The first significant third political party in American history, the Antimasonic Party emerged out of the furor over the abduction and murder of William Morgan, a New York Mason who broke with the Craft in 1825 and wrote a book, Illustrations of Masonry, revealing Masonic rituals. Morgan disappeared in Canandaigua, New York on 12 September 1826, three months before the publication of his book, and was never seen again.

The light sentences meted out to those convicted of Morgan’s abduction shifted attention from Morgan and his fate to claims that Masons had infiltrated state and local governments and could commit crimes with impunity. Public meetings in upstate New York, close to the scene of Morgan’s disappearance, gave rise to an organized movement. In its first days the movement was largely religious in tone, backed by the same conservative churches that have been the core of American antimasonry since colonial times.

By 1828, though, the movement had a more political cast, and set out to drive Masons from public office and pass laws proscribing Masonry. During the brief lifetime of the Antimasonic Party, from 1828 to 1838, it put one candidate in the US Senate, 24 in the House of Representatives, and one each in the governors’ mansions of New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania. In Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania Antimasons launched investigations of Masonry in state legislatures, and in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, the party passed state laws outlawing Masonic oaths.

As a national party, though, the Antimasonic Party failed dismally. It became a real force in only five states (Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Rhode Island) and established significant party organizations in two others (Ohio and Massachusetts). It never penetrated into the southern states at all. In its sole presidential campaign, in 1832, it ran William Wirt of Maryland as its candidate and carried only the state of Vermont. After this fiasco most of its political leaders moved into the new Whig party, helping it to victory over the Democrats in 1840, while its diehard members went on to support the Know-Nothing Party’s crusade against the Catholic Church in the following decade.

Its effects on Masonry in the United States were significant but short-lived. Faced with public pressure, sometimes backed by mob violence, Masonic lodges in the states most affected by the Antimasonic Party went into hiding, and membership in Masonic lodges declined steeply during the late 1830s and early 1840s. After the Antimasonic Party dissolved and its adherents turned their attention to new bogeymen, however, Masonry recovered swiftly, and re-established itself as America’s premier secret society.



The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006