A Seal of Guilt
Spring 2010, Vol. 42, No. 1 | Pieces of History
In the spring of 1860, the enterprising and opportunistic George W. L. Bickley embarked on a tour of the southern United States to recruit members for his secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle. Bickley had formed the KGC in the mid-1850s to extend Southern interests (i.e., slavery) to a "Golden Circle" of territories that included Mexico, Central America, parts of South America, and the Caribbean. He visited several cities in March 1860, signing up recruits and gathering money to invade Mexico. In early April, however, disgruntled "Knights" in New Orleans denounced Bickley as a fraud and imposter.
Bickley continued to solicit support and funds for his schemes but changed his focus after the election of 1860 brought Abraham Lincoln to the White House. Instead of colonizing Mexico, the KGC would defend Southern rights against Yankee interference.
Bickley never realized his grand dreams, but enough men joined units of the Knights of the Golden Circle that the threat to the Union seemed imminent in the minds of some Northerners. Claims of tens of thousands of members in Midwestern states—notably Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio—sitrred fears of conspiracies against the Republican government.
The die for the seal of the Knights of the Golden Circle came into the hands of the U.S. Army when Bickley was arrested in Tennessee in July 1863. Although he tried to tell the arresting officers that he had no connection with the KGC, the contents of his trunk proved otherwise. Along with this seal the Army found several other documents relating to the Knights, including a copy of the Rules, Regulations and Principles of the Knights of the Golden Circle; a calling card for "Gen. Geo. Bickley" bearing the Confederate flag and the letters "K.G.C."; and another card that listed the secret signs of recognition known by the Knights.