Expose of the Knights of the Golden Circle - Member Knight




Chapter III.
Sowing Division Among Democrats

The year 1858—The Kansas Struggle and the Lecompton Constitution—Increased growth of the K.G.C.—Change of Ritual—Secession advocated, and the South united through its workings—The order popularized—The regalia, symbols, and Workings of the Degrees and "Inner Temple"—Application for a Castle in a Northern city refused—Firing of the Southern Heart in 1859-60—Presidential Contest of 1860—Instrumentality of the K.G.C. in dissolving the Democratic Convention—Opposition to Douglas—Speech in a New Orleans Castle—the Charleston and Baltimore Conventions—the insincerity of southrons.

The year 1858 found the Knights of the Golden Circle more highly organized, and gaining wonderfully in popularity. The division being effected in the Democratic party by the discussion of the celebrated Lecompton Constitution, gave them great hope of attaining the end to which they had been directing their efforts, with undiminished zeal, for the past two years, and which their organization had been calculated to effect from its very infancy—the dissolution of the American Union. They had applied the most thorough tests to the general government, and had done all in their power to ascertain whether it were possible to entirely Southernize the great national Democratic party, and transform it into a pro-slavery engine with which they might extend and protect slavery everywhere, to little effect. They had proven Mr. Buchanan to be a very indifferent friend to fillibustering movements; and, last of all, they had found that there were thousands of Democrats who would not agree that the people of a territory should have a constitution which they were utterly opposed to, nor Admit that forty Northern men were equal to but one Southern man. All these circumstances proved to them that secession was their only hope.

The formation of a Southern Government was now talked of openly everywhere; every means was used to make secessionists, and unite the Southern people. To this end it was thought the order of the K.G.C. should be popularized by various improvements. The castle was divided into an outer and inner temple; the outer temple being, in fact, the old castle to which, according to some changes made in the ritual and constitution, members were admitted on probation, preparatory to entering the inner temple. The time of probation was not definitely fixed, but was, in all cases, to be of sufficient duration to enable the committee of inquiry to determine whether the initiate was "sound on the nigger." None but those who were known to be out-and-out secessionists could enter the "holy of holies."

About this time it was thought well to do something in the way of regalia, emblems, etc., in which no effort was spared to be "very ancient." As I never had the good fortune to enter the inner temple, I can only describe the outer. In this department the regalia consists of a close helmet for the head, from the top of which peers upward a small silver spear, and to the frontal portion of which is attached a silver crescent; of a close-fitting garment for the thorax and upper extremities, very much resembling the ancient coat of mail, and a long, straight sword suspended to the left side. The symbols were a large bronzed crescent, or new moon, set with fifteen stars, a large one of which was generally suspended over the seat of the Chief Knight, from an arch of evergreens; of a large temple, under the dome of which shone a beautiful representation of the noon-day sun, and around the corona of which were fixed fifteen stars. To these were added the skull and cross-bones.

Now for the language of the symbols: The crescent represents the growing Southern Confederacy; the temple, with its glowing sun and fifteen stars, foreshadows the glorious "sunny South," under the benign influence of a fully matured Southern Government, extending its borders through Cuba, Mexico, and Central and South America; the skull and cross-bones signify death to all "Abolitionists" and opposers of "Southern independence." To the by-laws were added one strongly prohibiting any member from presenting the name of any new applicant unless he had the best of reasons for believing that such applicant was a good Southern man, and perfectly "sound on the nigger."

The sole end to which the Knights now directed their efforts was the disruption of the American Confederacy. Like Garrison and his followers, they considered this an "accursed Union," and that its longer continuance was only calculated to degrade and oppress the South. In view of this object, they determined to abandon the kidnapping business, inasmuch as it involved considerable expense, and required close attention, and concentrate all their energies upon the institution of new castles throughout all the Southern States. Forthwith castles began to spring up all through the Border States, and, in not a few instances, was it found that prominent Northern men were knocking at the door for admission. Whenever they were known to be "good Southern men" they were welcomed and hailed with joy.

At one time during the year of which I now write, (1858), some very prominent citizens of New Albany, Indiana, proposed to have a castle instituted in their city, but the Knights thought that as their order was "peculiarly a Southern one," it were better that it should not extend into free soil. During this period, castles were built up in Texas, and they showed themselves worthy of their calling, and, if anything, rather distanced those of the Gulf States in the promotion of the "good cause."

With the Texan Knights, however, there was one great obstacle in the way of progress, viz.: the large free-laboring German population. The Germans in Texas had demonstrated to the world that they could even excel the "nigger" in the cultivation of the cotton plant. This was considered as a very dangerous argument against the "peculiar institution."

The great plea in favor of Slavery in the South had ever been that "cotton could not be grown without African service," and that the whole intelligent world should see a practical demonstration of its fallacy was something that the "chivalry" never could submit to.

The Germans had become thoroughly acclimated, and being very healthy and prolific, bid fair to seriously undermine, and ultimately destroy, the slave interests of Texas. Fully conscious of these facts, the members of the K.G.C. began and carried out such a system of abuse and oppression towards this valuable class of citizens, as finally resulted in the exodus of the entire German population (25,000) from Texas to Mexico, in the early part of the spring of the present year, (1861)

All through the year 1859, the Knights were working with unabated energy for the increase of their numbers and the "firing of the Southern heart." 1860 found them making great preparations for the presidential campaign of that year.

It had been strongly indicated by the Democrats of the great Northwest, at their recent state elections, that a less conservative man than Douglas would receive very few of their votes for the U.S. Presidency in the coming contest; and, from the strong opposition to him by Southern fire-eaters and Northern dough-faces in the national Congress of that year, it was clear that a division, and consequent defeat, of the Democratic ticket could be easily effected, and an excuse, by that means, afforded for the consummation of their great leading design.

Perhaps no politician ever had a firmer hold upon the sympathies of his adherents than Mr. Douglas. Of this fact the Knights were fully aware; and, knowing that many of the prominent leaders of the Northern Democracy were jealous of the "Little Giant," it was duly arranged to secure their services both in Congress and in the contemplated April convention, to the end of so dividing that body that a sufficient number might be drawn off to form another convention and nominate another candidate.

Months before the meeting of the National Democratic Convention, men of the Yancey stripe had literally sworn, in castle, to split that Convention, and thereby utterly defeat its objects, or else entirely Southernize it. The following, from a speech delivered in the New Orleans Castle, will show the spirit and intent of the ultraists of that period. The speech was made at a meeting held, January 11th, 1860:

"The next administration shall be purely Southern, or we will have no administration at all. We will have a strictly Southern Rights Congress. If we can't have such a congress at Washington, we will have it somewhere else. Our rights of property should be secured, not only here and in the common territories, but all over the United States. Why can't we travel where we please with our negroes, and stay as long as we like, without molestation? The powers at the National Capital, under the influence of the abolition puritans, will never, in my opinion, grant the just privileges claimed by Southern gentlemen. The Democratic party North is fast selling itself out to the Abolitionists, and, from present appearances, we may expect that before another campaign Steve Douglas and Fred Douglass will be spoken of as the candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency, to be nominated at a fusion convention, composed of Black Republicans and Squatter Sovereignty Democrats.

"I am, for one, for an eternal separation from this yellow-skinned, woolly-headed clique. I am for an out-and-out Southern man in '60. We don't expect Northern men to vote for him. We don't want them to. We only want a man that a Southern gentleman can vote for with clean hands and a clear conscience. I would say, give us Yancey or Jeff Davis. We can vote for such men as these conscientiously. We don't expect to elect them; we don't want to elect them according to the modes prescribed by the United States Constitution. We only want to show the North our hand and our strength. Let them elect their Abolition candidate. Is there one here who does not hope they will? For my part, it has been my desire, for over ten years, that the North would give us some good excuse for the dissolution of the Union. We, as an Order, have been hoping and working for a long time for a separation from the North, and the formation of a government of our own, where we could, without any hindrance or drawback, carry out a purely Southern policy.

"At the coming Democratic convention we must have this Order well represented; we must have men there who will carry out our wishes; we must show the mulatto Democrats (Douglas men) that we will have a man of our own selection. He must be a Knight, and a good one at that. There is little doubt, from the present bull-headedness of the Douglasites, that this policy will result in the division of the convention, and the nomination of two candidates; but that is just what we want. It will only assist the election of the Abolition candidate, which, as I have before said, is the uppermost desire of our hearts, in that it will afford a lawful excuse for dissolving a Union which has, for the past thirty years, been the most formidable obstacle to Southern progress."

The way in which the Knights proposed to divide the convention was, to require at the hands of the conservative Northern Democracy the most unqualified recognition of the rights ot property in slaves, and its especial Congressional protection in all the United States Territories. From the popular expressions of the Northwestern people at the ballot box, at their recent elections, they knew full well their desire of disruption would be successfully attained by this requirement.

In April 1860, the National Democratic Convention assembled at Charleston, and it seemed to be the universal desire of the conservative men to harmonize that body by making every personal concession consistent with what they had honestly believed to be a fair interpretation of the Cincinnati Platform. Ihey proposed to lay aside all the differences of the past, say nothing about recent quarrels, and simply adopt the old Cincinnati Platform with the mere addition that the slavery question in the territories should be settled by the Supreme Court presuming, as they did, that the Constitution of the United States, as interpreted by the highest of all judicial authorities, was a sufficient guarantee to the rights of property everywhere.

If there had been any desire on the part of the Knights (as nearly all the Breckinridge men were,) to forget old differences and reunite the party, they would have readily agreed to this proposition. But no such desire existed among them. Nothing but a full and explicit acknowledgment that "neither Congress nor a Territorial Legislature" could impair the rights of property in slaves and that it was "the duty of the Federal Government, in all its departments, to protect the rights of persons and property in the territories and wherever else its authority extends;" would begin to satisfy them. Whenever a Southern man says "property" he means "niggers;" so that what the Knights really desired of the Douglas men was that they should admit that no power on earth could, in any way interfere with "niggers." This admission they knew as well before as after the Convention, would not be made. Every man at all acquainted with the history of the past five years, knows that Mr. Buchanan was elected upon the principle of non-intervention; and to presume that the conservative men of the Northwest could endorse Congressional Intervention to the ridiculous and inconsistent extreme required by the Southern "nigger" worshipers in the Charleston Convention, was something that none but fools would do.

As my readers are all aware, the result of the unreasonable demands made upon the conservatives was the division of the Convention or more properly speaking, the secession of the Knights, and the formation of another convention. Both these conventions, adjourned before arriving at any definite conclusion respecting the selection of a candidate, to meet again at Baltimore, in the month of June. On the part of the K.G.C. there was not the least intention of trying to conciliate matters at the subsequent meeting by the compromise of any of their principles; nor did they anticipate any concession on the part of the conservatives. They only desired to widen the breach, and all their pretensions to the contrary were the merest sham.

In the interim between the two meetings the Knights were busily engaged in castle, devising means whereby they might hold the organization at Baltimore, and thereby force the Douglas men to secede. By this ruse it was hoped to preserve for their faction the name of "The Regular Democratic Convention," and thus more thoroughly divide the party: and it was duly arranged that if they could not succeed in this plan, they would cause the speaker (Mr. Cushing) to "secede," and by that means carry all the weight they possibly could with them.

June arrived, and, at the assembling of the convention, the Knights found themselves clearly beaten, as it regarded their first plan, by the superior activity of the conservatives. They even came very near being denied a seat in the assembly. They were, consequently, forced to their last plan as the only alternative.

Respecting the movements of the two Baltimore conventions, the reader is doubtless informed, but it may not be out of the way here to present the expressions of these two bodies on the slavery question, as found in their respective platforms. Here is what the Douglas convention said:

"That inasmuch as differences of opinion exist in the Democratic party as to the nature and extent of a territorial legislature, and as to the powers and duties of Congress, under the Constitution of the United States, over the institution of slavery within the territories, Resolved, That the Democratic party will abide by the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States over the institution of slavery in the territories.

"Resolved, That it is in accordance with the interpretation of the Cincinnati Platform that, during the existence cf the territorial government, the measure of restriction, whatever it may be, imposed by the Federal Constitution on the power of the territorial legislature over the subject of the domestic relations (as the same has been or shall hereafter be finally determined by the Supreme Court of the United States) should be respected by all good citizens, and enforced with promptness and fidelity by every branch of the General Government."

And here is the Breckinridge platform on slavery:

"The government of a territory, as organized by an act of Congress, is provisional and temporary, and, during its existence, all citizens of the United States have an equal right to settle with their property ("niggers") in the territory, without their rights either of person or property being destroyed or injured by congressional or territorial legislation.

"It is the duty of the Federal Government, in all its departments, to protect the rights of persons or property ("niggers") in the territories, and wherever else its constitutional authority extends.

"When the settlers in a territory, having an adequate population, form a state constitution, the right of sovereignty commences, and being consummated by their admission into the Union, they stand on an equality with the people of other states; and a state thus organized ought to be admitted into the Federal Union, whether the constitution prohibits or recognizes the institution of slavery."

With the exception of the last resolution appended to the Douglas platform, these platforms were both framed in Charleston; and I will remark just here that, as it respects the Breckinridge platform, it had been drawn up in the Calhoun castle, at Charleston, more than a month before the first meeting of the convention.

In contrasting the above quotations, it requires no very great degree of perspicuity to determine which is the more conciliatory of the two; nor does it require a very high development of the perceptives to see that the boasted "national" doctrine of non-intervention, of which we all heard so much in 1856, had been entirely abandoned by the secessionists as a political humbug, and that they had fallen back on the old idea, always maintained by the Republicans, that Congress had a right to interfere with the institution of slavery in the territories, and that it was its duty to do it. The only difference between the Republicans and Breckinridge men, on this point, being that the former believed Congress should prohibit the introduction of slavery into the territories, while the latter taught that Congress should protect it to the full extent of its powers. Does it not seem remarkably strange that, with these facts before the intelligent world, the Knights should denominate the Republican party a sectional one, and base their excuse for secession upon its recent success in consequence? In this connection I will quote from the Republican platform, framed at Chicago, May, 1860. The following is the eighth resolution of that document:

"That the normal condition of all the territory of the United States is that of freedom; that as our republican fathers, when they abolished slavery in all our national territory, ordained that no person should be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without the process of law, it becomes our duty by legislation, whenever such legislation is necessary, to maintain this provision of the Constitution against all attempts to violate it; and we defy the authority of Congress, of a territorial legislature, or of any individuals, to give legal existence to slavery in any territory of the United States."

This resolution may be said to embody the fundamental doctrines of the Republicans respecting the relations subsisting between the General Government and the United States territories, and it will be observed that they are, in spirit, the same as those of the Breckinridge Democrats, but very differently applied and directed.

Now, respecting the Republican idea of the power of Congress to prohibit slavery in the territories, it had the decided advantage of legislative precedent from the earliest periods of our national history to within a few years past, and, therefore, if we are to decide in favor of intervention at all, we must go with the Republicans.

The principle of non-intervention was certainly Democratic; the greatest objection to it, perhaps, was that it was too Democratic to be applied to this age and this Government.

One of the principal causes of the destruction of the Grecian Republic was, that its Democracy was in advance of the intelligence of its people; and it may be that, of late years, some of our American statesmen have, in their ambitious desire to attract the attention of the world and leave their mark upon the times, which, under ordinary circumstances, is commendable, endeavored to lead this nation beyond the capacity of its sovereigns.

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