The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer
Public Domain Books
ARENA OF THE REBELLION EXTENDED–SECRET ORGANIZATION–PLAN OF FORMATION–KNIGHTS OF GOLDEN CIRCLE–TRANSPORTS ON THE RIVERS BURNED–EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES–SUPREME COUNCIL IN NEW YORK–DEGREES OF THE ORDERS.
As above intimated, early in 1862 the Richmond Government foresaw the necessity of bringing to its aid the hitherto comparatively dormant resources of treason in the Northern States, and the enlargement of the arena of the Rebellion. Raids having ominously failed in their design to arouse the lethargic spirits of Northern sympathizers and advocates, to rush to the standard of the misguided South, it was immediately determined to prolong the war, at least, to the date of the next Presidential election, and then through the agencies of secret organization and equipment, seize upon the excitement of the people in a hotly contested election, to force a rebellion against the administration elect in the North, as had been done in the South in 1860.
The executive part of this object was at once given into the hands of such trustworthy men, both North and South, as were deemed suitable to the enterprise, and the work of secret political organization was vigorously begun in Northern Missouri and Kentucky, from thence it gradually spread, until it was firmly rooted in the political tenets of the minority party in the States of Illinois, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, New York, and portions of other adjoining States.
Much dissimilarity existed in the operative structure and formation of the various organizations, from time to time thus instituted. To give the public a full and complete description of these organizations, would be foreign to the writer’s time, space and purpose, but in order that some record of their character may be made, a general description of each in its order in point of time, with a reference to the features in which radical dissimilarities appear, would seem indispensible to the poor perfection sought to be obtained by the author of these sketches.
Upon the discovery by Southern leaders that their cause must fail unless “fire in the rear” was at once instigated in the North, the Order of the Knights of the Golden Circle, an old Southern institution, was infused with life, and began its pilgrimage Northward, one additional creed having been ingrafted upon it.
It will be remembered that this Order was originally composed of the wealthiest planters, merchants and professional men of the South, and had for its sole object the inculcation of treason against the United States. It was simply an institution to educate the Southern mind to the required standard of rebellion. But when the Order was introduced into the North, it was found feasible to give it a double capacity, first that of an educational capacity, and second that of an incendiary capacity, which comprised the destruction of government property, and the houses and property of leading loyal citizens of the North, known to be strong advocates of the suppression of the rebellion. But this organization in name and cardinal purpose was short-lived, its career having subserved but a meagre benefit to the South, in a practical point of view. The damage it did was principally confined to the burning of United States transports on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and the moulding of the crude opinions of its members, which served as a solid foundation for the establishment of the Order of American Knights, which immediately succeeded its dissolution.
Like all institutions of iniquity, the sun of the Order of Knights of the Golden Circle went down in blood, but was the signal for the advent of an Order better calculated to meet the ends of its design.
It had been seen upon experiment that the Golden Circle had been successful beyond the most sanguine expectations of its instigators, and as the necessity of Northern revolution to insure the certain success of the Confederacy daily became more apparent to the rebels, both North and South, the Order of the American Knights was inaugurated–the executioner of that fell purpose. Its sun arose to its meridian with the suddenness of a meteor, doomed to flash across the canopy and burst in scattering atoms.
The Order of American Knights was erected upon the dissolved fragments of the Order of the Knights of the Golden Circle, which Order, in name, was abandoned for the additional reason that the suspicions of the Government had begun to be aroused as to the character of its movements. At the time of the extinction of the Golden Circle, its members were at once inducted into the Order of American Knights, so that this Order obtained much primary advantage, in point of numerical strength, over its predecessor, for the Golden Circle had already insidiously crept into the very hearts of several Northern cities and states. The American Knights being composed in the outset wholly of men who from experience had discovered whatever defectiveness may have been chargeable upon the Golden Circle, it was sought in the new Order to remedy the evils of the old Order.
With this in view, looking over the former and later phases of the Golden Circle as it had existed in the North and South, respectively, it was agreed to give the new Order still another capacity, and what was called the military branch or department was added, the incendiary capacity of the old Order being merged into this new military department.
We have seen that there had been in the North an Order mainly of educational capacity, contemplating revolution so soon as the public mind could be put in readiness for such an event, but now for the first time we find an Order prepared in its organic structure, to speedily collect together the elements of revolution and set them in motion. Such a concern was the Order of American Knights. True, the rise of the Order created a momentary excitement in political circles, as yet unaccustomed to dealing with the stern problems of Northern revolution by resort to arms. But, by the admirable adjustment of the administrative powers of the Order, into degrees, sub-degrees and departments of degrees and sub-degrees, the leaders were enabled to give to each adventurer in quest of the hidden mysteries of the so-called impartial maxims of genuine Democracy–that Democracy which boasts of having permeated through every fibre and artery of our political, commercial and social systems, a comfortable and genial sphere in which he was left to operate upon his good behavior.
Upon this ingenious plan the vast body and mass of the Order simply held the relation of probationary membership, until they were rendered competent through the educational capacity of the society, to advance into full fellowship with its diabolical design. A glance at this organization will suffice to show the shrewdness of the transient and local agents of the Confederacy, in their formation of an Order, having for its mission the attainment of so many incidental objects, without in the meantime subjecting themselves to the dangers of collision in their machinery. Accordingly, the Order was composed of three general degrees, viz.: First, the Temple Degree, second, the Grand Council Degree, and third, the Supreme Council Degree.
The first or Temple Degree, resembled the county organization of a State, and held the same relation to the second or Grand Council Degree (which was the state organization of the Order,) that our county government holds to our State government, and it was always sought to establish this first or Temple Degree at each county seat in a State, as expeditiously as possible, that the second or Grand Council Degree could the sooner be fully represented, and begin its State management of the Order. In other chapters the writer has made a passing, though sufficient allusion to the internal workings of these Temples, and doubtless the initiated reader, in different sections, will recognize the facts we have already and are further about to state, notwithstanding the “obligation” the author is supposed to have subscribed to, not to reveal the existence of the Order and its secrets, under penalty of “suffering a shameful death.”
The process usually followed in instituting the Temple Degree, was to send missionaries with authority, into the districts proposed to be organized, who called together such of the “unterrified” leaders as were known to be “sound on Jeff. Davis’ goose,” before whom the design and object of the Order was confidentially laid for their approval or rejection, by a majority vote. It is important to recollect that the record does not afford an instance where a majority of those assembled for this purpose, rejected the Order as inconsistent with their political views. On the contrary, it was everywhere received by the politicians, both great and small, as “just the thing they had been looking for.” These politicians were then left to “manage their own local affairs” concerning the Order, “subject only to the constitution” of Jeff. Davis. Generally, several meetings and some discussion enabled these empyrics to determine plans of strategy to screen themselves, by “covering the tracks in the sand,” a remark frequently heard from members.
“All whom we arrested wore the same general wolfish aspect."–From the testimony of Brig. Gen. B.J. Sweet.]
The plan in most cases adopted, was to familiarize a sufficient number of the elect, with a grossly immoral and treasonable pamphlet, called the “Ritual of the Order,” to enable them to officer the Temple, and “induct" any number of “candidates” supposed to be “in waiting in the ante-room, into the sublime,” but in fact dark and dubious “mysteries of the Order.”
After one or more squads of these “candidates in” anxious and breathless “waiting” had been inducted, (meanwhile staring like stuck pigs at every object and officer which met their eyes,) in addition to the regular officers of the Temple already installed, it was considered that enough official and canvassing material had been acquired, and the more prominent politicians, not officers of the Temple, deemed it prudent to absent themselves from most of the weekly meetings. Again, it was an illusion of these leaders, to put forward the most irresponsible persons at their command, as the mouth-pieces and official representatives of the Order, to the end that if detected, the theory of crazy, powerless fools, could be wielded upon public sentiment by an undisturbed partisan press, to save the scheme from thorough investigation and development by the authorities.
In evidence of the fact of these illusions, L.A. Doolittle lectures the Temple in Chicago on the “purposes and plans of the Order,” (but who by the way, was not so “insane on the subject” as the men who put him forward have sought to show him to be,) and prominent politicians, not before known to be members of the fraternity, appear prior to semi-annual elections as candidates for representatives in the Grand Council.
It was duly announced, also, that an extra session of the Supreme Council had been convened in the city of New York, charged with the special business of revising the ritual, changing the signs, passwords, grips, and giving to the Order a new name. Pursuant to announcement, Charles W. Patten made his appearance in the Temple with the rituals and paraphernalia of the new Order of the Sons of Liberty–the result of the proceedings of the late Supreme Council.
This obscure individual, with fame limited to the dusty walls of the Invincible Club Rooms and the traitor’s dungeon at Camp Douglas, upon his appearance in the Temple, assigned two chief reasons for the recent action of the Supreme Council. First and most important was, the obvious inadequacy of the Order of American Knights to subserve the purpose for which it was instituted, in consequence of the subordination of the military to the civil department. And, second, the disclosure in St. Louis had rendered the Order liable to intrusion by spies, an embarrassment to be avoided only by alteration of signs, grips, passwords, and name. We were then informed that we were Sons of Liberty (a sensible man would have said sons of the devil, if he had dared to have spoken the truth), and earnestly exhorted to exercise the utmost caution in adhering to the new rules and instructions of the Supreme Council. It is not a little amusing to witness the homeopathic doses of modern democracy, carefully administered to the rank and file of the northern people through the medium of these Orders.
In the first place, the Golden Circle edifies the “stranger advancing in dark, devious ways” with lessons upon the doctrine of state sovereignty, and admonishes him to “follow the straight and narrow path which is paved with gems and pearls, and bordered with perennial flowers whose perfumes all his senses will entrance,” all of which is received by the sincere candidate with every mark of approval. We next find the American Knights embracing its members in the bedazzling folds of military lace to be used when in arms against the Government. A splendid spectacle of the doctrines of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson and Douglas! And to cap the miserable climax, men boasting of the Democracy of their fathers in a line of lineal descent for generations back, are required to subscribe to the doctrine of the subordination of the civil to the military authority by the tenets of the Sons of Liberty.
This astonishing feature of the Sons of Liberty, as contradistinguished from the Orders which preceded it, at first met with murmurs of disfavor, but the dissatisfaction was principally among men who ultimately acted the nobler part, and as the tide of treason rolled up to sustain this measure “for the good of the Order,” all such were submerged and lost sight of, except by the evil eye set upon them as spies.
Without offering his advice, the writer would respectfully ask the true Democrat, who may yet, from the temptations of firmly-rooted prejudices, incline to the belief that this organization was purely democratic in the Andrew Jackson acceptation of that term, how the above statement of principles comports with his notions of the doctrines of the party with which he has hitherto seen fit to fellowship?
Is it not clearly to be seen that this Order meditated the establishment of a government more despotic in its character than history furnishes any example of? A government with three degrees or departments, each oath-bound and a profound secret to the other, moving in their appointed spheres, and the civil departments of which were secondary, in point of power, to the military departments!
Let no man, of whatever political persuasion he may be, flatter himself for a moment that such a government could be Republican in its nature.
Having now traced, with perhaps a tedious hand, the rise and fall of two political Orders, ranking among the most powerful instruments of crime and public wrong of their day, the writer bids their unmourned remains farewell, to pass to the consideration in the succeeding chapter, of the desperate career and final explosion of the Order of the Sons of Liberty–a solemn warning to the American people forever.
To save the Goudys, Caulfields, Adams, Edwards, Duncans, Wickershams, Cuttings, and Kimberlys, the Morrises, Walshes, Jacksons, Pattens, Gearys, and Doolittles were put forward because they were eager for the fray, and possessed the temerity to brave the danger of Union bullets.
We have now seen how the Temple or First Degree was instituted in counties; how the various elements of treason were collected together and detailed for their special service of educating the ignorant, manufacturing materials and munitions of war, and devising plots to burn, plunder, and pillage unsuspecting cities; how each member was singled out according to his fitness for certain duties, which he performed without their character coming even to his fellow members of the same degree; and how the brained leaders of these institutions retired to the back ground to elude the vigilance of the ministers of the law, and “adjust the wires” that were to check to-day, and to-morrow precipitate the conspiracy.
The Grand Council, or Second Degree, was established in every State where the Temple Degree had obtained any strength and character as to numbers. This Degree resembled the State in its governmental organization, and bore the same relation to the Supreme Council or Third Degree that the State governments of the Federal Union bear to the government at Washington. The Order having a military department, these Grand Councils, in council assembled, adopted the militia and other statute laws of the particular State, with such revisions, exceptions and additional laws as were deemed essential to the successful operation of the Order.
Regular semi-annual meetings of the Grand Councils were held, convening respectively on the 22d of August and the 22d of February–the latter, in sacrilege be it said, being religiously observed as the birthday of Washington.
But extra sessions were almost monthly called during the year of 1864, prior to the election, to take precautionary and other expedient action upon the continually recurring changes of that eventful year. No considerable battle was fought in the front, that was not the signal for the assembling of this council, and no political event of any importance transpired that did not receive the solemn deliberations of this already de facto legislative body. Of course no person ever became a member of this Council who had not first been inducted into the Temple, and then by his Temple elected as a representative in the Grand Council, the election for which purpose was held semi-annually as above, and new representatives took their seats at each regular session.
The Grand Council embraced in its sphere of labors such duties as experience seemed to dictate, as being necessary to the fulfilment of the mission of the Order. It provided remedies for unmistakable evils, and watched with a zealous care and fostering hand, every interest of treason within the boundaries of its jurisdiction.
The Supreme Council or Third and highest Degree of the Order in organization, was built after the pattern of the Federal government at Washington, and wielded a similar general control over the affairs of the Order, that our National government exerts over the consequences growing out of the union of the States under one central government. Here we see how admirably the design to effect Northern rebellion was conceived. The whole machinery of a government de facto, and in disguise though, it was, with all its branches, both civil and military in active operation for months and years within the very sound of the echoing steps of senators in the halls of the Capitol, was indeed a source of the most serious concern to the authorities, for the safety of the Republic. But valorous daring, tempered with prudence, was destined to bring to the light of day this infernal work of years, and accordingly the city of St. Louis was the scene of the first public development of the Order of American Knights, early in the spring of 1864, the principal facts of which disclosure the public learned from the press at the time, hence the writer will only allude in this connection to the effect created in various Circles of the Order, by the attempt upon the part of the Government to thwart the perpetration of the red-handed crimes contemplated by the leaders. When it was officially announced by Reuben Cassile, presiding Grand Seignior of the Chicago Temple, then recently removed from the Invincible Club Hall to McCormick’s Building, that disclosures of the Order in St. Louis had occurred, every countenance was stamped with dismay. The timely appearance at the Temple, however, of Judge Morris and other leaders, served to interpose restraint upon any serious apprehensions of difficulty resulting to the Order.