THE SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
VOL. LXX APRIL, 1967 No. 4
r<K 4Ci hexas, 1860-1861
ROY SYLVAN DUNN
THE KNIGHTS OF THE GOLDEN CIRCLE-A SECRET, PRE-CIVIL
War, pro-Southern organization-seemed to synthesize the
diverse ambitions, fears, and frustrations that had plagued
the South since the 183o's. Nourished by plans to extend slavery,
it brought into focus Southern thinking on Manifest Destiny,
the Monroe Doctrine, and the several theories of States' Rights.
It relied heavily on the various notions of tropical expansion,
and it drew kinship support from the Southern Rights Clubs,
the Order of the Lone Star, the Know Nothings, and the secession
fever of the early 1850's. It brought together men who desired
adventure, fame, and fortune. It appealed to those who feared
the influx of foreigners and the spread of Roman Catholicism.
It offered a weapon to Southerners who resented the unrelenting,
ofttimes abusive efforts of the abolitionists.
The chief designer and promulgator was George W. L. Bickley,
an ambitious, vain, and possibly brilliant man who was a novelist,
1Because graphic materials are the mainstay of the historian, researchers can be
beguiled easily-and frequently have been-by the several accounts, exposes, and
documents pertaining to the KGC. This glut of source material details the ambi-
tions rather than the accomplishments of the group and hence does not make the
KGC amenable to orderly description, evaluation, or academicism. It is nonsensical,
therefore, to attempt blandly, and without numerous qualifications, the stereotyped
appraisal. Three noteworthy articles on the KGC are Mayo Fesler, "Secret Political
Societies in the North During the Civil War," Indiana Magazine of History, XIV
(September, 1918), 183-286; Ollinger Crenshaw, "The Knights of the Golden Circle:
The Career of George Bickley," American Historical Review, XLVII (October,
1941), 23-50; and C. A. Bridges, "The Knights of the Golden Circle: A Filibuster-
ing Fantasy," Southwestern Historical Quarterly, XLIV (January, 1941), 287-302.
All three of these articles are scholarly and make fine contributions concerning the
filibustering scheme. None was meant to be definitive of the KGC's secession activ-
ity. Secret societies are open to both misunderstanding by observers and mis-
handling by writers. One of the most obvious examples of mishandling is James
Farber, Texas, C. S. A.; A Spotlight on Disaster (New York, 1947), 13-14.
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 70, July 1966 - April, 1967. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101199/. Accessed April 26, 2015.