The Morgan affair aftermath
In brief, William Morgann3 was an itinerant worker who settled in Batavian1 in 1824. He managed to convince the Freemasons of Batavia that he was a Freemason and participated in lodge activities, made speeches and visited other Lodges. He signed a petition for the formation of a Royal Arch Chapter in Batavia, but some other Masons questioned his masonic legitimacy. Another Royal Arch petition was then submitted, which he was not permitted to sign.n2 Morgan was furious about this, and vowed revenge. He agreed to work with David [C.] Miller, n5 the publisher of the Batavia Advocate, the local newspaper, and several partners, in the publication of a book exposing Freemasonry. The project was made public and there was pandemonium among the Masons of Batavia and the surrounding towns in western New York, leading ultimately to his disappearance on September 19th, 1826.n16 It is generally agreed that William Morgan was taken to Canada by Masons and there given $500 and a horse, with the agreement that he never return. However, despite a lack of conclusive evidence, rumors persisted that he had been murdered.
David Miller saw the interest in Morgans disappearance as an opportunity to publish and make money, and copies of his book, in a 125 page paperback pamphlet, came off his press and sold for a dollar. There was soon a demand for a second edition, but the competition from other anti-Masonic books and pamphlets was so great he was forced to drop the price to fifty cents. The publication of anti-Masonic literature flourished and by 1832 there were 141 anti-masonic newspapers in the United States. In February, 1828, forty-one Masons, really ex-Masons, led by Baptist pastor David Bernard, author of the popular anti-Masonic Book Rituals and Illustrations of Masonry, met in Le Roy, a small town about ten miles east of Batavia. The group included David Miller, the printer, and George Harris, a partner in the project to print Morgans book. They referred to themselves as "Seceding Masons" and were later known as the Anti-Masonic Society. Speeches were given, Morgans Illustrations of Freemasonry was praised, information purporting to be parts of Masonic ritual were distributed and a committee, including David Miller, was appointed to print further "exposés" of Masonic degrees.
Declaration of Independence
A second meeting of the Anti-Masonic Society was held in March, 1828. Politicians, always looking for a new issue, were now interested. Thurlow Weed (1797-1882), publisher of the Rochester Telegraph and later of the National Anti-Masonic Enquirer, was present. The March meeting adjourned and business was resumed in July [4 and 5] with the adoption of the "Declaration of Independence from the Masonic Institution" which contained eighteen charges against Freemasonry. Those in attendance included the Reverend David Bernard, George Harris, Edward Giddins, David Miller and Thurlow Weed. The contents of the "Declaration" were publicized repeatedly by Soloman Southwick in the "Rochester Observer" and by Thurlow Weed and others elsewhere. A fourth meeting was held in August, in Utica, in which the political aspect of the anti-Masonic movement took shape. A resolution was adopted in which they pledged to "...wholly disregard the two great political parties that at this time distract from the state of the Union, in the choice of candidates for office and to nominate anti-Masonic candidates for Governor and Lieutenant Governor." They also resolved to withhold all support from candidates who were Masons.
Opposition to Freemasonry 10 quickly spread to other states. In Pennsylvania, there were many members of religious groups who were opposed to the taking of oaths, including the Quakers, Lutherans, Mennonites, Dunkards, Moravians and the German Reformed Church. In Vermont, the legislature passed an act forbidding the taking of extrajudicial oaths and Masons were forbidden to hold local offices or be members of juries. In New York, the Anti-Masonic Society had become a political party and began to support candidates as the Anti-Masonic Party. The well-known Thurlow Weed rose to become the acknowledged leader of the party. Weed was born in Cairo, New York on November 15, 1797. He was apprenticed to a printer at the age of 14 and worked there until the beginning of the War of 1812, where he served as a volunteer. After the war he worked as a journalist for several newspapers until 1822, when he became editor of the Rochester Telegraph. He became involved in the Morgan case and later founded the Albany Evening Journal, an anti-Masonic publication which he edited for thirty-three years.
The Anti-Masonic Party in NY
Weed was a skilled politician 4 and, although he declined to hold high political office, was influential in the nominations of presidents Benjamin Harrison and Zachary Taylor. In 1828, the Anti-Masonic Party nominated Soloman Southwick as its candidate for Governor of New York. He received 33,345 votes, but was defeated. In 1829, 22 of its candidates were elected to the New York State Assembly, and one candidate, Albert H. Tracy, was elected to the State Senate. A leading member of the New York Anti-Masonic Party was William Seward, who later served two terms as Governor, served in the United States Senate from 1849 until 1861, and was Abraham Lincolns Secretary of State. He is best remembered today for his role in the purchase of Alaska from Russia. By 1832, the number of Anti-Masons in the New York State Assembly had increased to 33.
Anti-Masons in Pennsylvania
Anti-masonic feeling was also strong in the neighboring state of Pennsylvania. On June 23, 1829, an Anti-Masonic Convention was held in Harrisburg with delegates from 10 of Pennsylvanias 52 counties. The convention was addressed by Richard Whittlesly, who urged the formation of an organized Anti-Masonic Party with a full slate of candidates. Joseph Ritner, their candidate for governor, lost the election, but did surprisingly well. The Anti-Masons elected one Congressman, one state Senator and 15 state Assemblymen, and were elated with their success. The Anti-Masonic representation in the state legislature stayed about the same after the elections of 1831. In 1832, Joseph Ritner again ran for governor, but this time he lost by the narrow margin of only 3,000 votes (91,315 to 88,186.) The strength of the Anti-Masonic vote drew national attention from the major political parties.
Thaddeus Stevens, Rise...
Thaddeus Stevens (born 1792) was elected in 1833 to the Pennsylvania legislature. He was born in Danville, Vermont, was a graduate of Dartmouth College and had been practicing law in Gettysburg. He is remembered today for his role after the Civil War and as a leader in the movement to impeach Lincolns successor, Andrew Johnson (a Mason.) Stevens was a passionate individual who found a cause in anti-Masonry. He almost immediately began introducing bills which attacked Masonry (and the Odd Fellows,) and the controversy this created gave new life to the anti-Masonic movement in Pennsylvania. His first bill included provisions to challenge jurors and judges if they were Masons, and to question a court case in which the defendant and judge were both Masons. The bill was defeated, but the discussion which surrounded it created a new interest in anti-Masonry.
A second bill, entitled, "An act to suppress secret societies bound together by secret and unlawful oaths," included a fine of $100 for anyone administering an oath to initiate or advance someone in a society, and that those present could be compelled to testify. It also required the full disclosure of the societys membership.
There was resistance to the second bill, but it eventually was passed by substituting "Secret Societies" for "Masons" and "Odd Fellows." Joseph Ritner was elected governor in 1835, and Stevens immediately began a furious attack on the Masonic Fraternity. By now the political climate was beginning to change in Pennsylvania, and the public was tiring of Thaddeus Stevens' tirades against the Fraternity. He was defeated in his bid for reelection to the Pennsylvania Legislature in 1836 and Pennsylvanias period of intense anti-Masonic activity ended. There was anti-Masonic activity in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, but not to the degree of the activity in New York and Pennsylvania. In both states the lodges were better organized and better able to resist the anti-Masonic attacks.
Anti-Masonic feelings were very strong in Vermont. In 1831, William A. Palmer, an Anti-Mason, was elected governor. Palmer and his fellow Anti-Masons managed to control the state legislature until 1835, when their vote began to decline. By 1836, Anti-Masonry was no longer an effective force in Vermont.
Seven Devoted Brothers
In 1831, the Anti-Masonic Party held a national nominating convention in Baltimore where thirteen states were represented by 116 delegates. Many of the delegates were in favor of endorsing Henry Clay (a Mason and Past Grand Master of Kentucky, 1820-21) the National Republican candidate, but William Wirt of Maryland (a Mason) was their candidate. Wirt did poorly in the Presidential election, winning only the state of Vermont. The election of 1832 was won by Andrew Jackson, another Mason and Past Grand Master of Tennessee (1822-24). The effect of the anti-Masonic movement on lodge attendance and on the number of lodges was devastating. Immediately after William Morgans disappearance, Batavia Lodge #433 was so divided among the membership that it soon stopped meeting.
Only a few lodges in western New York survived. Olive Branch Lodge No. 39 located in Le Roy, worked throughout this period, and is given credit for saving Freemasonry in Western New York. It was held together by seven devoted brothers. Ark Lodge No. 33, in Geneva, was kept together by seven members who, at times, were required to meet secretly.
From New York to New England
Lodges were entered and desecrated. Lodge records and charters were stolen due to the anti-Masonic hostility.
In 1826, there were 480 Masonic Lodges in the state of New York with a membership of 20,000, but from 1827 until 1835, the number of lodges declined from 228 in 1827 to 49 in 1835. In 1850, the number was back up to 172, and by 1860, there were 432 lodges in New York. The New England states all felt the effects of the anti-Masonic movement: Connecticut lost about half of its constituent lodges. Until 1820, Maine was part of the state of Massachusetts. In 1819, with the statehood of Maine assured, proceedings were begun for the formation of the Grand Lodge of Maine and on June 24, 1820, the Grand Lodge of Maine was formed, consisting of 24 subordinate lodges. Anti-Masonry hit Maine with great force. Almost all of the lodges stopped meeting, and some charters were surrendered. In 1837, only one lodge attended the GL Communication. In 1842, none attended. The Grand Lodge of Maine didn't meet for several years. From 1834 until 1843 no more than four lodges were represented at its meetings.
A Concerted Effort
In 1843, it was decided that anti-Masonry had run its course, and a concerted effort was made to revive Freemasonry. The results were favorable, and sixteen lodges attended Grand Lodge in 1844. Maine lost none of its lodges during this time. Every lodge that had ceased to meet, or had surrendered its charter, was revived.
In 1830, there were 108 Masonic Lodges in Massachusetts. In 1840, the number had dropped to 56, and by 1850, it had risen to only 66. In 1860, there were 116 lodges, 8 more than thirty years before. Feelings against Masonry were strong in Massachusetts, but the anti-Masonic people were frustrated and enraged by the refusal of Masonry to give in to their attacks. An example of this was a public Masonic procession and cornerstone ceremony held in 1830, accompanied by a hooting mob.
New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont also suffered hostilities. Indeed, for a time there was not a single lodge working in the entire State of Vermont, but by 1845, the Vermont Grand Lodge and seven subordinate lodges were working.
The Southern States
In the southern states, anti-Masonry had a lesser effect on Delaware, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Alabama, the District of Columbia, Georgia and Maryland were worse affected. Alabama was severely affected by the anti-Masonic movement. By 1829, about one-third of Alabamas lodges had surrendered their charters. There was no Grand Lodge meeting in 1832, and in 1833, only six lodges were represented at the opening. The Grand Master was not in attendance. There were no Grand Lodge Communications in 1834, 1835 or 1836. In 1836 the six lodges represented decided to reorganize the Grand Lodge with the adoption of a new constitution and the election and installation of new Grand Officers.
By 1860, there were 236 lodges in Alabama.
The Grand Lodge of Georgia was not able to meet in 1833 or 1834. In Maryland, the number of lodges dropped to a low point of 13, and only one lodge is reputed to have worked regularly throughout the entire anti-Masonic era.
In The West
In the west, Michigan was severely affected. The Michigan Grand Lodge suspended work for eleven years and was eventually replaced by a new Grand Lodge.
The number of Masons in Kentucky was cut in half between 1828 and 1840, while the number of lodges dropped from 66 to 37. This decline in membership was primarily due to the anti-Masonic feelings of the time, but many in Kentucky feel that it was at least partly a result of financial problems within the Kentucky Grand Lodge. Anti-Masonic opposition began to decline by 1837, and in 1843, Kentucky Grand Master Henry Wingate stated that Kentucky Freemasonry was in better condition than before the Morgan Incident.
Indiana, Missouri and New Jersey were similarly hit hard. In New Jersey in 1839 the the total attendance at Grand Lodge was 18 Masons. In 1840, the Treasurers report at Grand Lodge showed a balance of $3.54 and in 1842 there were but 8 surviving lodges. When the Grand Lodge of New Jersey celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1887, there were 155 working lodges on the roll.
The Lessons of History
The period of anti-Masonic activity, which lasted from about 1826 until about 1845, was a time when very little if any Masonic activity was being done in the lodges which managed to survive these difficult times.
The older, more experienced brethren were passing away, and, due to the lack of Masonic activity, few were being prepared to take their places. This made the return to normal activity with a degree of uniformity in the ritual work of the various lodges more difficult. With the passing of time, this sad period in the history of Freemasonry has faded from our memories to the pages of our history books. However, from time to time, as has happened in recent years, the ugly specter of anti-Masonry raises its head. Masons can't ignore this.
Hopefully, this recounting of past events will remind us of the possible consequences of indifference.
Written by Bro. David P. Brownback, Providence Lodge No. 298
Reprinted from Masonry Universal, the Masonic eZine, issue 16;
edited by email@example.com
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