Anti-Masonic Party

Last updated
Anti-Masonic Party
Leader Solomon Southwick
Thurlow Weed
William Wirt
John Quincy Adams
FoundedFirst: February 1828 (February 1828)
Second: 1872
DissolvedFirst: December 1840 (December 1840)
Second: 1888
Merged into Whig Party
Headquarters Albany, New York
NewspaperAnti-Masonic Enquirer
National Observer
Albany Journal
Ideology American School
Anti-Masonry [1]
Political position Right-wing to far-right
Religion Protestantism [2]
Colors     Yellow

The Anti-Masonic Party, also known as the Anti-Masonic Movement, was the first third party in the United States. [3] It strongly opposed Freemasonry as a single-issue party and later aspired to become a major party by expanding its platform to take positions on other issues. After emerging as a political force in the late 1820s, most of the Anti-Masonic Party's members joined the Whig Party in the 1830s and the party disappeared after 1838.


The party was founded in the aftermath of the disappearance of William Morgan, a former Mason who had ultimately become a prominent critic of the Masonic organization. Many believed that the Masons had murdered Morgan for speaking out against Masonry and subsequently many churches and other groups condemned Masonry. As many Masons were prominent businessmen and politicians, the backlash against the Masons was also a form of anti-elitism. Mass opposition to Masonry eventually coalesced into a political party. Before and during the presidency of John Quincy Adams, there was a period of political realignment. The Anti-Masons emerged as an important third-party alternative to Andrew Jackson's Democrats and Adams's National Republicans. In New York, the Anti-Masons supplanted the National Republicans as the primary opposition to the Democrats.

After experiencing unexpected success in the 1828 elections, the Anti-Masons began to adopt positions on other issues, most notably support for internal improvements and a protective tariff. Several Anti-Masons, including William A. Palmer and Joseph Ritner, won election to prominent positions. In states such as Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, the party controlled the balance of power in the state legislature and provided crucial support to candidates for the Senate. In 1831, the party held the first presidential nominating convention, a practice that was subsequently adopted by all major parties. The convention chose former attorney general William Wirt as the party's standard bearer in the 1832 presidential election and Wirt won 7.8% of the popular vote and carried Vermont.

As the 1830s progressed, many of the Anti-Masonic Party's supporters joined the Whig Party, which sought to unite those opposed to the policies of President Jackson. The Anti-Masonic Party held a national convention in 1835, nominating William Henry Harrison, but a second convention announced that the party would not officially support a candidate. Harrison campaigned as a Whig in the 1836 presidential election and his relative success in the election encouraged further migration of Anti-Masons to the Whig Party. By 1840, the party had ceased to function as a national organization. In subsequent decades, former Anti-Masonic candidates and supporters such as Millard Fillmore, William H. Seward, Thurlow Weed and Thaddeus Stevens would become well-known members of the Whig Party.



William Morgan, whose disappearance and probable death led to creation of the Anti-Masonic Party William Morgan (anti-Mason).jpg
William Morgan, whose disappearance and probable death led to creation of the Anti-Masonic Party

The opponents of Freemasonry formed a political movement after the Morgan affair convinced them the Masons were murdering men who spoke out against them. [4] This key episode was the mysterious 1826 disappearance of William Morgan, a Freemason in upstate New York who had turned against the Masons. [5]

Morgan claimed to have been made a member of the Masons while living in Canada [6] and he appears to have briefly attended a lodge in Rochester. [7] 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. [8] [9] Whether he actually received these degrees and if so from where has not been determined for certain. [7] [8]

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. [10] Angered by the rejection, Morgan announced that he was going to publish an exposé titled Illustrations of Masonry, [11] critical of the Freemasons and describing their secret degree ceremonies in detail. [12]

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. [13] 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. [14]

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. [15] The generally believed version of events was that Masons killed Morgan by drowning him in the Niagara River. [16] [17] Whether he fled or was murdered, Morgan's disappearance led many to believe that Freemasonry was in conflict with good citizenship. [18]

Because judges, businessmen, bankers and politicians were often Masons, ordinary citizens began to think of it as an elitist group. [19] Moreover, many claimed that the lodges' secret oaths bound Masons to favor each other against outsiders in the courts and elsewhere. [20]

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. [21] 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 considered 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". [22]

Party foundation

Thurlow Weed, newspaper editor who helped form the Anti-Masonic Party Thurlow Weed - Brady-Handy.jpg
Thurlow Weed, newspaper editor who helped form the Anti-Masonic Party

The Anti-Masonic Party was formed in Upstate New York in February 1828. [23] 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. [24] Many people regarded the Masonic organization and its adherents involved in government as corrupt. [25] [26]

Opposition to Masonry was taken up by some churches as a religious cause, particularly in what became known as the Burned-over district. [27] 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. [28]

Solomon Southwick, newspaper publisher and 1828 Anti-Masonic candidate for Governor of New York Solomon Southwick.jpg
Solomon Southwick, newspaper publisher and 1828 Anti-Masonic candidate for Governor of New York

Anti-Masonry also became a political issue in Western New York, where early in 1827 many mass meetings resolved not to support Masons for public office. [29] 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. Adams supporters used 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. [30] 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. [31] The alleged remark of Anti-Masonic 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. [32]

Political rise

In the elections of 1828, the new party proved unexpectedly strong. [33] Though its candidate for Governor of New York, Solomon Southwick, was defeated, the Anti-Masonic Party became the main opposition party to the Jacksonian Democrats in New York. [34] In 1829, it broadened its issues base when it became a champion of internal improvements and the protective tariff. [35]

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. [36] [37] [38] The newspapers of the time reveled in partisanship and one brief paragraph in an Albany Journal article opposing Martin Van Buren included the words "dangerous", "demagogue", "corrupt", "degrade", "pervert", "prostitute", "debauch" and "cursed". [39]

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. [33]

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. [33] In 1831, William A. Palmer was elected Governor of Vermont on an Anti-Masonic ticket, an office he held until 1835. [40] 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. [41] [42] [43] Other Vermont Anti-Masonic electors in 1832 included former governor Ezra Butler and former United States representative William Strong. [44]

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 1839. [45]

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. [40] [46]

Former Mason William Wirt won Vermont's Electoral College votes in the 1832 presidential election for the Anti-Masonic Party Attorney General William Wirt.jpg
Former Mason William Wirt won Vermont's Electoral College votes in the 1832 presidential election for the Anti-Masonic Party

Though the Anti-Masonic Party elected no 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; [47] [48] and William Sprague, elected Speaker of the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 1831 by a coalition of Democrats and Anti-Masons. [49]

Amos Ellmaker, 1832 Anti-Masonic candidate for Vice President Amos Ellmaker.jpg
Amos Ellmaker, 1832 Anti-Masonic candidate for Vice President

The Anti-Masonic Party conducted the first presidential nominating convention in the United States 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. [50] Soon the Democrats and Whigs recognized the convention's value in managing parties and campaigns and began to hold their own. [51]

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. [52] 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. [53] 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. [54] 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. [55]

Although Harrison lost the election to Democratic candidate Martin Van Buren 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. [56] 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. [57] The Anti-Masonic Party held a conference in September 1837 to discuss its situation—one delegate was former president John Quincy Adams. [58]

The Anti-Masonic Party held a third national nominating convention at Temperance Hall in Philadelphia on November 13–14, 1838. [59] 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, with most adherents being fully absorbed into the Whigs by 1840. [60] [61]


Jonathan Blanchard, 1884 presidential candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party's second incarnation Jonathan Blanchard.png
Jonathan Blanchard, 1884 presidential candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party's second incarnation

Scholars have identified the Anti-Masonic Party as "the first right-wing reactionary movement in American politics." [62] Anti-Masonry emerged from the anger against the rapid economic modernization and geographic expansion that took place in the United States during the 1820s and 1830s. [62] In addition, it was deeply committed to conspiracy theories, primarily the claim that Masonic elites secretly controlled America. [62]

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. [63] With Freemasonry one of the few institutions that remained stable during this time of change, it became a natural target for protesters. [64] As a result, the Morgan Affair became the catalyst that turned the movement against Freemasons into a political party. [65]

Under the banner of Anti-Masons, able leaders united Anti-Jacksonians and others who were discontented with existing political conditions. [66] 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. [61]

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. [51] 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. [67]

Second 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. [68]

Members of Congress

Grattan H. Wheeler, Anti-Masonic congressman from New York Grattan H. Wheeler, Sr.jpg
Grattan H. Wheeler, Anti-Masonic congressman from New York

The Anti-Masons did not elect anyone to the Senate, but elected several members of the House of Representatives. [69]

New York
Rhode Island

Notable office holders and candidates

President Millard Fillmore's political career began as an Anti-Masonic member of the New York State Assembly in 1829 Millard Fillmore at National Portrait Gallery IMG 4491.JPG
President Millard Fillmore's political career began as an Anti-Masonic member of the New York State Assembly in 1829

Electoral history

Presidential elections

ElectionCandidateRunning mateVotesVote %Electoral votes+/-Outcome of election
1832 William Wirt Amos Ellmaker 100,7157.8
7 / 286
1836 [lower-alpha 1] Not presented
1840 [lower-alpha 2] Not presented
1880 John W. Phelps Samuel C. Pomeroy 1,0450.01
0 / 369
  1. Endorsed William H. Harrison as President and Francis Granger as Vice President.
  2. Initially endorsed Harrison as President and Daniel Webster as Vice President, it later merged into the Whig Party until election.

Congressional elections

  1. Office left vacant when Calhoun resigned to become Senator on December 28, 1832.

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