Expose of the Knights of the Golden Circle - Member Knight




Chapter I.
Background—'Southern Rights' Clubs

The Origin of the Order—Southern Rights' Clubs—the African Slave Trade and the acquisition of new Slave Territory—the first Organization in 1834, and its success—the Mexican War, and the South's interest in it—Progress of the Slave Trade up to 1852—Acquisition of Cuba, Repeal of the Missouri Compromise, Nicaragua Expeditions, etc., used to increase membership.

The Order of which I propose writing an exposition was for many years, like the earth in its primordial condition, "without form, and void." It did not receive its present name until about the year 1855. The principles upon which it is based, however, and the actuating motives which pervade its membership, have existed nearly thirty years. About the close of the year 1834, there were to he found, in Charleston, New Orleans and some other Southern cities, a few politicians who earnestly desired the re-establishment of the African slave-trade and the acquisition of new slave territory. They believed that the Constitution o the United States was a tyrannical document, since it prohibited the slave-trade, and regarded it as a system of piracy. The American Union, therefore, had its enemies almost from its very childhood. These men formed themselves into secret $$juntos##, which, without any particular form or ritual, were called S.R.C.s, (Southern Rights Clubs.) They had certain signs of recognition, by which they made themselves known to each other, and met weekly, semi-weekly, or otherwise, as the cause which they labored to promote seemed to demand. They might have had, at this early day, some sort of constitution and rules of regulation, but of these little is now known.

The African slave-trade being contrary to the laws of the United States, and to the laws of the whole civilized world, it was not hoped to carry it on in an open manner. The first efforts of the S.R.C.'s, therefore, were directed to the fitting out, manning, and equipping of secret slavers, which were to cruise around the African coast and kidnap negroes whenever a good opportunity was afforded. Between the years 1834 and 1840 it is presumed that at least six of these vessels were equipped and sent out. Some of them were successful, and filled the measure of their appointment, while others were captured by English and other fleets, to the great mortification of the S.R.C.'s, and the discouragement of their enterprise. They did not, however, "give up the ship" in consequence of these discouragements, but continued their slave piracy with renewed vigor, whenever it seemed possible to conceal their maneuverings.

Time rolled on, and every year seemed to add strength and magnitude to this abominable piratical clique, until the year 1844, when the prospect of the war with Mexico seemed to give them great hope of the acquisition of new slave territory. Their glorious dreams of the growth and extension of the slave power seemed now in a fair way to be realized. In the mean time they had, in their secret $$juntos##, done all in their power to elevate and to continue in office, at Washington, such congressional representatives as were suited to their peculiar views. These were persistent and untiring in their efforts to inflame the United States Government against Mexico and Spain, in the hope that a war would be the result, and thereby an opportunity afforded for the absorption of Southern territory. Wherever it seemed possible to make out a case of insult, it was done; and the most trivial circumstances were magnified into insufferable abuses. Here is given the reason why Southern politicians were so much warmer in their support of the Mexican war than those of the North, as a general thing, and also the reason why Southern States furnished so many more volunteers for the war than did the Northern States. They felt that the successful termination of this war was a matter of the greatest interest to them, and, consequently, were very forward in its promotion.

I have heard a few persons complaining, since the commencement of the present war, that the "North allowed the South to do the fighting in Mexico." Let the instantaneous reply be, "They had more interest in that war than we." I do not wish to be understood here as saying that the Mexican war was an unjust one, or that the United States Government had no cause for it. I merely wish to put it plainly before the people that the Southern States had a peculiar interest in it.

The war with Mexico was brought to a close, and Texas, New Mexico, and California were added to the United States domain but Cuba was still out. The consciousness of this deficiency left an aching void in the "Southern heart," and, forthwith, fillibustering expeditions into Cuba were matured and set on foot by the members of the S.R.C.'s, not in the hope that such expeditions would, in themselves, terminate successfully, but with a view to so embroiling the United States and Spanish Governments, that another acquisitive war would be waged by the former against the latter, and Cuba thereby wrested from its former owners. This scheme was not altogether successful, although it certainly did make advocates to the policy of the acquisition of Cuba throughout the United States.

In the year 1852, the S.R.C.'s had become more numerous, and their organization was more highly perfected. Some two or three slavers were at this time plying successfully between the African coast and the Southern Gulf States, but their places of landing were, of course, unknown to any but the S.R.C's. Particular attention was now directed to the engrafting of the policy of the acquisition of Cuba into the Democratic platform. It was confidently hoped to make it a national Democratic doctrine. In this they were, to a considerable extent, successful; and there is but little doubt that, had it not been for the agitation of the slavery question between the years 1850-54, the acquisition of Cuba, either by purchase or conquest, would have become the leading political issue of the country.

Many Northern Democrats were strongly opposed to the policy, but no Southern ones were. In the Spring of 1854, it became apparent to the Southern extremists that the repeal of the Missouri Compromise had caused a great political revolution in the Northern States; that the old Whig party had become extinct, and that its former adherents, together with many old Democrats, were building up a new party. This was the so-called Know-Nothing party, which, although it professed to be purely American, was the legitimate two-fold result of the entire defeat of the Whig party and the repeal of the Compromise just alluded to. Shrewd Southern politicians did not fail to see the strong Free-soil element which was gradually developing in this party. The sweeping victory which the K.N.'s achieved in the congressional and state elections of 1854 opened the eyes of the Southern Democrats to the fact that the old national party of which they had presumed they had almost complete control, was not so invincible as had been supposed.

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