Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Anti-Masonic Party - The First Third Party and Its Influence on Modern Politics


William Morgan, a brickmason, that lived in Batavia, NY from 1824 to 1826, vanished on the night of September 11, 1826, after he was released from jail, where he was being held for failing to pay a debt of $2.68. Morgan's sudden disappearance created a large and wide spread anti-Masonic movement based upon suspicions that members of the Freemasons conspired to abduct and murder Morgan over a manuscript he had contracted to write that he claimed would reveal the secret rituals of Freemasonry.  This anti-Masonic sentiment would lead to the creation of America's first "third party".

Records indicate William Morgan attended Masonic lodge in NY and even helped perform Masonic rituals, though no records exist that show he was ever "raised" as a Master Mason.  This lead many experts to believe that Morgan had lied his way into the order known for its secrets.  These same experts believe Morgan's deception was eventually discovered and led to his expulsion, giving rise to Morgan's desire to seek revenge.

Morgan approached local newspaper operator, David C. Miller, about his Masonic book idea.  Miller was  a Mason of more than 20 yrs, but never passed beyond an Entered Apprentice, the first degree of Masonry.  His progression in the order was blocked by other lodge members.  It is believed that Miller's resentment over this led him to view Morgan's proposal favorably.  Soon after Morgan, Miller, and two other men entered into a half a million dollar penal bond to produce the book and pay Morgan one fourth of the books proceeds.

In the days and weeks leading up to Morgan's disappearance he was reportedly the target of harassment by Masons who wished to see his project halted.  The Batavia lodge published an advertisement denouncing Morgan.  Unknown assailants also tried to burn down Miller's newspaper office.  Finally, a group of Masons gathered outside Morgan's home and claimed he had failed to pay debts he owed them.  Morgan was  arrested on these claims.

Miller, hearing of Morgan's arrest, paid the alleged debts and Morgan was set free.  Just a few hours later Morgan was rearrested after another individual claimed Morgan owed him $2.68.  What happened next is a matter of great dispute.

Thurlow Weed, who would go on to become a prominent member of the Anti-Masonic Party, alleged Masons kidnapped and murdered Morgan.  On his death bed he claimed one of the perpetrators had even confessed the crime to him, describing how they took him by boat to the center of a river, bound him in chains and threw him in.  However, some elements of Weed's claims contradicted some of the facts in the case.  At one point, Weed was even accused of disguising a body found in the same river to look like Morgan, the body was later correctly identified to be the husband of a Canadian woman.

Three masons eventually plead guilty to conspiring to kidnap Morgan.  However, their stories over what occurred diverged drastically from Weed's theories.  They claimed to have made a prior agreement with Morgan whereby he was to receive $500 and safe passage to Canada, never to return again, in exchange for staging his arrest and kidnapping to help him get out of his obligation to write his book critical of Masonry.

Much like today, the mystery surrounding Morgan's vanishing intrigued the nation.  Masons found themselves the targets of rampant discrimination as friends, brothers, sons, and fathers found themselves on opposite sides of the debate.  Churches began expelling Freemason members.  Schools began denying education to the children of Freemasons.

More and more people became suspicious of Freemasonry. Seeing that many sheriffs, judges, and legislators were Masons, an anti-Masonic political feeling grew that would quickly evolve into the Anti-Masonic Party.  The primary purpose of this new party was to defeat political candidates that were Masons and limit Masonic influence in the society.

The Anti-Masonic Party was strongest in New York, though they did manage to elect two governors in nearby states.  The party even put forth its own presidential candidate in 1832, that managed to garner nearly 8% of the vote and all of Vermont's electoral votes.  By 1838, the party vanished, though a second Anti-Masonic Party emerged again briefly in 1872.

While the Anti-Masonic Party was short lived, its influence over American politics was long lasting.  The Anti-Masonic Party was the first to hold nominating conventions, which are now common place in both the Democrat and Republican parties.  The Anti-Masonic Party, credited as the first third party in the country, was also the first to put forth the idea of a party platform, expecting its candidates adhere to anti-Masonic principles and other policies.

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