Online Encyclopedia

KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V15, Page 869 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE, a semi-military secret society in the United States in the Middle West, 1861-1864, the purpose of which was to bring the Civil War to a close and restore the " Union as it was." There is some evidence that before the Civil War there was a Democratic secret organization of the same name, with its principal membership in the Southern States. After the outbreak of the Civil War many of the Democrats of the Middle West, who were opposed to the war policy of the Republicans, organized the Knights of the Golden Circle, pledging themselves to exert their influence to bring about peace. In 1863, owing to the disclosure of some of its secrets, the organization took the name of Order of American Knights, and in 1864 this became the Sons of Liberty. The total membership of this order probably reached 250,000 to 300,000, principally in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky and south-western Pennsylvania. Fernando Wood of New York seems to have been the chief officer and in 1864 Clement L. Vallandigham became the second in command. The great importance of the Knights of the Golden Circle and its successors was due to its opposition to the war policy of the Republican administration. The plan was to overthrow the Lincoln government in the elections and give to the Democrats the control of the state and Federal governments, which would then make peace and invite the Southern States to come back into the Union on the old footing. In order to obstruct and embarrass the Republican administration the members of the order held peace meetings to influence public opinion against the continuance of the war; purchased arms to be used in uprisings, which were to place the peace party in control of the Federal government, or failing in that to establish a north-western confederacy; and took measures to set free the Confederate prisoners in the north and bring the war to a forced close. All these plans failed at the critical moment, and the most effective work done by the order was in encouraging desertion from the Federal armies, preventing enlistments, and resisting the draft. Wholesale arrests of leaders and numerous seizures of arms by the United States authorities resulted in a general collapse of the order lace in 1864. Three of the leaders were sentenced to death by military commissions, but sentence was suspended until 1866, when they were released under the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the famous case Ex parte Milligan. (W. L. F.)
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