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|Preceded by||Federalist Party unofficially|
|Succeeded by||Whig Party unofficially|
|Politics of the United States
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The Anti-Masonic Party (also known as the Anti-Masonic Movement) was the first "third party" in the United States. It strongly opposed Freemasonry and was founded as a single-issue party aspiring to become a major party. Although lasting only a decade, it introduced important innovations to American politics, such as nominating conventions and the adoption of party platforms.
The Anti-Masonic Party was formed in upstate New York in 1828. Anti-Masons were opponents of Freemasonry, believing that it was a corrupt and elitist secret society which was attempting to rule the country in defiance of republican principles.
The opponents of Freemasonry formed a political party after the Morgan affair convinced them the Masons were murdering men who spoke out against them. This key episode was the mysterious 1826 disappearance of William Morgan, a Freemason of Batavia, New York. Morgan had been a member of the lodge in Rochester, New York, but was denied admission in Batavia. He intended to retaliate by publishing a book detailing the secrets of the Freemasons. When his intentions became known to the lodge, an attempt was made to burn down the publishing house. In September 1826 Morgan was seized and disappeared.
The event created great excitement and led many to believe that that Freemasonry was in conflict with good citizenship. Because judges, businessmen, bankers, and politicians were often Masons, ordinary citizens began to think of it as an elitist group. Moreover, many claimed that the lodges' secret oaths bound the brethren to favor each other against outsiders, in the courts as well as elsewhere. Because the trial of the Morgan conspirators was mishandled, and the Masons resisted further inquiries, many New Yorkers concluded that Masons "controlled key offices and used their official authority to promote the goals of the fraternity. When a member sought to reveal its 'secrets', so ran the conclusion, the Freemasons had done away with him, and because they controlled the courts and other offices, they were capable of obstructing the investigation. True Americans, they said, had to organize and defeat this conspiracy. If good government was to be restored "all Masons must be purged from public office".
Formation of a political party
Opposition to Masonry was taken up by the churches as a religious crusade. It also became a political issue in Western New York, where in early in 1827 many mass meetings resolved to support no Mason for public office.
In New York at this time the faction supporting President John Quincy Adams, called "Adams men," or the "Anti-Jackson" faction, were a very feeble organization, and shrewd political leaders at once determined to utilize the strong anti-Masonic feeling in creating a new and vigorous party to oppose the rising Jacksonian Democracy. In this effort they were aided by the fact that Andrew Jackson was a high-ranking Mason and frequently spoke in praise of the Order. The alleged remark of political organizer Thurlow Weed (which Weed denied), that a corpse found floating in the Niagara River was "a good enough Morgan" until after the 1828 elections, summarized the value of the crime for the opponents of Jackson.
In the elections of 1828 the new party proved unexpectedly strong, though its candidate for Governor of New York, Solomon Southwick was defeated, and it became the main opposition party in New York. In 1829 it broadened its issues base when it became a champion of internal improvements and of the protective tariff. The party published over 100 newspapers, including Southwick's National Observer, and by 1829 the Albany Journal, edited by Thurlow Weed, had become the preeminent Anti-Masonic paper. The newspapers of the time reveled in partisanship. One brief Albany Journal paragraph on Martin Van Buren included the words "dangerous," "demagogue," "corrupt," "degrade," "pervert," "prostitute," "debauch" and "cursed."
A national organization was planned as early as 1827, when the New York leaders attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade Henry Clay who was a Mason, to renounce the Order and head the movement. By 1832 the Anti-Masonic movement had begun to change from a focus on Freemasonry in an effort to broaden its appeal, and it spread to neighboring states, becoming especially strong in Pennsylvania and Vermont. In 1831, William A. Palmer was elected Governor of Vermont on an Anti-Masonic ticket, an office he held until 1836. Palmer's brother-in-law, Augustine Clarke was an Anti-Masonic presidential elector in 1832, served as Vermont State Treasurer from 1833 to 1837, and was appointed to the Whig National Committee in 1837. Other Vermont Anti-Masonic electors in 1832 included former Governor Ezra Butler and former United States Representative William Strong. The highest elected office held by a member of the Anti-Masonic Party was Governor; besides Palmer in Vermont, Joseph Ritner was the Governor of Pennsylvania from 1835 to 1838. In addition, Silas H. Jennison, an Anti-Mason, was elected Lieutenant Governor of Vermont with Whig support in 1835. No candidate received a majority of votes for Governor, so the Vermont General Assembly opted to allow Jennison to act as Governor until the next election. He won election as Governor in 1836, and served from 1836 to 1841.
The party conducted the first presidential nominating convention in U.S. history for the 1832 elections, nominating William Wirt (a former Mason) for President and Amos Ellmaker for Vice President in Baltimore. Wirt won 7.78 percent of the popular vote, and the seven electoral votes of Vermont. Soon the Democrats and Whigs recognized the convention's value in building a party, and began to hold their own.
Following Rittner's election in 1835, a state convention was held in Harrisburg on December 14–17, 1835, to choose Presidential Electors for the 1836 election. The convention nominated William Henry Harrison for President and Francis Granger for Vice President. The Vermont state Anti-Masonic convention followed suit on February 24, 1836. National Anti-Masonic leaders were unable to obtain assurance from Harrison that he was not a Mason, so they called a national convention. The second Anti-Masonic National nominating convention was held in Philadelphia on May 4, 1836. The convention was divisive, but a majority of the delegates were able to restate that purpose of the party as strictly anti-Masonry and to officially state that the party was not sponsoring a national ticket for the presidential election of 1836.
Although Harrison was not elected in 1836, his strength throughout the North was hailed by Anti-Masonic leaders because the party was the first to officially place his name in contention. By the mid-1830s other Anti-Jacksonians had coalesced into the Whig Party, which had a broader issue base than the Anti-Masons. By the late 1830s many of the Anti-Masonic movement's members were moving to the Whigs, regarding that party as a better alternative to the Jacksonians, by then called Democrats. The Anti-Masonic Party held a conference in September 1837 to discuss its situation; one delegate was former President John Quincy Adams.
The Anti-Masonic Party held a third national nominating convention at Temperance Hall in Philadelphia on November 13–14, 1838. By this time, the party had been almost entirely supplanted by the Whigs. The Anti-Masons unanimously nominated William Henry Harrison for President and Daniel Webster for Vice President in 1840. When the Whig National Convention nominated Harrison with John Tyler as his running mate, the Anti-Masonic Party did not make an alternate nomination and ceased to function.
Later Anti-Masonic Party
A later political organization called the Anti-Masonic Party was active from 1872 until 1888. This second group had a more religious basis for its anti-Masonry and was closely associated with Jonathan Blanchard of Wheaton College.
The growth of the original Anti-Masonic movement was due to the political and social conditions of the time with the Morgan Affair becoming the catalyst that turned the movement into a political party. Under the banner of "Anti-Masons" able leaders united Anti-Jacksonians and others who were discontented with existing political conditions. The fact that William Wirt, their choice for the presidency in 1832, not only was a former Mason but also supposedly defended the Order in a speech before the convention that nominated him indicates that mere opposition to Masonry was by no means the central premise of the political order.
The Anti-Masonic movement gave rise to or expanded the use of many innovations which became accepted practice among other parties, including nominating conventions and party newspapers.
In addition, the Anti-Masons aided in the rise of the Whig Party as the major alternative to the Democrats, with conventions, newspapers and Anti-Masonic positions on issues including internal improvements and tariffs being adopted by the Whigs.
Members of Congress
William Babcock, Gamaliel H. Barstow, Timothy Childs, John A. Collier, Bates Cooke, John Dickson, Philo C. Fuller, Gideon Hard, Abner Hazeltine, George W. Lay, Henry C. Martindale, Robert S. Rose, Phineas L. Tracy, Grattan H. Wheeler, Frederick Whittlesey
Robert Allison, John Banks, Charles Augustus Barnitz, Richard Biddle, George Chambers, William Clark, Edward Darlington, Edward Davies, Harmar Denny, John Edwards, Thomas Henry, William Hiester, Francis James, Thomas McKean Thompson McKennan, Charles Ogle, David Potts, Jr., Andrew Stewart
Dutee Jerauld Pearce
Notable Office Holders and Candidates
- John Quincy Adams, candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1836
- Jonathan Blanchard, candidate for President of the United States in 1884
- Augustine Clarke, Vermont State Treasurer, 1833-1837
- Lebbeus Egerton, Lieutenant Governor of Vermont, 1831-1835
- Amos Ellmaker, candidate for Vice President of the United States, 1832
- Millard Fillmore, New York State Assembly, 1829-1831
- Silas H. Jennison, Governor of Vermont, 1835-1841 (Anti-Mason running with Whig support, later a Whig)
- William A. Palmer, Governor of Vermont, 1831-1835
- Solomon Southwick, 1828 candidate for Governor of New York
- Allen Wardner, Vermont State Treasurer, 1837-1838
- William Wirt, candidate for President of the United States in 1832
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