Christopher Mayhew

Steven Park

HIST 1501W

28 April 2014

The Anti-Masonic Party


Over the course of history the political landscape in America has undergone tremendous changes, and always has encountered controversy regarding the well-being of the country.  Many different political parties have been formed since the founding of the United States, some larger and more powerful than others.  The creation of a political party can be rooted in a single issue or over a desire to completely reconfigure the government.  Some last longer than others; however every political party has had an effect on history.  The Antimasonic party, which was accompanied by an overall Antimasonic movement, greatly effected politics not only in the nineteenth century, but had a lasting e

            The early nineteenth century in the United States was a period in which the country experienced a sense of peace and tranquility following the war torn days of the American Revolution.  After the defeat of Napoleon in 1812, Europe now had a complicated balance of power, deterring possible aggressors from becoming entangled in the New World.  If any European countries attempted to interfere with the Western Hemisphere they would have experienced difficulty from its neighboring powers.  This allowed the United States to focus on its internal affairs, rather than becoming involved in exercising its force in other nations.[3]   The United States also lost its remaining American Revolution generation, which also meant the loss of its Federalist and Republican parties.  This brought about a new balance of political power within the United States, as well as two new major political parties.  The election of 1828 and the victory of Andrew Jackson exhibited that class systems within the nation where being broken down and the “common folk” now had a say in the government.[5]  These common folk, who previously felt they were being belittled and bullied by the rich politicians from the North, rallied behind the ecstatic Andrew Jackson.  However, Jackson did face opposition, and his controversial ways and strong personality where disliked by many.[2]  Ultimately his opposes formed the Whig party, however many who disliked Jackson joined the Antimasonic party, simply because there was no other party prior to the formation of the Whigs. ffect on the role of third parties in our government.  A party formed around controversy and conspiracy, the Antimasonic party without a doubt made a lasting impact on politics with innovations such as the creation of party platforms as well as nominating conventions.  Although shaped around a single issue, the Antimasonic party obtained great power in certain regions in the United States such as Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania, and accomplished many of its goals, despite only being in existence from 1828 to 1838.  It is without question that the Antimasonic party exemplifies how the fear of power by citizens can create a distrust of the government in a country, and in the case of the antimasons, rally together to form a movement concerned with the freedoms of its people. 

            During the American Revolution, Freemasonry, also simply known as Masonry, became very popular in the United States.  The Freemasons are a fraternal organization whose goals are to improve the character of its members and to do good works for the community.  Many prominent figures during the American Revolution, including many founding fathers, where Masons.  Such figures include President George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.[7]  However, after the United States victory over the English crown, citizens in the U.S. had no foreign enemies in sight.  The Masons where a very secretive society, involved in many rituals and used many symbols that frightened non-masons into believing in a conspiracy.  The conspiracy was that the Masons, as well as any other secret societies, posed a serious threat to the newly founded and very fragile republic.  The general fear of the people was that the masons would take control of the country, and infringe on the rights of the non-masons.[10]  The image of private gatherings of wealthy and powerful men at “lodges”, the meeting houses for Masons, did not sit well and concerned the people whether or not such a secret society was good for a new 

ountry built around freedom.  The Masons also firmly believed in religious tolerance, however the majority of its members where Christians, leaving people to question the Masons beliefs.[9]  All of the tension and controversy between the Masons and non-masons 
ultimately escalated and the Antimasonic movement began with the suspicious and controversial Morgan Affair.

            William Morgan, a bricks mason who lived in Batavia New York, is responsible for igniting the Antimasonic movement and almost extinguished freemasonry’s presence in the United States.  Morgan, who it is now believed was not a mason, allegedly talked his way into receiving the Royal Arch in Leroy, New York.  Although there is no evidence of Morgan ever being a Mason, he assisted in lodge ceremonies and made speeches.   Suspicion within the lodge began to grow, and Morgan was omitted as a member when the Royal Arch charter was granted.  In response to his ommitence, Morgan applied for a copyright for a book that would expose all of the secrets of Freemasonry.  Morgan sought the help of three men in doing this.  David Miller, who held a grudge against the fraternity, John Davids, Morgans Landlord, and Russel Dyer.  These men gave Morgan the financial means necessary to publish his book, which included an extraordinary amount of money at the time.[1]  Morgan would have profited greatly, and would have left Masons worried that an exposure of the Masonic secrets would result in a dying out of the fraternity.  Shortly after, Morgan was arrested for the theft of a shirt and tie, released, then arrested again for the failure to pay a debt of two dollars and sixty eight cents, and jailed.  After only one day in jail, Morgan’s debt was paid off and he was escorted out by several men in a coach and was taken to Fort Niagara.[2]  Morgan then subsequently disappeared. 

            It is certain that the fate of William Morgan is unknown; however there is evidence that he was not murdered by the masons, contrary to popular belief at the time.  When Morgan’s wife identified a body that washed up on shore forty miles from Fort Niagara, he was not dressed in clothes he had left in form the prison, and was bearded, which Morgan was not.  Three inquests occurred on the finding of the body, the first identifying him as Morgan.  However on the third inquest, Mrs. Sara Monroe identified the body not as William Morgan, but as Timothy Monroe of Clark, Canada, Mrs. Monroe’s husband.[3]  Despite this evidence, the claim that Masons had a part in the murder of Morgan spread throughout the North, sparking the Antimasonic paranoia that almost exterminated the fraternity in the United States. 

            John Whitney, who was accused for the kidnapping of Morgan from Fort Niagara, reportedly told the true story of what happened to Morgan to a man named Robert Morris, who was a mason.  Whitney stated to Morris that Morgan was not murdered, but paid off by the Masons to not release his book exposing the secrets of Masonry.  He also said that he confronted Governor Clinton of Albany, New York, whom he asked what could be done to prevent the release of the book.[4]  Clinton strictly opposed any illegal actions against Morgan, but instead suggested that he be given enough money to leave the country and move to Canada.  Whitney also stated that two Canadian Masons met Morgan at Fort Niagara and traveled with him to a place just outside of Hamilton, Canada.  Here the Masons gave Morgan five hundred dollars and made him sign an agreement to never return to the United States without proper permission.  However, these confessions did not appear until long after Morgan’s disappearance, leading people to fear the power of the Masons, believing that they had a strong hand in the government and where able to live and work above the law.  The Morgan affair was only the beginning of a long period of masonic resentment.  It left many people believing that a secret society was country productive in achieving good citizenship.  This belief spread like wild fire, ultimately resulting in the forming of the Antimasonic party. 

            Thurlow Weed was a New York newspaper publisher and was a leader in the Antimasonic movement.  Weed was a strong supporter of President John Quincy Adams, and also was the founder of the Enquirer, which was a powerful Antimasonic newspaper in the beginning of the movement.  In 1829, just one year after the Morgan affair, Weed was elected to the state assembly as an Antimasonic.  The Antimasonic party strongly opposed Andrew Jackson, who was an accomplished Mason himself, and opposed his Jackson democracy.[5]  The Antimasonic party soon became a powerhouse in New York and became its primary political party.  The party worked with publishers to release a number of Antimasonic newspapers in New York, which aided in the dislike of masons by people all over the state.  As many of 35 newspapers where published in total, creating an atmosphere in New York that simulated a witch hunt towards respected and established Freemasons.[2]  Despite being former founding fathers and respected members of the community, Masons where saw as conspiring corrupted men who had power within the government and judicial system.  Many Masons held powerful positions in society, such as politicians and judges.  Despite this, the public feared that this internal threat would overthrow the government and rule the country based on the principles of a fraternity, rather than allowing the people to exercise their freedoms.

            The Antimasonic party invented the nomination convention, which is a system where state candidate where chosen by locally elected delegates.  Conventions allowed parties to build strength, and soon the democrats and later the Whigs would realize its power.  Nominating Conventions allow political parties to nominate a presidential candidate, as well as bring the party together to set party principles and goals, known as the platform.  Without the Antimasonic party, these conventions may not have existed.  Party conventions are still in use even to this day. 

            Not only was the Antimasonic party the first to adopt a convention, but it was also the first third party in the United States.  Third parties, although not as popular as primary political parties, are important in that they call attention to important principles or issues that would otherwise be deemed as unimportant or ignored.[6]  They also allow like-minded people to vote on what they truly believe in, rather than voting on a party they somewhat support over another.  The third-party system, created by the Antimasonic party, was an important addition to the United States political scene, and still plays an important role in politics today. 

            Although the Antimasonic party had become powerful in Vermont, New York, and Pennsylvania, shifting political issues changed the focus of the antimasons from exterminating masonic existence to opposing Andrew Jackson.  The forming of the Whig party, guided by Henry Clay, was created in 1834.  The Whigs, which was also the name of England’s antimonarchist party, considered Andrew Jackson to be a king, and greatly disagreed with his beliefs.[10]  The party believed in economic growth, banking, humanitarian reform, and morality in politics.  They opposed the ideas of executive tyranny, states’ rights, democratic suffrage, and expansionism.  The antimasons and the Antimasonic movement had accomplished its goal, and merged with the Whigs. 

            The supporters of the Antimasonic movement can be seen as people with other motives rather than to rid the United States of the fraternity.  Politicians did indeed join the party because of the strong dislike of President Andrew Jackson, and used the party to accomplish goals and establish reforms other than ridding the country of Masonic existence.  They also saw the party as a way to gain power, as the fear the people had towards the popular masonic group only fueled the political party into becoming a prominent party from the North, with the Federalist and Republican parties gone.  Religious motives, such as those by Evangelical Protestants, used the party to reach religious and moral motives.  People also saw American Masons as different as there European brethren, in that they dominated the political system and obstructed the judicial process.  The Antimasonic party was fueled by suspicion of the Masons, which was accompanied by fear and uncertainty within the population.  People greatly disliked the Masons, and went to great lengths to rid them from local communities.[1]  Masons were being heckled in the streets, lodges where vandalized, and the wives of Masons urged them to leave the fraternity.  Voters wanted to ensure that politicians were not involved with Masonry, and attempted to remove many officials from their jobs who were Masons, and were successful in doing so.  Areas where the Antimasonic movement had its most power included places called “burned over” districts, where fiery reformers changed many aspects of society.  These districts where primarily rural areas, which posed a challenge to democrats attempting to receive support from the lower class citizens.  Despite the Masons being an innocent and helpful group that only wanted to better the newly founded country, they were ridiculed and embarrassed by those who supported the Antimasonic movement.[3]

            The invention of a no

minating convention created a system that allowed locally elected delegates to choose state candidates and pledge their loyalty. Soon after, the Democrats and Whigs would recognize the convention's value in building a powerful political party, and held their own conventions. By 1832, the Antimasonic movement had discontinued its focus on eradicating Masonry, and had spread to nearby states, becoming particularly powerful in Vermont and Pennsylvania. A national meeting was planned in 1827, when New York leaders attempted to persuade Henry Clay who was a Mason, to leave the Masons and join the Antimasonic movement.  In 1831, William A. Palmer of Vermont was the first elected governor from the Antimasonic party, and stayed in office until 1836. Augustine Clarke, who was Palmers brother in law, was a presidential elector in 1832 for the Antimasonic party, and also was the Vermont State Treasurer from 1833 to 1837.  He was appointed to the Whig National Committee in 1837.  Other Antimasonic electors from Vermont in 1832 included former Governor Ezra Butler and former United States Representative William Strong.

The Antimasonic party held the first presidential nominating convention in U.S. history in 1832, and nominated William Wirt, who was a former Mason, for President. They also nominated Amos Ellmaker for Vice President.  Wirt won 7.78 percent of the popular vote, and the seven electoral votes from Vermont. The highest elected office ever held by a member of the Antimasonic party was that of a governor, with Palmer being elected in Vermont.  Joseph Ritner was also elected as the governor of Pennsylvania from 1835 to 1838.  This was a period in which the antimasons experienced great success in gaining political strength.  In 1833 the party was at its peak, and slowly joined with those who opposed Jackson such as the National Republicans and formed the Whig party.[4]

The Antimasonic party did have some success in the political world, despite being a third party.  A state convention was held in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania after Joseph Ritner was elected governor in 1835.  The state convention nominated William Henry Harrison for President and Francis Granger for Vice President. After Harrison was nominated, the antimasons questioned Harrison’s involvement in Masonry, so they decided to host a second national nominating convention.  The convention was held in Philadelphia on May 4, 1836. The convention resulted in a decision that the party was strictly dedicated to the purpose of Antimasonry, and also decided not to place a delegate on the national ticket for the upcoming election.[8]

Despite Harrison losing the election, he gained great strength in the North, and was supported by many Antimasonic leaders.  In September 1837, the party had a meeting in order to discuss its future goals and possible future delegates.  The third Anti-Masonic National nominating convention was held in Temperance Hall, Philadelphia, on November 13 and 14, 1838.[5]  By the time of the third convention, much of the Antimasonic feelings had been overtaken by the Whig party.  At this convention, the party unanimously nominated William Henry Harrison for President and Daniel Webster for Vice President. When the Whig National Convention nominated Harrison and Tyler, it left the Antimasonic party without a nomination, and it ceased to exist.  However, a later political organization, also called the Antimasonic Party, was engaged in politics from 1872 until 1888. This second group of Antimasons had emphasized more of a religious aspect on it, rather than the Masonic extermination.  Athough the Antimasonic era did not last a very long time, its effects on politics will be felt forever.

Many political parties have existed over the course of history, however the Antimasonic party was one of the most controversial and complicated parties to be formed.  The party was accompanied by a massive sense of paranoia within society, but also had a lasting impact on politics in the United States.  The creation of the third party system and national nominating conventions are two very important assets that allow our government to operate under the principle of freedom, allowing citizens to vote for what they truly  and firmly believe in.  Whether or not Masonry had a serious role in government at the time and was part of a larger conspiracy will be unknown, however the results of this epidemic will forever be an important part of American politics.