The Morgan Affair
Article: 10644 of alt.freemasonry
Subject: Whys and Wherefores
Date: 20 Nov 1995 17:44:22 GMT
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Whys & Wherefores
by George Peter MPS
The disappearance of William Morgan in September of 1826 set the
stage for one of the greatest shams in American history. Many volumes
have been written about the events that led to the alleged abduction of
Morgan and the resulting turbulent era. And yet very little has been
discussed concerning how and why the event became so blown out of
A brief review of the details are presented: Morgan somehow proved
himself a Freemason to the point where he was accepted into local
Masonic lodges. His personal characteristics of heavy drinking, neglect
of family and nonpayment of personal debts caused the Freemasons to shun
him. He was denied membership in one of the concordant Masonic
Morgan became disgruntled and teamed up with a local printer by the
name of David Miller. The two advertised their intention to print all
of the supposed secrets of Freemasonry. This disturbing news upset some
overzealous Freemasons who allegedly abducted Morgan from jail. Morgan
was not heard from since.
A body was found in the Niagara River. A claim was made that it was
that of William Morgan. Although it proved not to be the body of
Morgan, this did not quell the taste for blood by the non-masons who
used the event to campaign against Freemasonry.
The Anti-Masonic political party was one manifestation of the fervor
of the time. Churches expelled from their congregations any member who
would not renounce Freemasonry. Most Masonic lodges were dissolved. A
few remained in operation by meeting in secret.1
How and why could such fervor develop and why could an organization
founded on such noble and lofty principles be the target of so much
vilification and hatred?
Freemasonry was founded on most of the same principles supported by
the church--the same church that turned against it. Roscoe Pound, Dean
of Harvard Law School, 1916 - 1936, said of Freemasonry: "Society is
divided sharply into classes that understand each other none too well.
What nobler Masonic lecture could there be than one that took up the
fundamentals of social science and undertook to spread a sound knowledge
of it among all Masons?"2
Dean Veranus Moore, former Dean, Cornell University School of
Veterinary Medicine, said, "Brotherhood does not require us to like all
people, but it does demand that we give exact justice in all our
dealings. Masonry therefore is a great training school in which men
learn brotherhood by practicing it toward fellow craftsmen and then,
later, practicing it everywhere." Brother Moore also talked about the
sins of ignorance. He said, "No man who holds truth lightly or chooses
to remain in ignorance or is intolerant of others can be a true
An address by Fred P. Corson, President of Dickinson College,
Carlisle, Pa., was printed in the Congressional Record on the occasion
of the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the United States
Constitution. President Corson was talking about the stability of our
government. He said: "America owes its governmental stability and her
success as a democracy to her spiritual foundation. Prior to 1787 the
work of laying this foundation was by the Church and by the Masonic
Fraternity. It was no coincidence that of the six men who produced the
Constitution, at least half were members of the craft." He cited
especially the work of Freemasons, Washington, Franklin, Hancock and
Marshall. President Thomas Masaryk once said, "Its members... have
always been ardent propagators of the ideals of humanity".4
Hundreds of writers of great renown, have spoken eloquently about the
value to society of Freemasonry. There are lists of untold numbers of
great leaders "who never deemed it derogatory to level with the
Fraternity" and to give it their loyalty.5
Having this knowledge about the good influence of Freemasonry,
knowing that many of the great leaders of the time were Freemasons
(including our own Governor DeWitt Clinton), and being apprised of the
principles taught by the Craft; it boggles the mind to try to understand
how and why Freemasonry came under such ill repute.
This paper is to contend that there was a major factor and three
elements that led to the birth of the anti-Masonic movement and the
Anti-Masonic political party. The major factor was jealousy mixed with
greed, which grew in the hearts of those not privy to membership. Some
had been denied. Others knew not how to become a member. They saw
Freemasonry and Freemasons as an elite, secret society and they were
easily convinced that conspiracies and evil came from inside those
secret lodge rooms.
This common characteristic of human nature served as the fuel for
igniting and inciting hatred for the unknown. But a fuel needs a
mechanism to ignite it. Three groups served this purpose.
Politicians saw an opportunity to gain popularity by making false
accusations and insinuations. Thurlow Weed was the most successful and
most damaging in his use of the incident and to claim that he was the
savior, "riding in on a shiny white horse." Our own William Seward of
Auburn and Millard Fillmore of Moravia made hay of the fiasco and gained
political clout by using the Morgan affair as an issue.6
One would not have expected the clergy to lower themselves to this
level of demagoguery, but such was not the case. Even former members of
the Fraternity saw in this an opportunity to claim that the Freemasons
were evil and that only in the church could souls be saved. And these
same clergy knew full well that Freemasonry was not in the business of
The third mechanism, which grabbed an opportunity to gain notoriety
and to sell newspapers, was the press.
New papers were born
regularly with the one objective, to sell newsprint by leveling
accusations at the Fraternity. Any dirt would do despite its
The anti-Masonic movement was a conspiracy to promote individual
causes. The press saw a dollar in it. The clergy saw an opportunity to
win new converts. The politicians grabbed the opportunity to promote
themselves. The times were ripe for suspicion and distrust.
Uncultivated egos led people to believe that only their church, their
politics, their way of life was the correct one. Others were ignorant
and in the dark.
So what is new? Can such happen again? Who will lead the attack?
Will there be another Morgan affair? This writer contends that such
happens every day and continues to happen.
A perfect example of a 20th century "Morgan Affair" was the Vietnam
fiasco. The same elements used the same egos, distrust, and suspicions
to fan the flames to force the United States Government to fight a
limited engagement in Vietnam. It cost America unnecessary loss of
lives and great anguish. Whether we agree with this assessment or not,
the fact remains that the debate about Vietnam was a one-sided
presentation by the news media, the clergy and the politicians. A much
more healthy situation would have been an honest and reasonable
The three elements were successful in preventing an honest dialogue
because the times were ripe for distrust of government. Also egos had
been honed to a new level of uncultivation. Especially young people
were prone to believe that the Government was evil and that we were
sending boys over there to be slaughtered. The more difficult it became
to fight a war to win, the greater became the number of Americans who
Politicians used the situation to promote their political ambitions,
the church switched from teaching the proper attitudes to have toward
fellow human beings to preaching political diatribes from their pulpits.
And of course the press, in consort with television and radio, made hay
of the situation by selling more newspapers and air time. Distrust and
suspicions served as the fuel to be ignited by these same three forces
promoting their own agendas.
These same forces -- the news media, the clergy and politicians have
not ceased in their biased and one-sided presentations of the various
issues that confront us.
With new technology and advances in news gathering, the power of the
news media has expanded to a dangerous level. Newspapers and other news
media have become political action entities instead of purveyors of
news. Church membership has dwindled because so many churches have been
transformed into a series of political action groups. But even with
these reduced forces, the church, by virtue of its tax exempt status
(constitutional or otherwise), remains a formidable influence.
Politicians will always be with us and will hop onto whatever bandwagon
seems to offer a ride to power.
Think of the heyday these forces would have, and do have, with a
"Morgan affair" today. A recent bond issue defeat was headlined as
follows: "Voters reject more jobs".7 It could have said, "voters reject
more State debt." The latter would have been as much an opinion as the
headline that did appear. An objective headline would have said, "Jobs
Bond act defeated by voters." Don't hold your breath waiting for that
kind of objective reporting.
Yes we have had more than one "Morgan Affair" in this country and
there are more born every day. We will have more such fiascos because
we don't seem to learn from history. Few have seen fit to analyze the
"whys and wherefores" which made it possible for innocent forces to be
caught up by the less noble characteristics of humans. The message is
to be on the alert for demagogues who use any cause to further their
individual programs. America must demand more objective reporting and
more accurate assessments of events.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bro. George Peter MPS, is the Grand Historian of The
Grand Lodge of New York.
-  The Morgan Affair -- by Richard Eades 1993
-  Masonic Addresses and Writings -- Roscoe Pound, Macoy Publishing,
New York 1953
-  Address by Dr. Veranus Moore, Dean Veterinary College, Cornell
University, Ithaca, NY @ occasion of cornerstone laying ceremony for
Ithaca Masonic Temple 1926
-  Congressional Record -- 1938 Address by Dr. Fred P. Corson,
President of Dickinson College
-  Masonic ritual
-  The Morgan Affair and its effect on Freemasonry -- by R. Keith Muir,
Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, Volume 105, 1992
-  The Ithaca Journal News, Nov. 3, 1993
# Nelson King, FPS
# The Philalethes
# The International Masonic Research Society
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