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The Anti-Masonic Party in the United States

The Anti-Masonic Party in the United States: 1826-1843

Copyright Date: 1983
Edition: 1
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    The Anti-Masonic Party in the United States
    Book Description:

    Here, for the first time in more than eighty years, is a detailed study of political Antimasonry on the national, state, and local levels, based on a survey of existing sources. The Antimasonic party, whose avowed goal was the destruction of the Masonic Lodge and other secret societies, was the first influential third party in the United States and introduced the device of the national presidential nominating convention in 1831.

    Vaughn focuses on the celebrated "Morgan Affair" of 1826, the alleged murder of a former Mason who exposed the fraternity's secrets. Thurlow Weed quickly transformed the crusading spirit aroused by this incident into an anti-Jackson party in New York. From New York, the party soon spread through the Northeast. To achieve success, the Antimasons in most states had to form alliances with the major parties, thus becoming the "flexible minority."

    After William Wirt's defeat by Andrew Jackson in the election of 1832, the party waned. Where it had been strong, Antimasonry became a reform-minded, anti-Clay faction of the new Whig party and helped to secure the presidential nominations of William Henry Harrison in 1836 and 1840. Vaughn concludes that although in many ways the Antimasonic Crusade was finally beneficial to the Masons, it was not until the 1850s that the fraternity regained its strength and influence.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5040-6
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1. The Morgan Affair and Its Consequences
    (pp. 1-9)

    On the night of September 12, 1826, William Morgan, an obscure and derelict stonemason, disappeared outside the jail at Canandaigua, New York, after serving time for failing to repay a debt of $2.69. Morgan had just finished writing an exposé of the secret rituals of Freemasonry, of which he claimed to be a member, and his authorship was known to the increasingly alarmed Masons of this western New York area, a region known as the “infected,” or “Burned-over,” district because it was “burnt” by the flames of religious revivals. Morgan was never seen in public again, and the general public...

  5. 2. The Origins of Antimasonry
    (pp. 10-20)

    Definitions of Masonry are as numerous and diverse as the fraternity itself. Simply stated, Masonry is an oath-bound order of men with a secret ritual based upon the medieval guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders. A more philosophical definition from the early nineteenth century describes Masonry as “a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols,” whereas a contemporary explanation declares the order to be an “esoteric system of ethical teachings which manifests itself in the conduct of its members, especially in their responsibilities and relationships to one another.”¹

    Although many Masons attempt to trace the fraternity’s...

  6. 3. Beginnings in New York, 1827-1829
    (pp. 21-34)

    Before Antimasonry became a political party, it existed in New York as a moral crusade with strong religious overtones, being led both by clergy and by concerned laymen. Religious Antimasonry found a forum in Protestant churches as an independent, altruistic, moral crusade characterized by enormous enthusiasm and a deep sense of immediacy. Eventually the independent crusade eclipsed the congregational and denominational efforts. Both endeavors, of course, embodied the evangelical desire to convert the entire American population to Christianity and to create a “moral, homogeneous commonwealth.”¹

    The frontier of western New York, site of Morgan’s abduction, had been settled largely by...

  7. 4. New York, 1830-1835
    (pp. 35-53)

    William Henry Seward finally left the Adams party and became an active Antimason in 1830 because he agreed with Antimasonic principles and had nowhere else to go politically. The Auburn attorney attended his first Antimasonic state convention at Albany in 1829 and in January 1830 addressed a convention in his native Cayuga County, where he denounced Masonry as a “secret government” that made its own laws and then enforced them, even invoking the death penalty.

    Later that year, Seward represented New York as a delegate to the first national Antimasonic convention at Philadelphia. On his way he stopped at Albany...

  8. 5. Wirt’s Presidential Candidacy of 1832
    (pp. 54-69)

    The first national Antimasonic convention, held at Philadelphia on September 11, 1830, resulted from action taken by New York’s state convention in February 1829. Not only did the Albany delegates, reflecting the wishes of the state central committee, disavow all connections with existing parties and resolve to hold a national meeting, but they also arranged for the site, date, and composition of the Philadelphia gathering. Each state was to send the number of delegates equivalent to its electoral vote.

    Selection of the date for the national convention was no random matter, for September 11, 1830, was the fourth anniversary of...

  9. 6. Vermont, 1829-1836
    (pp. 70-88)

    Vermont, described by 1830 as the only “exclusively frontier state east of the Appalachians,” had entered the Union in 1791 as the fourteenth state, after settling with New York a complex and long-standing dispute over land claims. Local settlers had adopted a constitution in 1777 when the area, organized by Ethan Allen, actually possessed the status of an independent republic. Copied from the constitution of Pennsylvania, this plan created a unicameral legislature (General Assembly), a governor, and a council of twelve members. All officials had to seek election annually. The council acted with the governor in suggesting revisions of bills...

  10. 7. The “Union” Ticket of 1832
    (pp. 89-98)

    Pennsylvania was in the midst of a long era of political chaos when Antimasonry appeared on the scene. The Federalist party had declined, and the Adams party, never strong, was disintegrating. The Jacksonian Democrats, like their predecessors, the Jeffersonian Republicans, were so numerous that they remained fragmented. Pennsylvania historians generally divide them into two distinct groups: one, established about 1817, was known as the “Family party,” so called because of the leaders’ connections by blood and marriage. George M. Dallas, a Philadelphian, was considered the “brains” of the organization. The other faction, the “Amalgamators,” included old-time Federalists as well as...

  11. 8. Pennsylvania, 1834-1843
    (pp. 99-114)

    On February 6, 1834, Stevens introduced a resolution in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives calling for creation of a committee to examine the expediency of: (1) making Masonic affiiation a “good cause” for a preemptory challenge of jurors in all cases where one party was a Mason and the other was not; (2) disqualifying Masonic judges from hearing cases where the judge and one party were Masons; and (3) applying similar restrictions upon Masonic sheriffs in the summoning of jurors when the sheriff and one party in the case were Masons. He also requested that the new committee be given...

  12. 9. Massachusetts, 1828-1836
    (pp. 115-132)

    Massachusetts vies with Pennsylvania in claiming the site of the first Masonic lodge in colonial America. The Bay State had previously witnessed a brief outpouring of sentiment against Masonry during the Bavarian Illuminati scare of 1789-1800, and although no direct connection existed between the Antimasonic movements of 1798 and 1828, there remained “the tradition of Masonic intrigue and a vague but repellent feeling to hold some men aloof from Masonry.” Between 1800 and 1827, however, many men of high social, economic, and political standing became Masons, and the lodge recovered its prominence of the pre-1798 period, reaching a membership of...

  13. 10. Coalition Politics in Rhode Island
    (pp. 133-152)

    In February 1834 Hallett hailed Rhode Island as the only state in which Antimasonry had fully asserted the “supremacy of the laws” over Freemasonry. He was essentially correct, but what is surprising is not that these stringent laws were passed but that they emanated from a small minority party that never polled more than 16 percent of the vote. The Antimasons in the nation’s smallest state would never have achieved any success had their votes not been sought by the power-hungry leaders of first the National Republicans and then the Democrats, each party eager to achieve domination in a state...

  14. 11. Coalitions on the Periphery
    (pp. 153-171)

    The Blessed Spirit, originally confined to western New York and New England, quickly expanded into areas settled by emigrants from these states. Ohio was the first state on the periphery to attract Antimasonry, which developed quickly in the state’s northeastern comer, known as the Western Reserve. Located near western New York, the Reserve proved to be fertile soil for Antimasonic missionary endeavors. Including ten entire counties and portions of two others, it had been the stronghold of the National Republican party in Ohio. Two of these counties, Portage and Ashtabula, were the sites of the first Antimasonic activity, the latter...

  15. 12. The Elections of 1836 and 1840
    (pp. 172-183)

    With the rapid decline after 1832 of Antimasonry on the national level as a viable political organization, it became increasingly clear that the party’s principal role in future presidential elections would be to give impetus and added strength to the candidacies of major party nominees, especially those of the Whigs. The promoters of both Daniel Webster and William Henry Harrison deemed Antimasonic endorsement of their favorites sufficiently important to produce a concerted effort to see which contender could garner the most Antimasonic support, first for the election of 1836 and thereafter for 1840.

    Politicians of both major parties had often...

  16. 13. The Blessed Spirit
    (pp. 184-191)

    The initial outrage in western New York that resulted from William Morgan’s abduction and probable murder in 1826, following publication of his Masonic exposé, produced a crusade of evangelistic fervor that was at first centered in the small-town and rural churches, especially certain Baptist and Presbyterian congregations. Although the movement was once considered to have appealed primarily to the economically disadvantaged, recent research indicates that Antimasonry, at least in western New York, had a much broader base, attracting prosperous farmers and small-town merchants who were as angry about the Morgan affair as their poorer neighbors. Antimasonry, whether moral crusade or...

  17. Notes
    (pp. 192-227)
  18. Bibliographic Note
    (pp. 228-229)
  19. Index
    (pp. 230-244)