec Club, had died the preceding August 7 and General Winfield Scott Hancock succeeded him as President. As General Hancock was not in attendance at the meeting, it was chaired by General Ulysses S. Grant. Gen. Grant was elected Vice President of the Club, announcing his intention to become its President in 1885.
Attending the meeting was a galaxy of stars from the Civil War, both Union and Confederate, brothers in arms during the Mexican War, many of whom as fate would have it were on opposite sides of the War of the Rebellion. Following the Civil War, they reunited recognizing that yet another burden had been placed upon them—that of bringing the war-torn country back together again.
- Breithaupt, page 1
- Bauer, page 327.
- Breithaupt, page 1.
- Breithaupt, pages 193-202.
- Aztec Club website, History of its Founding, p.1
- Aztec Club website, History of its Founding, p.2
- Breithaupt, intro.
- Aztec Club website, History of its Founding, p.3
- Aztec Club website, History of its Founding, p.4
- Aztec Club website, History of its Founding, p.5
- The Aztec Club, New York Times, September 6, 1874
- Breithaupt, pages 39-43.
- Aztec Club web site, http://www.aztecclub.com/1881/1874.htm
- Breithaupt, pages 57-58
- Aztec Club web site, http://www.aztecclub.com/1881/1881.htm