THESE sketches are placed before the public without other apology for their appearance than may be found in that demand for information on the subject treated which renders a work of the character a positive necessity of the times. The secret political movement here introduced to the reader has contributed more to the sensational character of American politics, and, at the same time, proven a more influential factor in those political questions with which we have dealt as a people, than any or all contemporaneous issues. And yet nothing has been written on the theme bearing a just proportion thereto, absolutely nothing, if we subtract the unknown quantity in the news problem of the day from this estimate, and for reasons as varied as obvious. We shall not weary the reader with a statement of the latter, nor a recitative of the conditions upon which they are or may have been based. It is enough that we know that no consecutive nor reliable history of the Order could have been written at an earlier period; and even at this date, so broken and fragmentary are those passages referring to its active career, compiled during months of arduous labor, that the author has been necessitated to group them in a series of historical sketches, or pen-pictures, and in treating the subject to adopt the style of the romancist, rather than that of the historian.