Skip to main content
Smithsonian Associates - Entertaining, Informative, Eclectic, Insightful
Save up to 20% on the price of your tickets!

It's easy... Become a member today! If you are already a member, log in to access your member rate.

The Secret Gangs of Civil War America

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Thursday, March 17, 2022 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. ET
Code: 1L0451
Select Your Tickets
$20 - Member
$25 - Non-Member
Reserving your tickets...

Poster, 1856 with the Know Nothing political movement’s slogan

In the years before, during, and after the Civil War, large numbers of Americans joined secret movements, paramilitary clubs, and partisan societies. Some, like the anti-immigrant Know Nothings of the 1850s or the racist Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction, wanted to persecute minorities and outsiders. Others opposed slavery and represented young voters for Abe Lincoln, like the paramilitary Wide Awakes clubs of 1860. Still others provided protection to freed slaves fighting for the right to vote after the war. But what compelled such diverse populations to form clubs during this era? What did these organizations offer their members? And how did they shape attitudes toward democracy, race, immigration, slavery, and political violence?

Some of these organizations–like the KKK and the Know Nothings–have cast a shadow on American society. Others–like the Wide Awakes–are making a comeback. In our era of polarization and division, with mass movements like Black Lives Matter and dangerous clubs like the Proud Boys, it’s important to look back at this era and the role of such groups in a democracy devoted to individualism.  

Jon Grinspan, a curator at the National Museum of American History, discusses an earlier time when tribal political identities pushed many to walk the line between the right to assemble and seditious violence. 

Patron Information

  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.
  • Unless otherwise noted, registration for streaming programs typically closes two hours prior to the start time on the date of the program.
  • Once registered, patrons should receive an automatic email confirmation from
  • Separate Zoom link information will be emailed closer to the date of the program. If you do not receive your Zoom link information 24 hours prior to the start of the program, please email Customer Service for assistance.
  • View Common FAQs about our Streaming Programs on Zoom.
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.