Great Northwest Conspiracy - Winslow Ayer

This book was written by northern 'patriot' who infiltrated the 'Sons of Liberty' secret society, and helped expose a plot, supposedly concocted by the Confederacy, to release thousands of prisoners from a camp near Chicago, and to set the city aflame. The account provides insight into the workings of secret societies that sought to provoke unrest and violence during the Civil War period, but it can also be read as a work of 'Radical Republican' propaganda, intended to justify the outrageous abuses of the forthcoming 'Reconstruction era'.

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[Book Cover] from The Great Northwest Conspiracy by Winslow Ayer
[Book Cover] from The Great Northwest Conspiracy by Winslow Ayer

The Great North-Western Conspiracy
In All Its Startling Details.

By I. Winslow Ayer, M.D.

The Plot to plunder and burn Chicago—Release of all Rebel prisoners—Seizure of arsenals—Raids from Canada—Plot to burn New York—Piracy on the Lakes—Parts for the Sons of Liberty—Trial of Chicago conspirators—Inside views of the Temples of the Sons of Liberty—Names of prominent members.


[HH Editor's Note: Chapter names added to online version by HH Editor are not found in the original publication.]


The trial before the Military Commission in Cincinnati, just concluded, was in many respects one of the most remarkable events of the war. The investigation has elicited testimony of the most startling character, showing conclusively to the minds of all reasonable men who have given to it careful, earnest attention that there was a most formidable, deep and well arranged conspiracy, which, but for timely discovery and judicious action, would have resulted most disastrously, not only to the particular cities and towns specified and doomed to destruction, but to the whole country. None can contemplate the danger through which we have passed without a shudder and without a recognition of the hand of a merciful Providence who has guided our beloved country in its darkest hours and who has crowned our struggles for liberty and union with glorious victory.

To have proclaimed to the public, even a few short months ago, that a scheme had been concocted in Richmond, of so vast and formidable a character, so insidious in its operations, so complete in its details that it had found favor and support in all the great cities and towns in Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio, Iowa, and sections of other States that scarcely a village was exempt from its corruption, that it numbered in its ranks more traitors in the aggregate than the number of brave men in the combined armies of the gallant Grant and Sherman, and that all who had thus united recognised but one common cause—the destruction of our country, the defeat and humiliation of our people, and the triumph of the Rebellion—the author of such a proclamation would have been written down a madman or a fool, by most persons in the community; and yet the developments before the military tribunal have established the fact, to the eternal infamy of all who were leagued in the conspiracy.

As the trial opened, and the charges if the indictment were made public, all sympathisers with the conspiracy affected to disbelieve its existence, and raised their eyes and hands to Heaven, in pious horror, and prayed that justice might be meted out to the accused, who were, they claimed, the best of citizens, the most devout Christians, the most zealous patriots, the most earnest advocates of law and order, and that their accusers might be shunned of all good men forever. To this prayer the accused will scarce utter the response, Amen! Even some good, careful, honest Union men, astonished at the startling revelations, refused, for a time, to believe that there was any truth in the allegations against the prisoners; by degrees, however, as corroborative evidence accumulated, the truth was forced upon their minds, and there are now few persons of ordinary intelligence and candor, who have not been able to discover that "there was something in it, after all," and that we have been Providentially saved a most terrible disaster.

But the investigation has been lengthy, and the reports in the newspapers have been brief and irregular, and few, comparatively, there are who have heard or read all of even the more important testimony, or appreciate fully the vast magnitude of the conspiracy; and there are many who having read only the indictment, have conceived the idea that if the charges therein alleged are true, the crime was confined to a few desperate and wicked men in Chicago alone, and that, therefore, it possessed but a local interest. Such a conclusion is wholly groundless!

The history of this conspiracy is of the most vital interest for the people of every State in the Union, for had the conspirators not been foiled at a most opportune moment, their plans would have been successful in every particular, and once in operation they could not have been frustrated by any force we could have arrayed against them; and who shall say that had the savage hordes of Jeff. Davis then been turned loose upon an unarmed community, to carry desolation and ruin as they should sweep over our fair States, that to-day the Southern rebels would be, as they now are, in their last extremity—that victory would now be perched upon our banners wherever our noble pioneers of freedom advance, and that our brave boys of the Potomac would now be reposing from, their labors in the halls of the rebel capitol!

Those who, upon investigation, fail to recognise the magnitude, the sagacity, the completeness of this Northwestern Conspiracy, and realise its immense importance to the rebel chieftains at the South, corroborated as the evidence before the Commission has been by incidents of almost daily occurrence for many months, have not learned to read correctly the history of the Great Southern Rebellion. If an idea ever entered the heads of malcontents at the North to establish a Northwestern Confederacy, it was speedily chased away by the more promising schemes of the arch traitor late of Richmond. It is to collect facts already elicited, and to give further information, and with a hope of aiding the cause of the Union so sacred and dear to us all, that the writer has yielded to the oft-repeated requests of his friends to present a connected and concise history of the Northwestern Conspiracy.


[frontispiece] from The Great Northwest Conspiracy by Winslow Ayer

[HH Editor's Note: This book was written after the close of the Civil War, immediately after the assassination of Lincoln. It provides much evidence that secret societies existed throughout both the northern and southern states during the Civil War, and that these societies employed propaganda and promoted violence and insurrection to achieve their objectives. It is important to understand, however, that the true, over-arching "objectives" of 'secret society' leaders were NOT DISCLOSED to lower-ranking members. At the highest levels, the real agenda of the network of criminals that provoked the civil war was to weaken American civil society by sowing fanaticism, distrust, violence, and discord. "States Rights" and "Preservation of the Union" were merely slogans: These societies were financed and controlled by powerful banks and money interests who profitted from war, and enriched themselves by the loss of life and property that results from civil strife.

During the years leading up to and following the American Civil War the uppermost leadership of the "Knights of the Golden Circle" and "Sons of Liberty",—societies which supposedly supported the Southern cause,—worked hand-in-hand, with Abolitionists and "Radical Republicans" to foment strife, conflict, distrust, and vindictiveness among all Americans. Therefore, the divisive tone in which this book is written is somewhat suspicious. Also, the fact that almost all the leaders of the alleged 'Conspiracy' got off with light sentences, escaped, or "committed suicide" is somewhat suspicious. And the attempt to portray the northern 'Copperheads'—who opposed the war and sought peace—as 'traitors', is also suspicious. Readers should be alert to the insights about secret societies than can be gleaned from this account, as well as the 'Propaganda' value of these disclosures to those who sought to demonize the southern states.

[Book Cover] from The Great Northwest Conspiracy by Winslow Ayer