Southern History Series: Knights of the Golden Circle, Order of the Lone Star and Northern Mexico

Editor’s Note: I’m sure it is frustrating to some of our readers that this series has been so focused on the eastern South due to it being so much older, but eventually we are going to take story out west and even further down south into the Caribbean and Latin America.

The following excerpt comes from David C. Keehn’s book Knights of the Golden Circle: Secret Empire, Southern Secession, Civil War and sheds light on the KGC and their activities in Northern Mexico:

“U.S. filibusters had long been lusting after Mexico’s four northern-tier provinces – Nuevo León, Coahuila, Chihuahua, and Sonora. These provinces were barren and sparsely populated, but Sonora, as well as Guanajuato Province to the immediate south, were rich in silver, gold, and other minerals. In 1840, Texans had backed an attempt by Mexican Federalist Party leaders, including northern strongman Vidaurri, to declare independence from Mexico’s central government and create an independent “Republic of the Rio Grande” to include the four provinces. This was nipped in the bud by Mexico’s central army, but between 1849 and 1859, five separate U.S.-based filibuster expeditions had been launched to try to wrest portions of Mexico’s northern provinces. Participants in each risked the outcome of the 1857 expedition into Sonora led by California state senator Henry Crabb. In Crabb’s unfortunate case, the Mexican army captured and systematically executed him and his company of one thousand men.

Bickley and the KGC sought to use the shaky position of the Liberals to advance their goal of expansion southward. Northern Mexican stongman Santiago Vidaurri was a committed KGC supporter and actively cooperated with its leaders. Manuel Doblado, second in command of the Liberal army and governor of Guanajuato Province, also had reportedly reached an understanding with the KGC’s emissaries. “We have the invitation of four [Mexican] State Governors to come and shall receive their cooperation if only we take care of the people of those States.” 

For those who are unfamiliar with antebellum filibusters, they were essentially like you and a group of your bros departing from the United States to conquer new territory in the Caribbean and Latin America. Northern Mexico and Cuba were the most popular targets. The most successful filibuster was a man named William Walker who conquered Nicaragua and briefly ruled as its president.

The Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society that sought to annex territory in Mexico and the Caribbean to the United States and later to an independent Southern Confederacy, grew out of an older established group based in Texas called the Order of the Lone Star:

“To continue the mission of freeing Cuba from Spanish rule and eventually annexing it to the United States as a slaveholding territory, Cuban ex-patriots and southern adventurers formed the Order of the Lone Star in 1851 at the offices of the pro-expansionist Lafayette (La.) True Delta newspaper. John Henderson, a Mississippi cotton planter and U.S. senator, formulated the OLS ritual, and Pierre Soulé, another U.S. senator from Louisiana, served as its president.

The OLS, like its KGC successor, was organized in a hierarchical fashion with three degrees, including the military degree at the bottom and a fund-raising benevolent degree above that. At the apex was the political degree, with the goal of supporting U.S. political candidates who would advance the society’s filibustering and proslavery objectives. A supreme council governed the group’s overall policy. …

Ford described the OLS’s secret initiation ceremony as highly ritualistic, with candidates passing through a succession of increasingly solemn steps incorporating cabalistic passwords. The final step was a dramatic conclusion that Ford said ended with something the initiate would never forget. An observer of a Lone Star encampment at Richmond, Virginia, similarly described the initiation ceremony as a “magnificent spectacle” that pantomimed with López expedition.”

The Knights of the Golden Circle became a mass membership organization by merging with the Order of the Lone Star:

“During his sojourn across the South, George was somehow able to convince the leaders of a preexisting southern society called the “Order of the Lone Star” (OLS) to merge with his Knights. This had truly an exponential impact since the OLS already had more than fifteen thousand members and at least fifty chapters spread across ten southern states with large concentrations in Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, and Alabama. It also had chapters in northern port cities including Baltimore and New York, where it operated out of Tammany Hall and the Empire Club. This merger with the OLS suddenly transformed Bickley’s nascent KGC into a truly powerful force with far-flung members and prestige.”

This is one of the most interesting stories that I have ever come across: the Mexican states of Coahuila and Nuevo León attempted to join the Confederacy:

“Yet 600 miles to the north of the Mexican capital, Quintero achieved one of the Confederacy’s most stunning diplomatic successes. In his negotiations with Santiago Vidaurri, governor of the Mexican border states of Nuevo Leon and Coahuila, the southern agent discovered a capable ally who offered more than his “great friendship”: Vidaurri promised border security, the supply of vital war material and an outlet for Southern cotton; most astonishingly, he proposed the outright annexation of his territories. …

Vidaurri then divulged his greatest ambition to Quintero, something his enemies and allies alike had long suspected: that the governor was “anxious to establish the Republic of the Sierra Madre.” With the coming of the Civil War, Vidaurri suggested the time was ripe for his region to break with the central government in Mexico City and join the nascent Confederacy. Vidaurri stressed the similarities between his region and the Southern states: Mexico’s northern frontier was more geographically and commercially aligned with Texas than distant Mexico City, and annexation would further the process of Americanization that was already in progress.

Vidaurri’s states’ rights philosophy was well-suited for the Confederacy. The caudillo in Mexico City had ruled Nuevo León and Coahuila since 1855 under the Plan of Monterrey, a constitution that asserted state sovereignty and maintained a militia independent from federal control. Vidaurri exercised this autonomy, time and again putting his regional interests before the concerns of national politics; on several occasions he withdrew his troops from the liberal forces in the War of the Reform in order to consolidate his position in the north.

So why was Vidaurri so eager to align with the nascent Confederacy? Political survival. He had lost his best general and military strategist, Juan Zuazua, to assassination that winter. With the end of the Reform wars, President Benito Juarez was consolidating federal control and was sure to challenge Vidaurri’s virtual independence along the northern frontier. And if Juarez did not unseat the northern caudillo, a European power might — France and others were already making noise about invading Mexico over its debts. …”

Though highly impressed with Quintero’s mission, Jefferson Davis wisely refused Vidaurri’s offer of annexation. …”

It was a great offer.

Santiago Vidaurri was a Golden Circle man. There were other Golden Circle sympathizers in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean who wanted to join an alliance of Slave Societies. The Confederacy, however, was in no position to annex Mexican territory though in 1861. Jefferson Davis simply couldn’t afford drawing Mexico into the War Between the States on the side of the Union.

It must have been extremely frustrating for Jefferson Davis who had been Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. Davis himself had fought in the Mexican War with Robert E. Lee. It was Davis who urged President Pierce to send James Gadsden to Mexico to negotiate the Gadsden Purchase which brought Southern Arizona and New Mexico into the United States.

The original plan for Gadsden Purchase would have included Baja California, Baja California Sur, Coahuila, Chihuahua, Sonora, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas. President Santa Anna was willing to sell the territory, but the deal was blocked by opposition from Yankee abolitionists who also blocked the annexation of Cuba. Afterwards, Yankee abolitionists formed the Republican Party to exclude slaveowners from the Western territories which they had shed blood to conquer in the Mexican War.

This was in keeping with New England’s traditional foreign policy of blocking Southern expansion. New England had also opposed both the Louisiana Purchase and the annexation of Texas. It largely opposed the Mexican War as well because it was feared the annexation of territory would strengthen the South.

About Hunter Wallace 12380 Articles
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  1. Its this kind of material that I feel you are at your best, Mr. Wallace. A welcome change from your previous series of black-pilled articles on the Trump Admin.

    I totally agreed with you, btw, I just found them to be depressing and somewhat repetitive-probably not any fault of your own, given the subject matter itself…is depressing and repetitive.

      • Well, it did it’s job on me, I do suppose it was warranted. I was a bit on the fence, but after reading one of the many bullet-point lists of failures you wrote, I had to concede you were correct.

  2. A very important article. However, the expedition of General Crabb only totaled about 100 men. They were defeated and captured. Several dozen Americans were killed, the rest captured and executed. So about 50-70 were executed for invading Mexico. Crabb had his head cut off and preserved.

    They had been invited in by liberal Mexican traitors to invade Mexico. I was well pleased with the destruction and executions.

    As for those Mexican states joining the Confederacy? It might just have served as an excuse for the American federal government to invade northern Mexico. Those Mexican states were not strong enough to have helped the Confederacy to win the war. Better for Mexico to stay out of the War Between The States.

    • As you know, the French invaded Mexico and were forced out by the triumphant Union which then went on to conquer the Plains Indians, annex Alaska and Hawaii, create Panama, colonize pretty much all of the Caribbean, Mexico and Latin America, annex Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Philippines in the Spanish American War, get involved in Western imperialism in China. The expansion of the Yankee Empire was never checked after 1865 to the point where now CENTCOM rules the Middle East.

      • Mr. Wallace,

        Yes. The expansion of the American Federal government has become a threat to the whole world. One of several reasons why I wish the Southern separatists would have won the war.

        Some Empires I understand. But self-righteous, culture destroying and morally degenerate empires I am against.

        The whole course of history would have been changed with an independent South. It is hard to imagine the USA being able to dominate the world under such conditions.

    • The Confederacy may have dreamed of annexing parts of Mexico and the Caribbean, but it was never in any position to do so. If the Union had split in 1865, it would have been checked by British naval power in the Caribbean and focused on its northern border with the United States. A French alliance would have also kept the Confederacy out of Mexico.

      • Hunter,

        You make some good points in your comments especially….I just am not clear as to where you stand on the Knights of the Golden Circle…

        Wisconsin historian Frank Klement thoroughly researched the KOGC and came up with nothing…other than a scary story Republicans used to smear Northern Democrats who they thought might be copperheads….

        The internet seems rife with unquestioned KOGC stories…I think mainly because the stories confirm the biases of people who are convinced.

        1. Southerners are stupid
        2. Southerners are evil.

        I honestly don’t follow their logic sometimes….

        e.g. South Carolinians were so mad about the US not enforcing the fugitive slave act they seceded…that way no one would be obliged to return their runaways. Perfect sense!
        South Carolinians were so intent of conquering Mexico, they cut themselves off from their only pathway to mexico….(I don’t know how they thought without the US navy that they would conquer Cuba)

        State’s rights seems to me to be an inward looking movement..i.e. let us work under our own olive tree and we won’t tell you how to to work under yours….Didn’t even Lee suffer condemnation for leaving the Southern confines? Maybe I dreamt that

        As you point out…it seems classic projection…oooo the evil southerners wanted to conquer people willeynilley….good thing they were defeated so the Yanks could do that.

        • In one of the articles in this series, I pointed out how John C. Calhoun opposed the Mexican War. He also opposed the annexation of Yucatan. There was both enthusiasm and opposition to idea of the Golden Circle in the South. It was most popular in Texas and New Orleans where the filibusters launched the expeditions against Cuba and Nicaragua. In the review of Robert E. May’s book, I dismissed the idea as unrealistic because an independent South would have been allied with Britain and France and blocked from southward expansion.

  3. A victorious South that annexed Mexico and the Caribbean would have resulted in white Southlanders being outnumbered by now-whites in the CSA and assimilated out of existence.

    • While its nice to think about, it would have never happened. Britain and France would have checked the Confederacy in Mexico and the Caribbean. We would also have been focused on our northern border.

  4. In Seventh grade Texas History, the textbook devoted several chapters to the Filibusters. They taught us that Texas was a Southern Republic wrested from Mexico by filibusters.

    Texans later went on a filibustering expedition in New Mexico and Colorado know as the Santa Fe Expedition.

    Texas unofficially supported The Republic of The Rio Grande. A few Texas Rangers took part in some of the fighting that resulted from it.

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