The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
SECRET SERVICE TO SECURE SUCCESS OF SOUTHERN ARMS–STATE SOVEREIGNTY–THE GENERAL PURPOSES OF SECRET POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS–RECOLLECTIONS THAT CAN NEVER DIE–VOICES FROM OUR BRAVE SOLDIERS AT THE FRONT, BESPEAKING OUR PROTECTION FOR THEIR WIVES, CHILDREN, PARENTS AND HOMES FROM NORTHERN COPPERHEADS–CHARACTER OF THE LEADERS OF THE DIFFERENT SECRET ORDERS.
The signal potency of secret organizations at the South prior to the secession of States, and indeed the only really effective machinery by which an attempt at disunion by the people could have been made to appear possible, early in the great struggle engaged the earnest attention of the Southern leaders. Knowing as they did that had the question of secession been primarily an open one, for free discussion, that the masses of the people would have rejected the proposition with deserved scorn and indignation, and hung the ambitious adventurers who dared propose the sacrilege. They realized the importance of establishing the order in the North. The leaders saw with delight the working of secret organizations, where men were sworn to secrecy, and drawn onward step by step, till they reached the very brink of the fearful precipice. Thus did the people fasten upon themselves and each other the shackles of slavery, which they have since so unwillingly worn. The doctrine of State sovereignty proclaimed by John C. Calhoun, and which, together with its apostles, Jackson well knew how to receive, had been instilled into the minds of the people of the States, which since their admission into the Union had been at war with destiny, and in the hope of securing perpetuity of their peculiar institutions, they attempted the dissolution of the Union. Truly gratifying it must have been to the extremists in those States to have watched the gathering clouds, and to listen to the low murmuring thunder which presaged the coming storm, and well they knew how fearful would be its fury, but blinded to the inevitable result, they were confident of ultimate success, when they should have so far disseminated the Calhoun poison at the North, as to have made oath-bound slaves in such numbers as would paralyze the efforts of Union men, and render it necessary to recall our armies from the field to suppress insurrection at home, and to change the theatre of the war to Northern soil. None knew the importance of introducing the machinery of secret political organizations better than Davis himself, for he had not forgotten the Charleston Convention, the working of the secret orders then, and subsequent events had of course confirmed him in the opinion that a divided North would not be a formidable adversary, and that he was warranted in the firm belief that his wish to be “let alone” would be realised. With these views, shrewd and sagacious men established themselves early in Missouri, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois and other States, and put the machinery in motion. The order sprung up in various sections of the country, and treason flourished well, as poisonous plants often show the greatest vitality. This plan was a success. Men high in rank and station–men from every profession and walk in life, embraced the principles of the order, and soon it could boast of legislators, judges of the higher courts, clergymen, doctors, lawyers, merchants and men from every avocation. Judge Bullitt, from the Supreme bench in Kentucky, Judge Morris of the Circuit Court of Illinois, Judd and Robinson, lawyers and candidates for the highest State offices, Col. Walker, agent of the State of Indiana, editors of the daily press, and men high in official station, and in the confidence of the people, ex-Governors of States and disaffected politicians, all seized upon this new element of power and with various motives, the chief of which was self agrandisement at any cost, even at the cost of our National existence– entered with zeal upon the work of disseminating the doctrines, and extending the organization throughout the North and West.
The leaders gratified by success, courted the support of the organizations they fostered till the candidates for the highest offices in the State and Nation felt certain of obtaining election, were they but in favor with the secret orders they aided in establishing. While the leaders were men of cunning, many of them of intellect and education, the rank and file was made up of different material. It not being necessary by the tenets of the order that they should think at all, brains were at a discount–muscle only was required–beings who would fall into line at the word of command and follow on to an undertaking, however desperate and criminal, without asking or thinking, or caring for the purpose to be attained; beings who could be put in harness and led or driven wherever and whenever it might suit their masters. Men from the lowest walks of life were preferred. In the lower strata of the order, social distinction was waived by the leaders, and the lowest wretch in the order was placed on a level with judges, merchants and politicians, at least within the hall of meeting, thus offering inducements potent enough to make the lodge room a place of interest and pleasure, and thus the organization thrived.
It became known of course that secret organizations of a most dangerous class were in existence, and their fruits were easily recognized. Our brave boys in the army were often importuned by letters, to desert their posts and to betray their flag. Union men were subject to annoyances that became unendurable, soldiers wives and families were grossly insulted, soldiers visiting their homes upon furloughs were often assaulted or murdered, quarrels upon petty pretexts were incited, neighbors arrayed against each other, dwellings burned by incendiaries, unoffending union men murdered, military secrets of greatest importance betrayed, libels of the most gross and malicious character by such papers as the Chicago Times, and by such men as Wilbur F. Story, its editor, till at length a voice came to us from the army in the field, which was often echoed, begging Union citizens at home, by their love of the Union, by the love they bore their own families, to protect the absent soldiers’ wives, mothers, sisters and firesides from the Copperheads who remained at home; they would meet the enemy at the front, they would march fearlessly to the cannon’s belching throat, and meet death or mutilation upon the field of battle for their Country’s cause; not for themselves did they know fear or care for danger, but when the tidings came to them from home, when after toilsome marches, hunger and fatigue, or suffering from wounds received in desperate engagements, when resting a brief hour, and their eyes fell upon missives from home, from wives who bade them go and fight for freedom, and return not with shame upon their brows, when tender thoughts of home, of children and every “loved spot” that they had left behind, came crowding to their minds, who shall say that they were wanting in heroism if their faces became pale, their lips trembled and the tears dimmed their eyes, as they read of wrongs and insults endured from Copperheads at home, or of plots and acts by cowardly traitors to aid the common enemy; and when their entreaty comes to us to strike down the deadly foe at home and give protection to the helpless, let him blush with shame to call himself a man, let him never claim to be an American citizen, never claim protection of our Country’s flag, let him close his ears to the sound of rejoicing for final and complete victory, let him only hold companionship with cowards and with culprits, and hide himself from the light of day who will turn a deaf ear to the soldiers’ prayer. Copperheads who have withheld their sympathy and their efforts for our country in its days of darkness and of peril, should and will be known of men in all future time; their lives will be blighted, their names will be a reproach and a by-word, their children will blush for their parents, and the name of Benedict Arnold will no longer be the synonym of treason and betrayal–his name will be rescued from the infamy each passing year of the existence of our country has heaped upon it, and the Copperheads of the present day will receive the anathemas of all coming generations, till their very names shall be a curse too horrid for mortals to apply, and thenceforth be only echoed in the lowest depths of hell.
By Providential discovery of the existence of the Order of Sons of Liberty in Chicago, and the utmost vigilance, prudence, perseverance, patience, promptness and daring, the aims, designs and acts of this Order, of the American Knights and kindred organizations have been brought to light, its every evil purpose and plan laid before the Government, and the pet institution of Jeff. Davis has been turned inside out, so that “he who runs may read;” the curtain has been raised and the light of noonday has been let in, discovering to the public the horrid creation of traitors in our very midst–people who breathe the very air we do, who enjoy the same blessings and privileges, aye, and perhaps sit at the same tables. The friends and sympathizers of these traitors have sought to cast obloquy and distrust upon the statements of those who have successfully broken up the great conspiracy, and perjury has sought to blacken their reputations, but in vain. Truth will prevail.
The list of names of the members of the Sons of Liberty have been obtained and preserved, and will be valuable for reference hereafter.
As the reader passes down South Clark street, at the corner of Monroe, he will notice upon the right a large building of peculiar structure, and, now bearing the name “Invincible Club Hall.” It was here the temples of the Sons of Liberty, or, as they were then called, the “American Knights," held their secret sessions, going stealthily up the stairs singly or in groups of two or three, to avoid observation, and when once inside the hall they were guarded by an outside sentinel, whose duty it was to apprise them of danger and to guard against its approach to the “temple"; but let not the fault-finding Sons blame their Tyler now for any neglect of duty; once under the ban of suspicion he has proved himself as staunch a rebel and traitor as Jeff. Davis himself, and is entitled to all the consideration of a “devilish good fellow.” But within a year, more or less, the “temple” of the Illini, as it was called, removed from Clark street to the large building upon the corner of Randolph and Dearborn streets, known as “McCormick’s Block.” Every Thursday evening prior to the eighth of November 1864, the windows of the hall in the fifth story gave evidence that the hall was occupied, but further than this evidence was not for the observer, however curious he might be, unless, perchance, he was a member of “the Order.” Clambering up the long nights of stairs that lead to the hall, on a Thursday evening, the party in quest of discovery would be not a little surprised at the class of men he would notice upon the march upward; he would involuntarily button up his pockets and keep as far distant from his fellow travelers as possible, for a more God-forsaken looking class of vagabonds never before entered a respectable building, and it is a matter of some doubt whether so many graceless scoundrels were ever before convened in one building in Chicago, not excepting the Armory when the police have been unusually active and vigilant. Occasionally a fine looking man would brush hastily by you, as if afraid to be discovered and recognised–not in the least conscience-stricken, perhaps, for his purposes and intentions. Should the gas-light show to you the comely features of the Grand Senior Obadiah Jackson, Jr. Esq., on his pilgrimage upward, you would scarcely be willing to believe that he was the presiding genius of the room in the upper regions, and bound to dispense light and wisdom to the motley crowd who would so soon be filling the hall with fumes of cheap tobacco and the poorest quality of whiskey, mingled with the fragrance of onions, borne by gentle zephyrs from yonder open vestibule. Yonder comes L.A. Doolittle, Esq., a lawyer of some distinction and a justice of the peace; he wears a look of wisdom, and you can read upon his face that he is certain that the “despot Lincoln,” and “Lincoln’s hirelings,” and “Lincoln’s bastiles” are all going under together beneath the wheels of the triumphal car drawn by the opposition party, with Vallandigham as the leader. But we will not try to find any great number of fine looking men in very close proximity to the hall. Arriving on the fifth floor, and proceeding to a door upon which you find the sign of the “American Protestant Association,” your friends casting furtive glances around and behind them, disappear by the door and are lost to view; one by one, like stars upon the approach of dawn, our constellation vanishes. You open the door, but your curiosity is not repaid; the seedy friends who preceded you but an instant are lost to sight–presto! the room is as vacant as a last year’s robin’s nest, and observation detects a hole of six inches in diameter in a door in one side of the room; you try the door, but it is fast, and you may leave if you wish, but the idea of a Copperhead crawling through a hole six inches in diameter will haunt your dreams that night.