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The Anti-Masonic Party


Article: 5825 of alt.freemasonry
From: paulb@cpcug.org (Paul M. Bessel)
Newsgroups: alt.freemasonry
Subject: Re: Anti-Masonic Party
Date: Wed, 5 Jul 1995 13:25:51 UNDEFINED
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> Does any brother have any information on the Anti-Masonic Party which
> fielded a Presidential candidate against Bro. Andrew Jackson?  I am
> interested on reading more about this subject.
> 
> Lee R. Feldman
> Nor-Mi Lodge, FL

The following is a background information paper that we used in one of the Study Groups in my Lodge (Alexandria-Washington in Virginia) a while ago when we discussed this subject.


The Anti-Masonic Party 4/5/95

by Paul M. Bessel

Bro. Paul Bessel, 33°, author of Masonic Questions & Answers, is a past Senior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Washington DC, and a Past Master, Member, and Honorary member of Lodges in Washington DC, Virginia, and New York, and of most of the Masonic appendant and concordant bodies. He was one of the founders and a Past Master of the Civil War Lodge of Research #1865, District Deputy Grand Master for Research Lodges in Virginia, and Past President of the Masonic Library and Museum Association. He is a Fellow and Life Member of the Scottish Rite Research Society and the Philalethes Society and Executive Secretary of the Allen E. Roberts Masonic Leadership Center.

Introduction

From the 1820's through the 1840's there was an official political party in the United States called the Anti-Masonic Party, which existed for the primary purpose of trying to eliminate Freemasonry in the U.S. This political party was an outgrowth of a very strong moral and religious movement attacking Masons, and this party was actually very successful. It almost destroyed Freemasonry, and had a lasting impact. It is important for Freemasons to know what happened and why, because the same factors that brought about the Anti-Masonic Party then still exist now, and could result in renewed successful attacks against Freemasonry. By learning more about what happened then, we learn more about present-day Masonry and political and social forces in our country today.

Why and how did the Anti-Masonic Party start and grow?

The Antimasonry movement began in northwest New York (south of Rochester), and it was very influential in New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Rhode Island, and a few other states. Many factors led to this. Areas where Antimasonry became strong were "burned-over" districts (called that because they were "burned" by the flames of religious revivals, evangelism, new religions such as Mormonism, and social movements such as temperance. Politics was also in turmoil, as the Federalists had ceased to exist as a party and those who were opposed to Andrew Jackson were looking for a new party.

Antimasonry existed before the 1820's, and it was sparked by the "Morgan Affair." The evidence for what really happened is conflicting, as often happens in Masonic research, but Masons bear a significant share of the blame. William Morgan was probably a Mason (he certainly was allowed into Lodges), but in 1826 he became angry when brethren refused to allow him to join a petition for a new Royal Arch Chapter in Batavia, NY. He announced he would publish an exposi of Masonic secrets, and several Masons resolved to stop that, not knowing that dozens of similar books had been printed and were available. The Master of the local Lodge and about 70 other Masons conspired to have Morgan arrested for an alleged debt of less than $3, so they could pay this debt, kidnap him, and imprison him in a U.S. fort near Niagara Falls. He may have escaped, but it seems more likely that the local Masons killed him. Still, one murder would not have brought about the large Anti-Masonic movement. What did bring it about was the underlying dislike and fear of Masonry and the way Masons reacted when authoties attempted to investigate the Morgan issue and punish the guilty. The Maso involved in the kidnapping received very light jail terms. Lodges did nothing punish those who were responsible, possibly supporting them, and many Masons public offices such as prosecutors, judges, and legislators trd to cover up e incident, obstruct justice, anhe public would rget out it.

The cover-up, and the popular feeling that Masons held themselves above the law and formed a secret government, plus other factors, combined to produce a huge public campaign against Freemasonry. Charges were added that Masonic secrecy was used to hide illegal and immoral activities, that Masonic oaths were unlawful and "bloody," and that Masons sought to subvert American political and religious institutions to provide more benefits for themselves. Women joined the anti-Masonic fervor, and were very successful in convincing husbands to resign, because of their exclusion from Masonry. Within a short time there were many who supported what they called the "Blessed Spirit" of fighting to abolish Freemasonry. Since a religious movement could only be partially successful against Freemasonry, the movement quickly became political. Some politicians honestly believed Masonry was bad for the country, that Masons engaged in criminal conspiracies and cover-ups, and others joined because the saw this as a way to combine anti-Jackson attitudes with other political goals.

We should not cynically say the Anti-Masonic Party was the result of politicians or clergymen who used it to achieve other aims. Many of them sincerely believed that the ideals of the United States and of Freemasonry were fundamentally in conflict, and many felt that the Masons of that time were doing great harm to the country. Many more people were among those who were not sure, but who did not have a positive view of Freemasonry and therefore believed the Antimasons. Masonic leaders supported rather than punishing the wrongdoers, then remained quiet, covered up, and hoped the turmoil would die away.

What happened to Freemasonry and the U.S. during the period of the Anti-Masonic Party?

People made life miserable for Masons, attacking them in the streets, vandalizing lodge property, ending business relations, and holding mock lodge meetings in public to disclose the secrets. Thousands of Masons, including high officials resigned from Masonry, often at public meetings, hundred of lodges ceased to exist, and several Grand Lodges stopped meeting.

The Anti-Masonic Party grew quickly and became very powerful in some states. The Anti-Masonic Party candidates were elected Governor in Vermont and Pennsylvania, and to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, in addition to controlling some state legislatures. In 1832 this party became the first one to hold a national nominating convention. In several states, such as Pennsylvania, the legislature held full scale hearings on the evils of Freemasonry, calling Masons as witnesses even though they often refused to testify. Several state legislatures, Rhode Island leading the list, adopted laws making it unlawful to give or take oaths or obligations anywhere except in courts, repealing the state charters of Masonic Grand Lodges, and requiring lodges to file reports with the state including the names of all members and the texts of the obligations in the degrees.

Prominent politicians, including some Masons, supported the Anti-Masonic party. Former President John Quincy Adams, William A. Seward (who later became a founder of the Republican Party and Secretary of State during the Civil War), Thaddeus Stevens (who became almost the dictator of the U.S. House of Representatives after the Civil War), and prominent politicians such as Daniel Webster and former Grand Master of Kentucky Henry Clay made public Antimasonic comments. The Anti-Masonic party candidate for President in 1832 was a former Mason who said he now realized the Masons were a threat to the country.

Eventually the Anti-Masonic Party supporters merged into other parties, primarily the new Whig Party and later the new Republican Party. Many Antimasonic zealots felt they had largely accomplished their purpose of destroying Freemasonry here, and to a large extent they were correct.

What were the lasting results of the Anti-Masonic party on Freemasonry and the U.S. in general?

The number of U.S. Masons probably dropped from 100,000 to 40,000 in 10 years. New York went from 20,000 to 3,000 Masons and from 480 to 82 lodges, and Freemasonry was similarly devastated in Vermont, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and Ohio. In several States, Grand Lodges ceased to meet, Grand officers resigned and no new ones could be found, and no initiations took place for many years. The numerical effects on Masons were probably surpassed by the devastating psychological effects. Most Masons gave up the Craft, and those who remained were frightened. Even though Freemasonry started to build up again starting in the 1840's and 1850's, it stayed quieter than ever before. Antimasonry started again in politics in the late 1860's, and since then it has been a simmering social and political force in the U.S.

As a direct result of the Antimasonic movement of the 1800's, Masons ceased the types of public ceremonies in which they had previously engaged. Ambitious and socially conscious men no longer joined the Craft, and it became more of a social group than an intellectual society. For some reason Grand Lodges thought it expedient to have lodges meet on the MM level rather than the 1st degree, contrary to the practice in other countries.

For the country, the Anti-Masonic Party started traditions of single issue parties (Prohibition, Women's Suffrage, Right to Life) and beliefs that the ends justify the means. Most ominous is the U.S. tradition, going back to the Anti-Masons, of spreading fears for political gain -- fears of blacks, labor unions, bankers, Communist conspiracies, aliens, Jews, Catholics, or Masons.

Books and articles on this subject

  • The Anti-Mason Party in the United States 1826-1843, by William Preston Vaughn, published 1983
  • "Anti-Masonry" article, in Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, published in 1961 (new edition now in process)
  • Anti-Masonry, by Alphonse Cerza article in AQC (journal of the Masonic research lodge in London)

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