Conspiracy Theories In American History

Defining the Terms “Conspiracy” and “Conspiracy Theory” At first sight it should be fairly easy to define the terms “conspiracy” and “conspiracy theory.” A straightforward definition of a conspiracy is when a small group of powerful people combine together in secret to plan and carry out an illegal or improper action, particularly one that alters […]

Conspiracy Theories in America: A Historical Overview

Conspiracy thinking is not U.S. born. The Latin word conspirare—to breathe together—suggests both drama and a deeply rooted past. The fear of conspiracy was a prominent feature on the mental maps of the first English settlers in the New World. Early colonists suspected both neighbors and strangers of secret alliances and dangerous plots. Subsequent waves […]


Overview Although great believers in the Slave Power Conspiracy and often party to anti-Catholic and other evangelically oriented conspiracy theories themselves, American abolitionists were also frequently accused of conspiracy, especially in the South but also in the North. Improbable as it may seem from a modern vantage point, the heroic opponents of slavery were commonly […]

African Americans

Conspiracy theory, urban legend, and rumor have played an important role in African American culture from its beginnings. Recent decades have seen a spate of conspiracy theories emerge from the African American community concerning everything from the origin of AIDS to supposedly racist clothes designers and restaurant owners. Whatever the possible validity of these stories, […]


Beginning with the prolonged campaign to outlaw abortion led by members of the American Medical Association in the 1860s and 1870s, antiabortion advocates in the United States have frequently used the rhetoric of conspiracy when talking about the practice. The language of conspiracy was used to describe not only the networks set up to provide […]

Alien and Sedition Acts

Part of the most serious crackdown on peacetime dissent in U.S. history, mounted amid the most threatening crisis that the young nation ever faced, the Alien and Sedition Acts of the 1790s also comprised the most prominent “headline event” in U.S. history to be directly and openly rooted in fears of conspiracy. The XYZs of […]


In the last twenty years, one of the most well-known, enduring, and highly contentious conspiracy theories has surrounded the emergence of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). Essentially, this theory proposes that HIV was a human-made virus and was either accidentally, or more likely deliberately, introduced into the human population. But beyond this consensus, AIDS conspiracy […]

Agent Orange

A herbicide used as part of the of the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam’s (MACV) 19621970 defoliation campaign in Vietnam, Agent Orange (along with Agents Blue, Green, Pink, Purple, and White) was utilized to reduce dense jungle foliage that might be used as enemy cover and to destroy food crops that might sustain Communist forces. […]

American Revolution

The conviction that the English colonial policies of the 1760s and 1770s constituted a conspiracy to enslave America played a major role in the outbreak of the American Revolution. American Conspiracy Theories Beginning around 1763, a series of political conflicts between England and its American colonies prompted American critics to protest in conspiracy-minded rhetoric. The […]

American Protective Association

The American Protective Association (APA) was the largest anti-Catholic organization in the United States during the late 1880s and 1890s. The organization was founded as a secret order in Clinton, Iowa, on 13 March 1887, by Henry Francis Bowers. Its goal was to fight the perceived threat posed by Roman Catholicism in the United States, […]