Thursday, November 9, 2017

Secret Political Societies in the North during the Civil War by Mayo Fesler

Secret Political Societies in the North during the Civil War
by Mayo Fesler
Indiana Magazine of History
Vol. 14, No. 3

Published by: Indiana University Press

KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE Submitted by Jack Flammang

Caveat Lector:

Submitted by Jack Flammang

The Knights of the Golden Circle is a popular riding destination about 2 miles east of the Garden of the Gods that some of you may have visited. There are some interesting rock formations there and a small overhang that has seen many campfires and has been a favorite lunch stop for many trail riders.

As many of you know, the Shawnee Trail Conservancy received a grant to develop a trailhead at this location which will be able to accommodate several truck and trailer rigs. But, how many of you knew that the name “Knights of the Golden Circle” was actually the name of the largest secret and subversive organization that existed in the U.S. during the latter half of the nineteenth century?

The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) was created in 1854 to establish a slave holding empire that would include many southern states in the U.S., the West Indies, Mexico, and parts of Central America. The Golden Circle would have a radius of 1200 miles and would be centered in Havana, Cuba. This empire would monopolize the production and trade of tobacco, cotton, and sugar and would be so strong that it would insure slavery could never be abolished by the northern states.

Historians and writers feel the ideas of the KGC may have come from a number of other groups. Some feel the roots may go back as far as the Sons of Liberty of the American Revolution. Others feel they were associated with ideas emanating from the Southern Rights Clubs popular in the south during the 1830’s. Others associate them with the Order of the Lone Star founded in 1834 which helped initiate the Texas Revolution. The Knights of the Golden Circle was divided into three divisions, the military, the commercial/financial, and the political. Each division was further divided into two classes that had specific duties and responsibilities. As an example, the military division was divided into the Foreign Guards who would invade Mexico while the Home Guards would help supply the Foreign Guards with supplies and provisions. Local groups that formed throughout the North and South were called Castles. They conducted their meetings at secret locations and participated in elaborate rituals that used codes, signs, and secret passwords.

Before the Civil War the KGC reportedly had their own army consisting of 16,000 men and had a total membership throughout the U.S. of 48,000. Their intention was to invade Mexico and divide it into 15 new slave holding states. This would mean there would be more slave holding states than non-slave holding states and would prevent the abolishment of slavery in the US. The KGC made one attempt to invade Mexico during the spring of 1860. For what ever reason, the attempt failed and shortly after that the Civil War broke out forcing them to postpone their plans.

When the Civil War broke, out the KGC sided with the Confederacy and participated in the war. Most of the men were soldiers, some were officers, and many were involved in conspiracies that undermined the efforts of the Union Army. Members of Quantrill’s Raiders, Jesse James, and John Wilkes Booth were all reported to be members of the KGC. It was said the KGC had plans to kidnap Lincoln before he was even elected President and that they eventually played a part in his assassination.

After the Civil War, the organization had to become even more secretive. They looked forward to the South rising again and the invasion of Mexico. Some think Jesse James and others robbed with the intent of providing funds for the KGC’s future plans. Millions of dollars are supposed to have been cached in secret locations throughout the Southwest known to only a few KGC members. There was recently a television program documenting the hunt for several of these caches.

The above is only a very brief history of this organization. Much more can be found by searching on-line. Could it be that the Knights of the Golden Circle trailhead, a favorite meeting place and lunch stop for trail riders, was also once a secret meeting place of this organization? Who knows???

Information for this article came from the Knights of the Golden Circle website and the Handbook of Texas On-line published by the Texas State Historical Association.

The Knights of the Golden Circle Research and Historical Archives