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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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An alleged secret history of the organization

KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE. The Knights of the Golden Circle was a secret organization that attempted to establish a slave empire within the southern United States, West Indies, Mexico, and part of Central America, an area about 2,400 miles in diameter---Golden Circle. The Knights hoped to control the commerce of the area and have a monopoly on the world's supply of tobacco and sugar. (1) Dr. George W. L. Bickley, a Virginian who had moved to Ohio, organized the first castle, or local branch, in Cincinnati in 1854 and soon took the order to the South, where it was well received.

Secession and the outbreak of the CIVIL WAR caused a shift in its aims from filibustering in Mexico to support of the new Southern government.

Appealing to the Confederate supporters in the North, especially in areas that were suffering economic problems, the order soon spread to Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, and Missouri. It is disputed whether it had membership in Iowa. (2) Its membership in states where it became strongest was largely composed of Peace Democrats, who felt that the Civil War was a mistake and that the increasing power of the Federal government was leading toward tyranny. They did not, however, at this time, engage in any treasonable activity.

In late 1863 the Knights of the Golden Circle was reorganized as the Order of American Knights and again, early in 1864, as the Order of the Sons of Liberty, with Clement L. Vallandigham, as its supreme commander. Only a minority of its membership was radical enough in some places to discourage enlistments, resist the draft, and shield deserters. It was during this time period that the Knights of the Golden Circle began to bury large amounts of gold and silver. They also began to stockpile weapons in secret locations. (3)

Many peace meetings were held. A few extreme agitators, some of them encouraged by Southern money, talked of a revolt in the Old Northwest, which, if brought about, would end the war. Southern newspapers wishfully reported stories of widespread disaffection. John Hunt Morgan's raid (1863) into Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio was undertaken in the expectation that the disaffected element would rally to his support.

Gov. Oliver P. Morton of Indiana and Gen. Henry B. Carrington effectively curbed the Sons of Liberty in that state in the fall of 1864. With Union victories late in 1864, the order's arguments for a negotiated peace lost appeal. It has been believed that the organization ceased to exist around 1916. WORLD WAR I had begun and most of the old members had died. (4)



1. "KGC Knights of the Golden Circle." Online: http://www.angelfire.com/nb/rockman/Page40.html

2. Sage, Leland. A History of Iowa. Ames: The Iowa State University Press, 1974, p. 165

3. "Knights of the Golden Circle," Online: http://www.outlawtreasure.worldbreak.com/about.html

4. Knights of the Golden Circle. Online: http://knightsofthegoldencircle.webs.com/