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A Secret Society History of the Civil War

A Secret Society History of the Civil War

Mark a. Lause
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 232
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5406/j.ctt1xcrc7
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  • Book Info
    A Secret Society History of the Civil War
    Book Description:

    This unique history of the Civil War considers the impact of nineteenth-century American secret societies on the path to as well as the course of the war. Beginning with the European secret societies that laid the groundwork for Freemasonry in the United States, Mark A. Lause analyzes how the Old World's traditions influenced various underground groups and movements in America, particularly George Lippard's Brotherhood of the Union, an American attempt to replicate the political secret societies that influenced the European revolutions of 1848. Lause traces the Brotherhood's various manifestations, the most conspicuous being the Knights of the Golden Circle (out of which developed the Ku Klux Klan), and the Confederate secret groups through which John Wilkes Booth and others attempted to undermine the Union. Lause profiles the key leaders of these organizations, with special focus on George Lippard, Hugh Forbes, and George Washington Lafayette Bickley._x000B__x000B_Antebellum secret societies ranged politically from those with progressive or even revolutionary agendas to those that pursued conservative or oppressive goals. This book shows how, in the years leading up to the Civil War, these clandestine organizations exacerbated existing sectional tensions in the United States. Lause's research indicates that the pervasive influence of secret societies may have played a part in key events such as the Freesoil movement, the beginning of the Republican party, John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry, Lincoln's election, and the Southern secession process of 1860-1861._x000B__x000B_This exceptional study encompasses both white and African American secret society involvement, revealing the black fraternal experience in antebellum America as well as the clandestine operations that provided assistance to escaped slaves via the Underground Railroad. Unraveling these pervasive and extensive networks of power and influence, A Secret Society History of the Civil War demonstrates that antebellum secret societies played a greater role in affecting Civil War-era politics than has been previously acknowledged.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09359-3
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. aCknoWledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. introduCtion
    (pp. ix-xvi)

    This is a secret society history of the Civil War period in American history rather than “the” history of the subject. American conditions at the time gave rise to a broad range of these kinds of organizations. More important, perhaps, the social and political circumstances in the United States encouraged a set of assumptions about the role of clandestine voluntary associations in shaping the course of history.

    Massive new secret societies arose this side of the Enlightenment to cast their shadows across what would follow. One could argue that the sort of articulate, educated, successful, and politically active middle-class gentlemen...

  5. Prologue: old World Contours: Revolutionary Politics and the Secret Society Tradition
    (pp. 1-18)

    In the wake of the revolts of 1848–49, Americans rather quickly faced the proliferation of revolutionaries and revolutionary secret societies that had so disturbed the repressive powers on the Continent. In February 1854, as-yet-unconfirmed U.S. consul George Nicholas Sanders hosted some of the most prominent émigrés in London at a dinner marking the anniversary of their republican outbreak. Ambassador James Buchanan, about to become the president of the United States, joined the festivities that brought together Giuseppe Garibaldi, Giuseppe Mazzini, Felice Orsini, Lajos Kossuth, Stanislaw Worcell, and others. At the banquet, Sanders toasted the “world republic in Kentucky whiskey,”...

  6. Part I. Alternative Means

    • 1. tHe BrotHerHood of tHe union: George Lippard and the Palestine of Redeemed Labor
      (pp. 21-36)

      The Brotherhood of the Union gave its initiates a well-choreographed experience. At the opening of the ritual, a costumed herald announced, “Behold the enemies of mankind!” The curtains opened before them to reveal a tableau with costumed representatives of privilege and power gathered around an altar. This was a “table covered with scarlet, on which a dim taper is burning. Beside the taper appear a skull, a goblet filled with red liquid, a copy of the Declaration, the Gospel of N[azareth], and a Map of the Continent of America.” In a memorable ritual, they expressed their contempt for the ethics...

    • 2. universal demoCratiC rePuBliCans: Hugh Forbes and Transatlantic Antislavery Radicalism
      (pp. 37-50)

      By the end of 1854, Americans in both the Ouvrier Circle of the Brotherhood of the Union and the Free Democratic League joined a citywide federation of European émigrés in New York City, many still organized as they had been overseas. The loose coalition included a general Democratic Union of naturalized citizens, organizations of Cuban and Polish Democrats, French and Italian sections of the Universal Democratic Republicans (UDR), and the German Arbeiterbund, Freie Gemeide, and Turnerbund, that is, the overlapping organizations committed to socialism, free thought, and physical culture. At the fringes lurked individual Russians and even a Turk. One...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • 3. lone stars and golden CirCles: The Manifest Destiny of George W. L. Bickley
      (pp. 51-66)

      George Washington Lafayette Bickley became one of the most famous members of the Brotherhood of the Union after he founded his own Knights of the Golden Circle. The news that he had been “the head of some grand order of momentous political import and of specially wonderful mystery” amused those that had known him at Cincinnati’sScientific Artisan. However, he had successfully presented himself to the public variously as “Doctor” Bickley, “Professor” Bickley, and “General” Bickley, to the point where an exasperated Horace Greeley referred to him “‘Sir George Bickley, K.G.C.’ or whatever his proper appellation may be.”¹ In a...

  7. Part II. Challenging Power

    • 4. HigHer laWs: The Fulcrum of African American National Identity
      (pp. 69-85)

      Black Americans formed a variety of antebellum secret associations. One had three degrees of Captive, Redeemed, and Chosen, an initiate for which appeared blindfolded “in rough and ragged garments” with a chain about his neck. In the ritual, his request for “Deliverance” led to the question of how he expected to get it. “By his own efforts” came the reply. When a member passed to Redeemed, he lost the chain, but only by becoming Chosen would he learn “the full intention of the order,” that “the general plan was freedom.” Among the Chosen were still further degrees: Rulers, Judges, Princes,...

    • 5. deCisive means: Political Violence and National Self-Definition
      (pp. 86-104)

      From 1859 into 1860, U.S. Army colonel Robert E. Lee found that being a virtual paragon of orderly respectability was no insurance against being up to his neck in armed conspiracies. He took leave from his command in Texas and returned to Virginia just in time to be sent to deal with the seizure of the U.S. Arsenal at Harpers Ferry by armed abolitionists. Lee returned to rumors that Juan Cortina’s La Raza Unida had about six hundred “Indians, negroes and Mexicans” ready to invade the United States. Ever ready to face enemies unseen, George W. L. Bickley announced that...

  8. Part III. Ends

    • 6. tHe Counterfeit nation: The KGC, Secession, and the Confederate Experience
      (pp. 107-124)

      The horsemen of George W. L. Bickley’s Apocalypse rode beneath a “dark blue flag with a lone white star bordered with red in the center.” The flag of the old Republic of West Florida had become the symbol of filibustering ambitions to tear single independent state from neighboring foreign provinces. It became woven into the Lone Star Flag of Texas, and, in Kansas, became identified with the “blue lodges.” In January 1861, Mississippi raised the old flag under which part of it gained independence from Spain, and it become the “Bonnie Blue Flag” of secessionist fame.¹In hoc signo, Bickley...

    • 7. tHe rePuBliC saved: Secret Societies and the Survival of the Union
      (pp. 125-140)

      The outbreak of war in Mexico coincided with the conflict in the United States. In May 1861, Confederates drove the small band of Juan Nepomuceno Cortina’s La Raza from Zapata County, Texas, killing seven and capturing eleven others they subsequently hanged or shot. French imperial intervention south of the border precluded the easy resumption of that abbreviated “Second Cortina War.” The original Cinco del Mayo in 1862 found Cortina at the successful defense of San Lorenzo at Puebla, after which he engaged in a series of political somersaults to secure his place as an independent and powerful caudillo. After briefly...

  9. ePilogue: long sHadoWs: Lineages of the Secret Society Tradition in America
    (pp. 141-156)

    The secret society traditions of the Old World not only helped to shape the course of the Civil War but also influenced the nation’s processing of that experience into memory. Perhaps the oddest thing about how historical memory has treated secret societies in Civil War America is that it virtually ignores those that actually existed while making so much out of a largely paper organization invented by a confidence man. Deep predispositions shaped a history that would accord more substance to the shadow of the KGC than it would willingly cede to the substance of genuinely radical associations or European...

  10. notes
    (pp. 157-202)
  11. index
    (pp. 203-209)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 210-210)