Washington Post: How an abduction by the `mysterious` Freemasons led to a third political party

The Washington Post

Oct. 21, 2018

Washington Post: How an abduction by the mysterious Freemasons led to a third political party – the nation’s first
The ‘bizzarre’ history of ‘the’ Anti-Masonic Party

A group portrait of Freemasons of Anglo-Saxon Lodge in ceremonial dress. (Library of Congress)

By Robert Mitchell

William Morgan believed he had a big story to tell. What happened to him ended up being even bigger.

Morgan was poised to expose what he said were the dark secrets of the Freemasons, a fraternal order that over the years counted 21 signatories of the Declaration of Independence and George Washington as members.

The occasionally disturbing language of Masonic ritual as described by Morgan seemed to validate these fears. Applicants vowed to “[bind] myself under no less penalty, than to have my throat cut across, my tongue torn out by the roots, and my body buried in the rough sands of the sea at low water mark,” according to Morgan’s book. Candidates for the rank of third-degree Mason were required to acknowledge that failing to adhere to the order’s secrecy requirement would justify having “my body severed in two” and “my bowels burned to ashes.”

Morgan’s publishing plans aroused the ire of local Freemasons, some of whom apparently took their vows of silence literally rather than figuratively.
What happened next sounds like something from a Dan Brown novel.

As word spread about the book, Morgan’s prospective publisher was threatened. Morgan was jailed on trumped-up charges involving a debt of $2.69 and abducted upon his release, screaming “murder” as he was taken away, according to historian William Preston Vaughn. His kidnappers, Vaughn writes, were the head of the Masonic lodge at Canandaigua, N.Y., and two other Masons.

The aspiring author was never seen again and was widely believed to have been killed by his captors. Vaughn argues that they probably intended to smuggle him into Canada but killed him when that plan fell through.

Subsequent efforts over the next five years to prosecute those responsible produced a handful of convictions and sentences no longer than 28 months, which fanned the flames of anti-Masonic hysteria. “The question of one man’s fate was translated into public concern as to whether there existed a secret society powerful enough and to prevent punishment of the Morgan collaborators,” according to Vaughn.

Members of Masonic lodges “are held in allegiance to an unauthorised government and code of laws,” Pennsylvania Anti-Masons warned in 1831. “[W]ithout attacking Masonry by means of the Ballot Box, where it is entrenched behind the political patronage and power of the government, all efforts to destroy its usurpations on the rights and privileges of the people must fail.”

But where Masons saw benevolence, their foes saw danger. “At this very moment, its foot is on the neck of our liberties,” the Expositor newspaper of Wilmington, Del., editorialized in 1832.
In the aftermath of Morgan’s disappearance, legislative candidates who ran against the Freemasons showed surprising strength in New York, according to historian Charles McCarthy. As the National Republican Party led by President John Quincy Adams began to collapse, opposition to Freemasonry seemed to offer a viable basis for a new political organization.

Among those drawn to the movement was William Seward, then an aspiring young politician who rose to prominence in later decades as a Republican senator from New York and as secretary of state for President Abraham Lincoln. Seward was elected to the state Senate in 1830 as an anti-Masonic candidate and attended an anti-Masonic convention in Philadelphia later that year, according to Seward biographer Walter Stahr.

Adams was another prominent foe of Freemasonry. Although he stopped short of enlisting in the third party, he shared its suspicions. “That [Freemasonry] is a most pernicious institution I am profoundly convinced,” Adams wrote in his diary in November 1831, “and how it has arisen and grown, and spread over the world, and drawn into its vortex so many wise and good and great men is scarcely credible.”

Two months before Adams confided to his diary, a gathering of anti-Masonic politicians in Baltimore pondered the same question. The proceedings “were replete with reports and addresses on the self-assigned task of curbing if not extirpating Masonry as an element in the public life of the nation,” William S. Odlin wrote in The Washington Post in 1930.

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