19th Century
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Wild 19th Century Conspiracy Theories That People Believed

Updated March 6, 2020 805 votes 211 voters 30.8k views14 items

List RulesVote up the most unbelievable conspiracy theories from the 1800s.

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. But what were the biggest 19th-century conspiracies and most popular theories of the 1800s?

The 1800s were a time of roiling anti-Catholic 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 eliminated from within. 19th-century America was full of conspiracy believers, but international theories ran rampant 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.

  • Photo: Childzy / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Plot To Eliminate Abraham Lincoln

    According to this theory, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln was not the act of a lone gunman, but an organized conspiracy by a cadre of disgruntled Southerners. These men planned not just to eliminate the president but also the vice president and secretary of state as 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.

    Is this out there?
  • Photo: Humus sapiens / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion

    Though long exposed as a Russian forgery, the book Protocols of the Elders of Zion has served to justify anti-Semitic action for nearly a century, fueling everything from pogroms to Adolf Hitler’s theories to modern conspiracy theories.

    The Protocols purports to document the minutes of a late 19th-century meeting of Jewish elders discussing their goal of global Jewish domination by subverting the morals of Gentiles, controlling the press and subjugating the world's economies. All of these are traditional anti-Jewish tropes that stoked the fears of anti-Semites around the world.

    An investigation in 1921 by the British newspaper The Times revealed that the Protocols were a late-19th-century forgery, cribbed from large chunks of Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu, an 1864 political satire by French author Maurice Joly. Despite this exposure, the Protocols have been reprinted decade in and decade out and can still be found for sale today.

    Is this out there?
  • Photo: Simon Harriyott / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

    The Cato Street Conspiracy

    The Cato Street Conspiracy was a plot to eliminate the entire British cabinet and the Prime Minister in 1820. England had fallen on hard times economically, jobless veterans were flooding back from the Napoleonic wars, and the passing of King George III had sent the country into political crisis.

    In response, prominent London agitator Arthur Thistlewood organized a group to invade a dinner party being thrown by one Lord Harrowby, one that all of the cabinet ministers would be invited to. The group would charge into the dinner with pistols and grenades, and do as much damage as they could before fleeing - there was even talk of beheading the Cabinet ministers.

    However, the police had an informer in the group, and soon raided the residency on Cato Street where the attack was being readied. Thistlewood fatally shot a policeman in an ensuing mess. Five conspirators were hanged and five others were banished.

    Is this out there?
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    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 eliminating the Catholic Church and the natural order of society.

    The crux of Robison’s book was that not only were the Illuminati much more powerful than anyone knew, they 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 forcibly oppressed, in part because of fears of Illuminati influence.

    Is this out there?