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Knights of the Golden Circle

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KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. The Knights of the Golden Circle or K.G.C. had its beginnings in the formation of Southern Rights Clubs in various southern cities in the mid-1830s. These clubs were inspired by the philosophies of John C. Calhoun (1782–1850). Calhoun had an illustrious political career serving as a congressman from his home state of South Carolina, a state legislator, vice president under the administrations of both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and a U. S. senator. In addition to the Southern Rights Clubs, which advocated the re-establishment of the African slave-trade, some of the inspiration for the Knights may have come from a little-known secret organization called the Order of the Lone Star, founded in 1834, which helped orchestrate the successful Texas Revolution resulting in Texas independence from Mexico in 1836. Even before that, the K.G.C.'s roots went back to the Sons of Liberty of the American Revolutionary period.

The Knights of the Golden Circle was reorganized in Lexington, Kentucky, on July 4, 1854, by five men, whose names have been lost to history, when Virginia-born Gen. George W. L. Bickley (1819–1867) requested they come together. Strong evidence suggests that Albert Pike (1809–1891) was the genius behind the influence and power of the Masonic-influenced K.G.C., while Bickley was the organization's leading promoter and chief organizer for the K.G.C. lodges, what they called “Castles,” in several states. During his lifetime, Boston-born Pike was an author, educator, lawyer, Confederate brigadier general, newspaper editor, poet, and a Thirty-third Degree Mason. From its earliest roots in the Southern Rights Clubs in 1835, the Knights of the Golden Circle was to become the most powerful secret and subversive organization in the history of the United States with members in every state and territory before the end of the Civil War. The primary economic and political goal of this organization was to create a prosperous, slave-holding Southern Empire extending in the shape of a circle from their proposed capital at Havana, Cuba, through the southern states of the United States, Mexico, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. The plan also called for the acquisition of Mexico which was then to be divided into fifteen new slave-holding states which would shift the balance of power in Congress in favor of slavery. Facing the Gulf of Mexico, these new states would form a large crescent. The robust economy the KGC hoped to create would be fueled by cotton, sugar, tobacco, rice, coffee, indigo, and mining. These seven industries would employ slave labor.

The Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) were a pro-slavery secret society in the mid-nineteenth-century United States. The original objective of the KGC was to annex a "golden circle" of territories in Mexico (which would be divided into 25 slave states), Central America, northern South America, and Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean for inclusion in the United States as slave states. As anti-slavery agitation increased after the Dred Scott Decision was issued, the members proposed a separate confederation of slave states, with U.S. states south of the Mason-Dixon line to secede and to align with other slave states to be formed from the golden circle. In either case, the goal was to increase the power of the Southern slave-holding upper class to such a degree that it could never be dislodged.[1]

During the American Civil War, some Southern sympathizers in the Northern states such as Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, and Iowa, were accused of belonging to the Knights of the Golden Circle, and in some cases they were imprisoned for their activities.

Early history

George W. L. Bickley, a Virginia-born doctor, editor, and "adventurer" who lived in Cincinnati, founded the association. Records of the K.G.C. convention held in 1860 state that the organization "originated at Lexington, Kentucky, on the fourth day of July 1854, by five gentlemen who came together on a call made by Gen. George Bickley".[2] He organized the first castle, or local branch, in Cincinnati in 1854. Hounded by creditors, he left Cincinnati in the late 1850s and traveled through the East and South, promoting an expedition to Mexico. Following the Mexican-American War of 1846, the group's original goal was to provide a force to colonize the northern part of Mexico and the West Indies. This would extend pro-slavery interests.

Civil War and demise

In the Southwest

The South's secession and the outbreak of the Civil War prompted a shift in the group's plans for Mexico to support of the new Confederate government. On February 15, 1861, Ben McCulloch, Texas Ranger, began marching toward the Federal arsenal at San Antonio, Texas, with a cavalry force of about 550 men, about 150 of whom were Knights of the Golden Circle (KGC) from six castles.[3][citation needed] As volunteers continued to join McCulloch the following day, the U.S. Army Gen. David E. Twiggs decided to surrender the arsenal peacefully to the secessionists.

KGC members also figured prominently among those who, in 1861, joined Lt. Col. John Robert Baylor in his temporarily successful takeover of southern New Mexico Territory.[4][citation needed] In May 1861, members of the KGC and Confederate Rangers attacked a building which housed a pro-Union newspaper, the Alamo Express, owned by J. P. Newcomb, and burned it down.[5] Other KGC members followed Brig. Gen. Henry Hopkins Sibley on the 1862 New Mexico Campaign, which sought to bring the New Mexico Territory into the Confederate fold. Both Baylor and Trevanion Teel, Sibley's captain of artillery, had been among the KGC members who rode with Ben McCulloch.

In the North

In early 1862, Radical Republicans in the Senate, aided by Secretary of State William H. Seward, suggested that former president Franklin Pierce, who was greatly critical of the Lincoln administration's war policies, was an active member of the Knights of the Golden Circle. In an angry letter to Seward, Pierce denied that he knew anything about the KGC, and demanded that his letter be made public. California Senator Milton Latham subsequently did so when he entered the entire Pierce-Seward correspondence into the Congressional Globe.

Appealing to the Confederacy's friends in the North and in the border states, the Order spread to Kentucky as well as the southern parts of such Union states as Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. It became strongest among Copperheads, some of whom felt that the Civil War was a mistake. Some supported slavery and others were worried about the power of the federal government. In the summer of 1863, Congress authorized a military draft, which the administration soon put into operation. Loyalist Leaders of the Democratic Party opposed to Abraham Lincoln's administration denounced the draft and other wartime measures, such as the arrest of seditious persons and the president's temporary suspension of the writ of habeas corpus.

During the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign, scam artists in south-central Pennsylvania sold Pennsylvania Dutch farmers $1 paper tickets purported to be from the Knights of the Golden Circle. Along with a series of secret hand gestures, these tickets were supposed to protect the horses and other possessions of ticket holders from seizure by invading Confederate soldiers.[6] When Jubal Early's infantry division passed through York County, Pennsylvania, they took what they needed anyway. They often paid with Confederate currency or with drafts on the Confederate government. The Cavalry commander J.E.B. Stuart also reported the alleged KGC tickets when documenting the campaign.[7]

That same year, Asbury Harpending and California members of the Knights of the Golden Circle in San Francisco outfitted the schooner J. M. Chapman as a Confederate privateer in San Francisco Bay, with the object of raiding commerce on the Pacific Coast and capturing gold shipments to the East Coast. Their attempt was detected and they were seized on the night of their intended departure.[8][9][10]

In late 1863, the KGC reorganized as the Order of American Knights. In 1864, it became the Order of the Sons of Liberty, with the Ohio politician Clement L. Vallandigham, most prominent of the Copperheads, as its supreme commander. In most areas only a minority of its membership was radical enough to discourage enlistments, resist the draft, and shield deserters. The KGC held numerous peace meetings. A few agitators, some of them encouraged by Southern money, talked of a revolt in the Old Northwest, with the goal of ending the war.[11]

Conspiracy theory

According to a few fringe historians, after the Civil War, the KGC went underground and became a secret society. They claim that the KGC's new mission was to support a second, former confederate, uprising against the U.S. Federal Government. Furthermore, it has been alleged in the History Channel program 'America Unearthed,' (episode 'Lincoln's Secret Assassins') that the James-Younger Gang was the principal source of funds for a second U.S. Civil War that never occurred. No evidence has been provided for these suppositions.

The Los Angeles Times noted that one theory—among many—of the origin of the Saddle Ridge Hoard of gold coins is that it was cached by the KGC, which "some believe buried millions in ill-gotten gold across a dozen states to finance a second Civil War."[12]

Alleged members

  • Confederados (some)
  • Buckner Stith Morris[13]
  • John Wilkes Booth[14]
  • Jesse James[15]
  • Sam Houston[16]
  • Knight Grand Commander, John Robert Baylor
  • J. Frank Dalton
  • Jefferson Davis
  • Nathan Bedford Forrest
  • Parker H. French
  • Frank James
  • Lottie Moon
  • John Hunt Morgan
  • Tom Poole
  • William Quantrill
  • Paul Riche
  • John Surratt
  • Horatio Nelson Taft
  • Rachel Ann Wishaw

The Night of The Iron Tyrants (1990–1991), written by the novelist Mark Ellis and drawn by Darryl Banks, is a four-part comic book miniseries based on The Wild Wild West television series. It features the Knights of the Golden Circle in an assassination plot against President Ulysses S. Grant and Emperor Pedro II of Brazil during the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.

The KGC are the villains of the graphic novel Batman: Detective No. 27 (2003) by Michael Uslan and Peter Snejbjerg.

The KGC are portrayed as conspirators in the Lincoln assassination in the Disney movie National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets (2007).

In the novel Queen of the Northern Mines (2011),[17] the KGC plots to seize a gold shipment from Nevada County, California, on its way to San Francisco.

In the William Martin novel The Lincoln Letter (2012), the KGC are a group of conspirators in Washington, DC, during the Civil War.

The KGC and their potential involvement with President Lincoln's assassination are discussed in an episode of the History Channel series America Unearthed.[18]

The KGC are the antagonists in a story featured in Atomic-Robo web comic. [19]

See also

  • Camp Douglas Conspiracy
  • Filibuster (military)
  • Judah P. Benjamin
  • Slave Power