Conspiracies and allegations of plots have been with society since the beginning of recorded history. The 19th century might have lacked the technological means to spread theories of conspiracy as quickly as they go around now, but that doesn't mean they didn't exist. Plots abounded, as well as fantasies about Catholic or Masonic uprisings, dastardly deeds done by priests, politicians, and bankers, and fear of both slave revolts and the abolition of slavery was common. But what were the biggest 19th century conspiracies and most popular theories of the 1800s?
The 1800's were a time of roiling anti-Catholic, pro-native, and anti-government fever and these conspiracies get right to the heart of what people were afraid of: that their leaders and their religions were being destroyed from within. 19th Century America was full of conspiracy believers, but international theories abounded as well.Here are the most extreme historical conspiracies of the 19th Century, some real, some just theories. Vote up the craziest theories below and see how they stack up against the modern conspiracies bandied about today.
The Plot to Kill Abraham Lincoln
The assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was not the act of a crazed lone gunman, but an organized conspiracy by a cadre of disgruntled Southerners. These men planned not just to kill the president, but also the vice-president and Secretary of State in one massive coup that would behead the government in revenge for the Union winning the Civil War.Only John Wilkes Booth carried out his role, with the other two planned shootings resulting only in Secretary of State William Seward being wounded. Vice President Johnson was spared by the cowardice of his planned killer – and in the aftermath, Booth was shot dead by police and seven other conspirators were hanged.
The Disappearance of William Morgan
Conspiracies about Freemasons controlling the world were as popular in the 19th century as they were in the 20th and still are today. Much of this anger was kicked off by the murder of New York resident William Morgan, who had announced his plan to publish a book that would break the Masonic conspiracy wide open.
Himself a former Mason, Morgan’s book Illustrations of Masonry would expose the group’s secrets and rituals for all to see – except he disappeared, never to be found. Various stories have Morgan either paid off by the Masons to leave the country, or kidnapped and drowned by Masons, with his body washing up on a shore a few years later. Others claim that his body was found decades later, buried in an unmarked grave.Anti-Masonic fervor exploded in the aftermath of Morgan's vanishing act and Illustrations of Masonry being published – even drawing in prospective presidential candidates. Virtually everything in the book itself was made up by Morgan.
The Many Candidates for Jack the Ripper
Few serial killers have lingered in our cultural memory like Jack the Ripper, the name given to a knife murderer who terrorized the Whitechapel area of London in 1888, has. However, what we know about the killer and his victims is dwarfed by what we don’t know. It’s not known exactly how many women he killed, whether they were all killed by the same person, or who any of those people might have been. While five women are traditionally thought to have been killed by Jack, there were at least 11 murders in the area at the time Jack was active - almost certainly not all by the same person.In fact, there are over 100 different suspects for Jack – meaning it’s quite possible several worked together in a conspiracy. Among the notable names thought by some to have killed in Whitechapel are several renowned painters, Winston Churchill’s father, and Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll.
Proofs of a Conspiracy
The book Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the Secret Meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati and Reading Societies, written in 1797 by John Robison, posited the Bavarian Illuminati as a sinister force dedicated to destroying the Catholic Church and the natural order of society.The crux of Robison’s book was that not only had the Illuminati survived its banning in 1776, but they were much more powerful than anyone knew, and had masterminded the French Revolution to overthrow the monarchy of France. Robison’s writings, and fear of Illuminati plots in general, became extremely popular among the upper classes and Catholic populations of both Europe and the US. In 1848, a series of worker revolts around Europe were brutally oppressed, in part because of fears of Illuminati influence.