The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
By I. Windslow Ayer

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Chap. VIII.


The extraordinary activity of recruiting for the Sons of Liberty, and the zeal displayed by the master spirit of the Temple was ominous of the wicked work they might be called upon to perform. James A. Wilkinson, who was elected Grand Senior, was too young a man in the estimation of many, and he was about to resign, when Judge Morris remarked, that “age was not always wisdom” (the truth of which his own career has fully illustrated,) and by request Wilkinson continued to hold the post. The old order for arming of members was called up, and all were required to comply with the condition at once; a particular pattern of revolvers was specially recommended, and it was ascertained that the members were in almost every instance, fully armed. A young man named R.T. Semmes, who was said to be a near relative to the commander of the rebel pirate Alabama, was appointed to deliver an address before the Order, but this duty was never complied with in a formal manner, as it was subsequently thought Judge Morris was better qualified, he being in a higher degree than Mr. Semmes, to impart such information as the lower degree should know. Upon an occasion of a special meeting, the Judge made a long address, in which he stated the number of members of the Order in Illinois at 80,000 men, saying they were all well drilled and could be implicitly relied upon, at the right time; members were enjoined to remember their obligations to sustain the principles of the Order, and to aid each other. The Judge stated that “we" (the Sons of Liberty,) had two full regiments all well armed and drilled, in Chicago, and that a third was forming. Such cheering information was received with great gratification, and gave a greater impetus to the recruiting for the Order.

The question of the draft agitated the members at each meeting, and all declared their purpose never to go to the army, either voluntarily or otherwise, to fight our brethren, “whose cause was just and right,” and a strong attempt was made to array the organization by formal action to oppose the Government, and those especially who were impatient for the general uprising, thought it a timely opportunity and ample provocation, and felt confident that as the South manifested open hostility and presented a bold and united front instantly upon the firing of the first gun upon Fort Sumter, so would it be in all the States of the Northwestern league; they would at once rise, when knowing that their brethren of Chicago were in arms against the “usurper and his hirelings;” but these hasty counsels did not prevail, and individuals were exhorted to take care of themselves if drafted, but on no account to go to the army.

Not only was there remarkable activity in the Chicago Temple just prior to the Convention, but in all the States where the order existed. Our Indiana neighbors often sent their worst Copperheads to the Chicago Temple to receive instructions in regard to the mode of initiation; and about this time, a man named Westfall, of Elkhart, Indiana, appeared in the Temple, and edified the members with most encouraging accounts of the order in his own State. He was properly qualified as a Grand Seignor, and no doubt served with that grace and dignity of which his appearance gave such promise. It is hoped that the citizens of Elkhart appreciate this gentleman’s devotion to “the great cause.” Judge T.H. Marsh was put through a similar course of training, and being possessed of remarkable dignity, no doubt made an excellent Grand Seignor. If he was not fit for a good Judge, he was fit for a Son of Liberty. He no doubt remembers the artist, who by an unlucky daub, spoiled his picture of an angel, but took fresh courage, declaring it would make an excellent devil. So the judge may make his own application.

The day of the great Convention at length dawned upon at least a hundred thousand strangers in Chicago. Every hotel was densely packed from cellar to garret, private houses were filled to their uttermost capacity, while hundreds the night before, who could not find any kind of a shelter, took in plenty of whisky to prevent catching cold, and laid themselves quietly at rest in the gutters, much to the consternation of the myriads of rats that infest our streets. These street sleepers now arose, and shaking themselves, their toilet was complete. Of all the God-forsaken, shaggy-haired, red-faced, un-shorn, hard-fisted, blasphemous wretches that have ever congregated, even at the gallows at Newgate, many of the visitors of the Peace wing of the Democracy were entitled to the first consideration. Still there was no collision with the citizens, although the representatives of the “unterrified” had sworn that there should be no arrests in Chicago during the Convention. The better class of strangers were War Democrats, and it was evident they had no fellowship for the ragmuffins of the Peace wing.

It should here be stated that the Order of the Sons of Liberty had purchased firearms, carbines, pistols, shot guns and rifles, and at the time of the Convention had stored in the city of Chicago, arms, for at least ten thousand men. These arms had been brought here at various times; some of them had been brought by vessels and others by rail, and were now safely deposited in four different depots in Chicago, the locations of which were known only to the Sons themselves. From these four principal depots one or more boxes of arms were taken on such occasions as would best serve, and placed in trust with some out-and-out rebel sympathizer in the different wards, so that at the time of the general uprising the “faithful” could readily obtain supplies. On one occasion Brig.-Gen. Walsh applied to H.A. Phelps, on State street, with a request for him to receive two boxes of muskets, but that man did not like to incur the risk, whatever his sympathies may have been, and the arms were not deposited with him.

It was quite apparent, the first day of the Convention, that our citizens had resolved to act upon the advice of Adjutant-General Fuller, to let these fellows “have their jaw out,” and they did have it out, and became terrible bores.

At an early hour, the temporary building erected for this gathering, near Michigan Avenue, was crowded to excess, and after beginning their labors all the speakers, without exception, entertained the audience and relieved themselves of the most violent denunciations of President Lincoln, and the policy of the administration. Each speaker vied with the last in culling from his vocabulary of hard words, terms sufficiently expressive of their feelings toward the government, but do as well as they might, even with the aid of the poorest quality of whiskey and education, evidently of many years among the lowest of the low, not one of them could out-do the Chicago Times. The only parties who could approximate it were Gov. Harris of Maryland, and Long of Ohio, who were most decidedly in favor of secession. The differences between the War Democrats and the Peace men, well nigh ended in personal violence, and would, but for timely interference of the police. It is not our purpose to report the doings of the Convention, and an allusion is only made to call special attention to the elements which made up the party who gave to General George B. McClellan a nomination which proved to him the worst punishment that could have been inflicted, and exhibited him to the world in worse company than he had ever before mingled. The hostility between the different factions of the party, but rendered the Peace wing or Sons of Liberty the more united, and more firmly bent upon the overthrow of the government, as they saw clearly enough, even before the adjournment, that there was not a shadow of hope of electing the ticket formed, and the only hope of genuine copperheads now laid in the election of State officers, and Judge Morris told the people “if we can but get our Governor and Lieut.-Governor, it is all we ask for; the order is strong enough in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Iowa and Ohio to enable us to take the general government into our own hands.” He added, “as the Washington government had not seen fit to execute the Constitution and the laws, we will bring them to Illinois and execute them ourselves.”

At the close of the Convention, and the compromise had been made by the different factions of the party, then came a time for general rejoicing. In the evening torchlight processions, with lanterns and transparencies bearing devices and mottos, all expressive of their animosity at the administration. At the head of one of these processions was Maj.-Gen. Barrett, the military commander of Illinois. At that very time Barrett had in his pocket a programme, which had an intimation been received from Price or Buckner, would have been of fearful import to the citizens of Chicago. Barrett had at one time lived in Chicago, but for some months past was a resident of Missouri. He was thoroughly armed, and well knew the elements that had assembled in the city. Barrett had been in the rebel service, or rather we should say in another arm of the service, inasmuch as none in these days, when all men are for the Union, and it is so easy to be a patriot, will pretend to deny that the Sons of Liberty were as much an arm of service for Jeff. Davis as his artillery or infantry. This fellow Barrett, had on one occasion, as appears by testimony before the Cincinnati military commission, visited Chicago as an accredited agent of the Davis government, but he was not molested, and mingled with men of his own stripe, without fear and without difficulty. It will be interesting by and by, to read of the Chicago Convention, and the incongruous elements there assembled. But as all things have an end, so did this remarkable gathering, and dispersed quietly, never again to meet as the representatives of the American people.

Of course most of the Roughs of the Peace wing had been induced to come to Chicago, with the idea that an uprising was imminent, and would no doubt take place, when they would be able to repay themselves abundantly from the property of our citizens. It is not strange therefore, that these half starved, brutal wretches looked with evil eyes upon our National banks, and hoped till the last that some lucky incident might occur which would provoke an outbreak, and they would have an opportunity to pillage our banks, stores and dwellings, but they were doomed to disappointment, and with surly looks and threats of vengeance, left the city, resolved at a future day to draw their pay, principle and interest, from our banks, and we shall, in a future chapter, see the manifestation of the same spirit, easily recognized as Peace wing democracy.


Introduction.  •  Chap. I.  •  Chap. II.  •  Chap. III.  •  Chap. IV.  •  Chap. V.  •  Chap. VI.  •  Chap. VII.  •  Chap. VIII.  •  Chap. IX  •  Chap. X  •  Chap. XI.  •  Chap. XII.  •  Chap. XIII.  •  Chap. XIV.  •  Chap. XV.  •  Chap. XVI  •  Chap. XVII.  •  Chap. XVIII.  •  Chap. XIX.  •  Chap. XX.  •  Chap. XXI.

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The Great North-Western Conspiracy In All Its Startling Details
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