Expose of the Knights of the Golden Circle - Member Knight




Chapter II:
Formation of the K. G. C.

Increase of Anti-Slavery Sentiment at the North, and its effect upon Southrons—General George C. Bickley's advent in 1855—the first to Systematize the Order of the K.G.C.—Details of the Organization—its Objects, Solemn Oaths, and Forms of Initiation—its secret influence upon the Politics of the Country—Speech in Castle of a Knight—General William Walker and Fillibustering.

In 1855, it was noticed that the anti-slavery sentiment in the North was growing still stronger, and it was, in fact, generally thought by Southrons that the Democratic party was becoming almost extinct there, from the large numbers that had deserted it in consequence of their Free-soil proclivities. It was about this time that a certain George C. Bickley, who was a native of Boone county, Indiana, but, at the period alluded to, resided in Cincinnati, went South, and, having espoused the cause of the S.R.C's, took it in hand to reduce them to a more perfect state of organization.

Having framed a constitution, by-laws, and ritual, and having effected thereby all the, to him, necessary changes and modifications in the Order, he christened it with the highly "chivalrous" name of Knights of the Golden Circle. The several divisions of the K.G.C., according to the new constitution, were called Castles. As in the case of most other secret orders, there were subordinate castles, and a Grand Castle, State Castle, or Legion.

[Note: All the State Legions, or Grand State Castles, are represented by delegates in what is termed the Grand United States or American Legion. From this body all the laws governing state and subordinate castles emanate, as also do the military laws, or, as they are generally termed, "Articles of War." These "Articles of War" require regular military drill, especially in the use of the bayonet and sword. Knights greatly pride themselves on their swordsmanship.]

The officers of the subordinate castle consisted of a captain, lieutenant, secretary, treasurer, guard, (for the inner door,) sentinel, (for the outer door,) a corresponding secretary, and conductor. The officers of the Grand Castle were the same as those of the subordinates, with the addition of the prefix Grand. Their new constitution set forth, in its first article, as one of the principal objects of the order, the acquisition of Cuba, Mexico, and Nicaragua. In another article, the members are pledged to stand united in the promotion of Southern interests, and opposition to the encroachments of abolitionism; and still, in another, they are pledged, in case of any encroachment on the part of the United States Government, to do all within their power to establish a "free Southern Government." The ritual of this period required of the candidate, in the first place, the most solemn oath that he would never divulge anything he should see or hear after he entered the sacred portals of the castle. Having entered the castle, he was sworn to use all his efforts and powers in the furtherance of the objects set forth in the constitution, viz.: the absorption of Southern territory, and the promotion of Southern interests. Nothing is said in either the constitution or ritual directly of the slave piracy, for the reason that it was feared that, by some kind of accident, "the papers" might fall into the hands of the "persecuting government." This portion of their business had not been forgotten, however, for, during the years 1855-56, they equipped and sent out three slavers, two of which were highly successful in their operations; one of them, however, was captured by an English fleet.

The year 1856 gave the Knights a new impetus, and added many to their numbers, in consequence of the very large growth of the anti-slavery sentiment in the North during that year, an especial manifestation of which was afforded by the Presidential campaign. It was now that the rank pro-slavery tree began to produce the buds of secession. Every effort was put forth to test the North and the General Government respecting the policy of absorption of Southern territory. This policy had been pretty strongly hinted at in the Cincinnati Platform, upon which Mr. Buchanan was then running; but hints did not satisfy them. They were bound to have the plain and explicit declaration from the national Democratic party, that "we are in favor of the acquisition of Cuba," or dissolve their connection with it, and, if needs be, with the government. A few paragraphs from the filed speeches of castle C, New Orleans, at this period will give the reader a pretty clear idea of the spirit and intent of the Knights. In perusing these speeches, passages such as the following occur:

"The South can only hope for the real enjoyment of its rights in a Southern Confederacy, if the signs of the times mean anything. Even the Democratic party is becoming Abolitionized. We want more territory; we must have it; but can we hope to acquire it while the Abolitionists stand in our way, and the indifferent Democracy refuse to give us aid? Who cannot see that the Democratic party is becoming abolitionized? Why does not the present administration (Pierce's) carry out the principles of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in Kansas Territory? Why does it allow those Emigrant Aid Societies of Massachusetts to send their pauper cut-throats to disturb and endanger our people in the common territory of the United States?"

Another specimen:

"We must have Cuba and Mexico. The North is vastly out-growing us in territory and population. If we can't get territory in the Union, we can out of it. I do not feel like awaiting the slow steps of the Northern Democracy."

In the mean time they were becoming pretty sick of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, as is manifest in the following, which I quote from memory:

"What advantage have we gained by the Nebraska bill? None whatever. On the contrary, we have positively lost. While the Missouri Compromise line stood, we had some territory which we could call our own, and of which we were sure. But how is it since that line is destroyed? Why, before one Southern man can get ready to migrate with his property, (niggers,) they send a whole legion of Yankee Abolitionists to Kansas to cut his throat and steal his negroes. The whole American Government is really becoming a grand Abolition machine, which, even in the hands of Democrats, is destined to crush out every vestige of Southern liberty."

Becoming impatient with the slow movements of the United States Government respecting the acquisition of territory, the Knights resolved to try another fillibustering expedition. For the heading of this expedition they had, in their own ranks, one of the most daring and courageous of "chivalrous" adventurers. I allude to the no less personage than General Walker. This gentleman was duly furnished and equipped with ships, men, and money by the liberal members of the K.G.C., and sent out to "take Nicaragua." How he took it, everybody knows. But, as in the instance of the Cuban fillibuster war, the effort was not expected to prove successful, but was merely thrown out as a feeler, to determine the condition of Uncle Sam's pulse.

After Mr. Buchanan's accession to power, Walker's expeditions were renewed with increased energy; and it was sincerely hoped that, by some ingenious maneuver, he would induce somebody to "insult" the United States, so that a good excuse might be afforded for an aggressive war. In this expectation, however, they were greatly disappointed; for nobody did insult the United States, nor even General Walker, half as much as they were insulted. The only injustice done that individual was, that he was not hung before he started on his first expedition. Up to the time of which I am now writing, the order of the K.G.C. was a rather insignificant one in point of numbers. There were, in fact, very few persons, not members of the institution, who even knew of its existence. But among their small number were many of the wealthiest capitalists of the South, such as Yancey and Toombs; and they were fully confident that the time was rapidly coming when they would literally swallow up the whole of their section of country.

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