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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 as a single-issue party, and later aspired to become a major party by expanding its platform and positions on other issues. After the negative views of Freemasonry among a large segment of the public began to wane in the late 1830s, most members of the Anti-Masonic Party joined the Whigs, the party most in line with its views on other issues. Although lasting only a decade, the Anti-Masonic Party 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 February of 1828. Anti-Masons were opponents of Freemasonry, believing that it was a corrupt and elitist secret society which was ruling much of the country in defiance of republican principles. During a period of social upheaval caused by the Industrial Revolution and westward migration, community and family relationships weakened, causing many people to become skeptical of government and other longstanding institutions.
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 in upstate New York who had turned against the Masons.
Morgan claimed to have been made a member of the Masons while living in Canada, and he appears to have briefly attended a lodge in Rochester. In 1825 Morgan received the Royal Arch degree at Le Roy's Western Star Chapter #33, having declared under oath that he had previously received the six degrees which preceded it. Whether he actually received these degrees and if so from where has not been determined for certain.
Morgan then attempted unsuccessfully to help establish or visit lodges and chapters in Batavia, but was denied participation in Batavia's Masonic activities by members who were uncertain about Morgan's character and claims to Masonic membership. Angered by the rejection, Morgan announced that he was going to publish an exposé titled Illustrations of Masonry, critical of the Freemasons and describing their secret degree work in great detail.
When his intentions became known to the Batavia lodge, an attempt was made to burn down the business of the printer who planned to publish Morgan's book. In September 1826 Morgan was arrested on flimsy allegations of failing to repay a loan and theft of a shirt and tie in an effort to prevent publication of his book by keeping him in jail. The individual who intended to publish Morgan's book paid his bail, and he was released from custody. Shortly afterwards, Morgan disappeared.
Some skeptics argued that Morgan had left the Batavia area on his own, either because he had been paid not to publish his book, or to escape Masonic retaliation for attempting to publish the book, or to generate publicity that would boost the book's sales. The generally believed version of events was that Masons killed Morgan by drowning him in the Niagara River. Whether he fled or was murdered, Morgan's disappearance led many to believe 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 and elsewhere.
Because some trials of alleged Morgan conspirators were 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 by ensuring that Morgan's supposed killers escaped punishment. When a member sought to reveal its 'secrets', so ran the conclusion, the Freemasons had done away with him. Because they controlled the courts and other offices, they were supposedly 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 some churches as a religious crusade, particularly in what became known as the Burned-over district. Many churches passed resolutions condemning ministers and lay leaders who were Masons, and several denominations condemned Freemasonry, including the Presbyterian, Congregational, Methodist, and Baptist churches, as well as several others.
In New York at this time the supporters of President John Quincy Adams, called Adams men, or Anti-Jacksonians, or National Republicans, were a feeble organization. Shrewd Adams supporters determined to use the strong anti-Masonic feeling to create a new party in opposition to the rising Jacksonian Democracy nationally, and the Albany Regency political organization of Martin Van Buren in New York. In this effort they were aided by the fact that Andrew Jackson was a high-ranking Mason and frequently spoke in praise of the organization. The alleged remark of political organizer Thurlow Weed (which Weed denied), that an unidentified corpse found in the Niagara River was "a good enough Morgan" until after the 1828 elections, summarized the value of the Morgan disappearance 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, the Anti-Masonic Party became the main opposition party in New York. In 1829 it broadened its issues base when it became a champion of internal improvements and the protective tariff.
Anti-Masonic Party members expanded the use of party-affiliated newspapers for political organizing by publishing over 100, including Southwick's National Observer, and Weed's Anti-Masonic Enquirer. By 1829 Weed's Albany Journal had become the preeminent Anti-Masonic paper, and it later became the leading Whig newspaper. The newspapers of the time reveled in partisanship. One brief Albany Journal paragraph in an article opposing Martin Van Buren included the words "dangerous," "demagogue," "corrupt," "degrade," "pervert," "prostitute," "debauch" and "cursed."
Conventions and elections
A national Anti-Masonic organization was planned as early as 1827, when the New York leaders attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade Henry Clay to renounce his Masonic membership and head the movement.
By 1830 the Anti-Masonic movement's effort to broaden its appeal enabled it to 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 1835. 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 Anti-Masonic National Committee in 1837. Other Vermont Anti-Masonic electors in 1832 included former Governor Ezra Butler and former United States Representative William Strong.
In addition to Palmer and Ritner, Silas H. Jennison, an Anti-Mason, was elected Lieutenant Governor of Vermont with Whig support in 1835. No candidate, including Palmer, received a majority of votes for Governor, as required by the Vermont Constitution. The contest then moved to the Vermont General Assembly, which could not choose a winner. The General Assembly then opted to allow Jennison to act as Governor until the next election. He won election as Governor in his own right as a Whig in 1836, and served from 1836 to 1841.
Though the Anti-Masonic Party elected no United States Senators, and controlled no houses of a state legislature, Anti-Masons in state legislatures sometimes formed coalitions to elect Senators and organize their chambers. Examples include: William Wilkins, elected to the Senate in 1830 by a coalition of Democrats and Anti-Masons in the Pennsylvania General Assembly; and William Sprague, elected Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 1831 by a coalition of Democrats and Anti-Masons.
The Anti-Masonic 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 managing parties and campaigns, and began to hold their own.
Following Ritner'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. Anti-Masonic leaders were unable to obtain assurance from Harrison that he was not a Mason, so they called a national convention. The second national Anti-Masonic nominating convention was held in Philadelphia on May 4, 1836. The meeting was divisive, but a majority of the delegates officially stated that the party was not sponsoring a national ticket for the presidential election of 1836 and proposed a meeting in 1837 to discuss the future of the party.
Although Harrison was not elected in 1836, his strength throughout the North was hailed by Anti-Masonic leaders because the Anti-Masonic 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 the 1840 election. 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.
As people became more mobile economically during the Industrial Revolution and began to move west when new states were populated by white settlers and added to the Union, the growth of the Anti-Masonic movement was caused by the political and social unrest resulting from the weakening of longstanding family and community ties. With Freemasonry one of the few institutions that remained stable during this time of change, it became a natural target for protesters. As a result, the Morgan Affair became the catalyst that turned the movement against Freemasons 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 defended Freemasonry in a speech before the convention that nominated him indicates that opposition to Masonry was not the Anti-Masonic movement's sole issue.
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, 1836
- Jonathan Blanchard, candidate for President of the United States, 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
- Joseph Ritner, Governor of Pennsylvania, 1835-1839
- William H. Seward, New York State Senate, 1831-1834
- Solomon Southwick, candidate for Governor of New York, 1828
- William Sprague III, Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives, 1832-1835
- Thaddeus Stevens, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 1833-1835
- Allen Wardner, Vermont State Treasurer, 1837–1838
- William Wirt, candidate for President of the United States in 1832
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Anti-Masonry.|
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