[Square & Compasses]

The Morgan Affair

Article: 10644 of alt.freemasonry
From: nking@onramp.ca
Newsgroups: alt.freemasonry
Subject: Whys and Wherefores
Date: 20 Nov 1995 17:44:22 GMT
Organization: Onramp Network Services Inc.
Lines: 168
Message-ID: <48qepm$7j5@taurus.tor.onramp.ca>
NNTP-Posting-Host: nking.tor.onramp.ca

This file is copyright (c) 1995 The Philalethes Society and all rights including any redistribution rights are reserved by the copyright holder. Permission to quote from, redistribute or to otherwise use these materials must be obtained from the copyright holder directly by contacting The Philalethes, Nelson King, FPS, Editor, 2 Knockbolt Crescent, Agincourt Ontario Canada, M1S 2P6. Tel: 416-293-8071 Fax: 416-293-8634 or nking@onramp.ca

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 proportion.

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 bodies.

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 Mason."3

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 saving souls.

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 veracity.

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 dialogue.

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 were slaughtered.

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.


  • [1] The Morgan Affair -- by Richard Eades 1993
  • [2] Masonic Addresses and Writings -- Roscoe Pound, Macoy Publishing, New York 1953
  • [3] Address by Dr. Veranus Moore, Dean Veterinary College, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY @ occasion of cornerstone laying ceremony for Ithaca Masonic Temple 1926
  • [4] Congressional Record -- 1938 Address by Dr. Fred P. Corson, President of Dickinson College
  • [5] Masonic ritual
  • [6] The Morgan Affair and its effect on Freemasonry -- by R. Keith Muir, Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, Volume 105, 1992
  • [7] The Ithaca Journal News, Nov. 3, 1993
EDITOR'S NOTE: Bro. George Peter MPS, is the Grand Historian of The Grand Lodge of New York.

#   Nelson King, FPS
#   Editor
#   The Philalethes
#   The International Masonic Research Society
#   nking@onramp.ca
#   http://www.freemasonry.org/psoc

Up to A Page About Freemasonry main page.