From the Funk & Wagnalls® New Encyclopedia. © 2006 World Almanac:
KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE:
American secret society organized in the South in 1855 to promote slavery and to extend it, particularly into northern Mexico. Later, during the American Civil War, the society spread to Ohio, Illinois, and Indiana and also functioned in the border states of Kentucky and Missouri. During the war, the Northern members pressed for peace and for reducing the increasing powers of the federal government. Public charges were made that the Northern groups were engaged in treasonable activities such as spying and planning armed insurrections against the Union. In 1863 the organization was renamed the Order of American Knights, and early in 1864 the group was reorganized as the Sons of Liberty under the leadership of the American politician Clement Laird Vallandigham. In 1864 the membership reached a maximum, estimated to be between 200,000 and 300,000. Some of the members interfered with the Union war effort chiefly by hindering enlistments in the Union army and encouraging desertions from it. The society dissolved before the end of the war for several reasons, including and abortive attempt to free Confederate prisoners in Illinois and Ohio in the summer of 1864, the imminent Union victory, and strong opposition by some Northern governors.
VALLANDIGHAM, Clement Laird
(1820–71), American politician, born in New Lisbon (now Lisbon), Ohio, and educated at Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College), Washington, Pa. He became a lawyer and served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House of Representatives between 1858 and 1863. He was a firm believer in states' rights and a bitter opponent of the American Civil War; he became the leader of the Copperheads, a group of northern Democrats who opposed the war. His speeches against the war and the administration of Abraham Lincoln were considered seditious, and he was arrested in 1863 and sentenced to a prison term. Lincoln subsequently commuted the sentence to banishment to the Confederacy, from which Vallandigham went to Canada. The following year he returned to the U.S. and became supreme commander of the Sons of Liberty (see KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE,). He helped write the national Democratic party platforms of 1864 and 1868.
organizations in which the members are usually bound by an oath of secrecy. Secret societies often require an elaborate form of initiation and ritual use of symbols, passwords, and handgrips as a means of recognition among members.
Secret societies are common among peoples in Melanesia and in parts of Africa. They are also found among some Indian tribes of North America, particularly the Pueblo and the Plains Indians. These societies are usually organized solely for religious purposes, but in some areas they exert a powerful force on the economic and political life of the community.
In ancient Greece, the Pythagoreans combined philosophy and politics. In the East, some Muslim sects were founded as secret societies, notably the Assassins, who were organized in Persia (now Iran) in the 12th century. Secret societies, usually formed for protective or political purposes, were widespread in China until the revolution of 1911. In Europe, unorthodox religious groups, such as the early Christians or the Manichaean sects, have frequently been forced to practice secrecy to avoid persecution.
During the Middle Ages, members of merchant guilds were usually bound to secrecy for economic protection; one of the largest secret societies in the world, the Freemasons, originated in the 14th century as a guild of craftsmen. During this time, also, criminal jurisdiction was sometimes exercised by such secret tribunals as the courts of the Veme, a type of vigilante organization, which became very powerful in Westphalia, Germany, in the 15th century.
Since the 17th Century.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, secret societies were formed for scientific inquiry. Some, such as the Rosicrucian order, mixed science with mysticism. Others became important centers of political dissent. The Sons of Liberty was created in the American colonies in the 18th century to resist British oppression. In the 19th century, revolutionary secret societies such as the Carbonari in Italy, the Fenians in Ireland, and the Nihilists in Russia were important political forces. Other societies, notably the Mafia in Sicily, were established to organize criminal activities and to protect their members.
In the U.S., some secret societies were created during the 19th and 20th centuries for protective or terrorist purposes, among them the Knights of the Golden Circle and the Ku Klux Klan. The principal reasons for the organization of secret societies in the U.S. and Europe during the 20th century, however, have been philanthropy and the mutual benefit of the members. In the U.S., the fraternal element has been traditionally predominant; secret organizations have also been an important feature of university life.
Excerpt from ILLINOIS:
With the influx of settlers from the northern states, the antislavery movement became increasingly powerful in Illinois during the decade preceding the American Civil War. The Democratic party was defeated by an antislavery coalition in the elections of 1854, and in 1856 the coalition merged, forming the Illinois branch of the Republican party. In the historic contest (1858) for the U.S. Senate seat between the Democratic candidate Stephen Douglas and the Republican candidate Abraham Lincoln, the Democrats retained control of the General Assembly, which at that time selected senators. Lincoln won the state's electoral votes in the election of 1860. Beginning in 1862, the Democratic party opposed the Civil War, and the pro-Confederate Knights of the Golden Circle subsequently won widespread support in the state.
The war and postwar periods were marked by steady expansion of the state economy. In October 1871 a fire devastated a large part of Chicago, leaving 100,000 people homeless. The loss to the city was estimated at nearly $300 million. Relations between labor and management have often been stormy in Illinois. Bitter strikes, such as the one that precipitated the Haymarket Square riot, occurred in 1885–86. In 1894 a strike of the employees of the Pullman Car Co. developed into a general strike of railwaymen. Traffic in Illinois was almost suspended, and in June lawlessness broke out. Interference with the U.S. mail led to federal intervention. Chicago was occupied by federal troops; the leaders of the strike were imprisoned for contempt of court.