Nine Masons signed the Declaration of Independence, 13 helped draft and ratify the Constitution, George Washington and James Monroe were Masons, and for that matter so was Andrew Jackson. So was Henry Clay! Even the South American Washington, Simon Bolivar, was a Mason. All four of Napoleon’s brothers joined Edmund Burke, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Voltaire, Ben Franklin, and innumerable other important artists, philosophers, and scientists in the fraternity.
Hugins, Walter. Jacksonian Democracy and the Working Class: A Study of the New York Workingmen’s Movement, 1829-1837. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. 1960.
Pessen, Edward. Jacksonian America: Society, Personality, and Politics. Homewood, Illinois: The Dorsey Press. 1969.
Wilentz, Sean. Chants Democratic: New York City & the Rise of the American Working Class, 1768-1850. New York: Oxford University Press. 1984.
Music by Kai Engel
Anthony Comegna:William Morgan was born in Virginia round about the same time the Continental Congress was debating independence, 1775 or 1776. He began life as a builder, a stonemason, and dabbled in commerce. In 1821, he moved his family to Canada, but when a fire destroyed his brewery, he had to return to masonry. [00:00:30] Morgan went back to America, hopping through a series of upstate New York towns. Gradually, a rumor sprung up to follow him. Morgan was about to publish the Freemasons’ darkest and most tightly controlled secrets, the ancient knowledge and powers conferred through initiation rituals and coded into their workmanship. Morgan planned to expose it all to the general public. In August 1826, a Canandaigua, New York, paper advertised Morgan’s plans, and [00:01:00] the Masons’ desire to silence him. Acting and the name of trumped up debt and theft charges, a group of Rochester Masons invaded Morgan’s home, seized him, and took him for holding at the sheriff’s office. The Masons told Mrs. Morgan they would hold her husband until she turned over his papers.
On September 12th, though, an armed Masonic mob broke in, stuffed him into a carriage, and dashed off to Fort Niagara. Morgan supposedly got off a single shout of “Murder!” but he was [00:01:30] never seen in public again. A year later, a decomposing body wearing his clothing beached off Lake Ontario. It appeared obvious to many that Morgan had been ritually murdered according to the ancient rites and usages of the fraternal order of Freemasons. Welcome to Liberty Chronicles, a project of Libertarianism.org. I’m Anthony Comegna.
[00:02:00] Some Masons claimed they paid Morgan $500 to leave the country. Others denied the order had anything to do with it or that the abduction simply never happened, despite several eyewitnesses’ testimony. Most Masons wondered why anyone should care what happened to a renegade brother like Morgan. He knew what he was signing up for. He knew that every Mason took an oath of secrecy, and if he broke it, he would be subject to execution by drowning and burial underwater. [00:02:30] Their fraternity was no joke, and Morgan had broken his vows. The network of lodges in upstate New York was so thick and powerful that his murder went unsolved and few officials seemed concerned about his fate.
In response, wave after wave of anti-Masonry broke upon the countryside. The first shouts of conspiracy and illuminati came from the Hill Districts where residents already hated urban influences on their state. Anti-Masonry poured from the hills to the valleys, [00:03:00] spreading from town to town, matching the religious fervor that left western New York burned over in the same decade. Everywhere, up sprung anti-Masonic societies, social networks, newspapers, and even the country’s first proper modern political party.
While Van Buren’s buck-tails were chartering Jacksonian politics, the anti-Masons were pioneering a different sort of populism. Rather than offering more white men the opportunity to join the ruling class, the anti-Masons wanted to expose those who [00:03:30] ruled and the codes they actually lived by, and the job was no easy task. Nine Masons signed the Declaration of Independence. Thirteen helped draft and ratify the Constitution. George Washington and James Monroe were Masons, and, for that matter, so was Andrew Jackson. So was Henry Clay. Even the South American Washington, Simon Bolivar, was a Mason. All four of Napoleon’s brothers joined Edmund Burke, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, and innumerable other [00:04:00] important artists, philosophers, and scientists in the fraternity.
Van Buren’s New York nemesis, Governor DeWitt Clinton, was a Mason, as was the King of England, George the IV, and his predecessor, William the IV. It was rumored that James Madison was briefly a Mason, but James K. Polk certainly was. Of course, international financier, Nathan Mayer Rothschild, was a Mason, but so was Colonel Travis, whose fighting at the Alamo was almost a decade away when Morgan disappeared.
[00:04:30] For all those alarmed by the Masons’ ability to murder with impunity, this cast of famous and important members seemed almost unstoppable. Even Paul Revere was a Mason, but now it was time for those who saw the danger to raise the alarm. As anti-Masonry flooded New York, it spread to New England where it touched virtually every town where anyone harbored resentment, resentment against the unnumbered and unseen forces with ever-growing control [00:05:00] of the world’s historical direction, where deeply evangelical religion, country democracy, and popular egalitarianism prevailed. Anti-Masonry gained a strong foothold. The movement was strongest in Vermont, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. Thanks largely to their bottom up intellectual and social activism, thousands of lodges closed from neglect by disaffected members, like the seceding Masons who met in convention at Le Roy, New York.
[00:05:30] On July 4th, 1828, the convention published its members’ Declaration of Independence from the Masonic Order.
Speaker 2:Light on Masonry, edited by Elder David Bernard, 1829. Declaration of the Seceding Masons Convention. When men attempt to dissolve a system, which has influenced and governed a part of community and by its intentions to antiquity, usefulness and virtue, would demand the respect of all, it is proper [00:06:00] to submit to the consideration of a candid and impartial world, the causes which impel them to such a course. We, seceders from the Masonic institution, availing ourselves of our natural and unalienable rights and the privileges guaranteed to us by our Constitution, freely to discuss the principles of our government and laws, and to expose whatever may endanger the one or impede the due administration of the other, do offer the following reasons for endeavoring to abolish the Order of Freemasonry and destroy its influence in our [00:06:30] government.
In all arbitrary governments, free inquiry has been restricted as fatal to the principles upon which they were based. In all ages of the world, tyrants have found it necessary to shackle the minds of their subjects, to enable them to control their actions, for experience ever taught that the free mind ever exerts a moral power that resists all attempts to enslave it. However, forms of government heretofore have buried the right to act and speak without a controlling power has never been permitted. Our ancestors, who imbibed [00:07:00] principles of civil and religious liberty, fled to America to escape persecution, and when Britain attempted to encroach upon the free exercise of those principles, our fathers hesitated not to dissolve their odes of allegiance to the mother country and declare themselves free and independent and exulting millions of freeman, yet bless their memories for the deed.
A new theory of government was reduced to practice in the formation of the American Republic. It involved in its structure principles of equal rights and equal [00:07:30] privileges and was based on the eternal foundation of public good. It protects the weak, restrains the powerful, and extends its honors and emoluments to the meritorious of every condition. It should have been the pride of every citizen to preserve this noble structure in all its beautiful symmetry and proportions, but the principle of self aggrandizement, the desire to control the destinies of others, and luxuriate in their spoils, unhappily still inhabits the human breast. Many attempts have already been made to impair [00:08:00] the freedom of our institutions and subvert our government, but they have been met by the irresistible power of public opinion and indignation, and crushed.
In the meantime, the Masonic society has been silently growing among us, whose principles and operations are calculated to subvert and destroy the great and important principles of the commonwealth. Before and during the revolutionary struggle, Masonry was but little known and practiced in this country. It was lost amid the changes and confusion of the conflicting nations and was reserved for [00:08:30] a time of profound peace, to wind and insinuate itself into every department of government, and influence the result of almost every proceeding. Like many other attempts to overturn government and destroy the liberties of the people, it has chosen a time when the suspicions of men were asleep and with a noiseless tread, in the darkness and silence of the night, has increased its strength and extended its power.
Not yet content with its original powers and influence, it has of late received the aid of foreign and more arbitrary [00:09:00] systems. With this accumulation of strength, it arrived at that formidable crisis when it bid open defiance to the laws of our country in the abduction and murder of an unoffending citizen of the republic. So wicked was this transaction, so extensive its preparation, and so openly justified, that it aroused the energies of an insulted people, whose exertions have opened the hidden recesses of this abode of darkness and mystery, and mankind may now view its power, its wickedness, and [00:09:30] folly.
Anthony Comegna:Mimicking Jefferson’s famous train of abuses against the King in Parliament, the seceding Masons listed their own grievances against secret societies, the odes and obligations that bound them, and the anti-democratic nature of these beasts.
Speaker 2: But it is opposed to the genius and design of this government, the spirit and precepts of our holy religion and the welfare of society generally, will appear from the following considerations:
It exercises jurisdiction [00:10:00] over the persons and lives of citizens of the republic.
It arrogates to itself the right of punishing its members for offenses unknown to the laws of this or any other nation.
It requires the concealment of crime, and protects the guilty from punishment.
It encourages the commission of crime, by affording to the guilty facilities of escape.
It affords opportunities for the corrupt and designing to form plans against the government and the lives and characters of individuals.
It assumes titles and dignities [00:10:30] incompatible with a republican form of government, and enjoins an obedience to them derogatory to republican principles.
It destroys all principles of equality, by bestowing favors on its own members to the exclusion of others equally meritorious and deserving.
It create odious aristocracies by its obligations to support the interests of its members, in preference to others of equal qualifications.
It blasphemes the name, and attempts a personification of the Great Jehovah.
[00:11:00] It prostitutes the Sacred Scriptures to unholy purposes, to subserve its own secular and trifling concerns.
It weakens the sanctions of morality and religion, by the multiplication of profane oaths, and an immoral familiarity with religious forms and ceremonies.
It discovers in its ceremonies an unholy commingling of divine truth with impious human inventions.
It destroys a veneration for religion and religious ordinances, by the profane use of religious [00:11:30] forms.
It substitutes the self-righteousness and ceremonies of Masonry for the vital religion and ordinances of the Gospel.
It promotes habits of idleness and intemperance, by its members neglecting their business to attend its meetings and drink its libations.
It accumulates funds at the expense of indigent persons, and to the distress of their families, too often to be dissipated in rioting and pleasure and its senseless ceremonies and exhibitions.
It contracts the sympathies [00:12:00] of the human heart for all the unfortunate, by confining its charities to its own members and promotes the interests of a few at the expense of the many.
An institution, thus fraught with so many and great evils, is dangerous to our government and the safety of our citizens, and is unfit to exist among a free people. We, therefore, believing it a duty we owe to God, our country and to posterity, resolve to expose its mystery, wickedness, and tendency, to public view, [00:12:30] and we exhort all citizens who have a love of country, and a veneration for its laws, a spirit of our holy religion, and a regard for the welfare of our mankind, to aid us in the cause which we have espoused, and appealing to almighty God for the rectitude of our motives, we solemnly absolve ourselves from all allegiance to the Masonic institution, and declare ourselves free and independent, and in support of these resolutions, our government and laws, and the safety of individuals [00:13:00] against the usurpations of all secret societies and open force, and against the vengeance of the Masonic institution, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.
July 4, 1828
Anthony Comegna: But in all their democratic fervor against the aristocratic wire-pulling conspirators running their world, the anti-Masons could see no further than outing [00:13:30] Masons in the press and electing a president to root them out of government. Then, everything would be fine. In the first national party convention ever held in America, the anti-Masons nominated William Wirt for president. Wirt was a Mason from Maryland. He’d been Attorney General for Monroe and Adams and a strong opponent of Andrew Jackson. Wirt joined the new party at the last possible moment, along with other anti-Jacksonians, like William Seward and Thurlow Weed, both of whom became key members [00:14:00] of the later Whig party. These men were, first and foremost, political opportunists, little different from their pro-Mason colleagues in the major parties. Remember, by 1832, there still was no real Whig party, and the Wirts and Weeds of the world would do anything to become the leaders of all anti-Jackson men. When he was nominated in 1831, Wirt literally shook and trembled with excitement. He, too, was now one of the era’s new men [00:14:30] of politics. Anti-Masonry destroyed the vast majority of Masonic power, but once the movement became a political party, it was just another mechanism for politicians to jockey past one another. In 1836, the anti-Masonic party nominated a slate composed entirely of Whigs. While anti-Masonry burned its way through upstate New York, city dwellers down south began organizing to voice their own special set of concerns. [00:15:00] Historian Edward Pessen wrote of the workingman’s movement, “Bursting forth like a meteor only to fall to Earth in the space of a few years.” Philadelphia Mechanics and Artisans founded the first workingman’s party in 1828, and similar organizations quickly appeared everywhere. Most of the groups expressed the same fundamental idea. America did not escape the feudalism of Europe. We have our own divisions of classes, the wealthy who rule and the poor who labor. [00:15:30] Those first Philadelphians were members of the Mechanics Union of Trade Associations. Workingman’s party meetings nationwide often looked and sounded more like union meetings than political events. They included utopian socialists, anti-monopoly democrats, and reformist anti-Jacksonians who might, otherwise, have been Whigs.
Ninety percent of candidates nominated in Philadelphia were wealthy or well-connected, but in New York, most of the party’s voters came from poor neighborhoods. There [00:16:00] were a few humble mechanics who rose to prominence in the party for their ideas and passion. There were also rich and influential figures who joined average people in their struggles for a shorter workday or the right to organize themselves.
Each new city and each new local party brought a different set of issues to the political battleground, but at the center of the workingman’s grievances, there stood the monopoly banks, secretly sponging the life force from working people, like mushrooms on [00:16:30] a log.
The anti-Masons had their pet conspiracy theory, which, by the way, was at least partially real, and the workingmen had their own, also partially real.
Jackson vetoed the second bank of the United States, but now the state banks, many run by democrats, were more powerful and harmful than ever. Jackson’s bank war was still too little. Smash the first great monster and a dozen hydra-heads sprouted up to replace it.
[00:17:00] In New York City, the interests of state bankers were represented by both Whigs and the conservative democrats who ran Tammany Hall. There was little hope of pulling the whole Whig party toward workingman’s principles, but the Jackson movement was ripe for their class-oriented message.
After a brief period of success in the 1829 elections, the workingman fractured and became absorbed into the democratic party during the bank war. The same story played out in different ways [00:17:30] in most cities with the workingman’s presence. Within five years, most workingmen became democrats. Their old grievances gained new political purchase in a major party, but at the cost of independence from the Tammany machine.
The anti-Masons and the workingmen created flash in the pan political parties, but their intellectual, social, economic, and cultural contributions to American life were profound and are with us still. With different, though often [00:18:00] overlapping, conspiracy theories of history and politics, both movements cut to the root of Jacksonian mythology. If this was the great democratic age, that magical time when common people had a real shot at success and achievement, then why did so few people control so much about American life. If elites wielded political power, thanks to democratic elections, but decisions were actually made in secret, [00:18:30] according to the politicians, individual’s self interests, then America really was a class-based society.
There were the rulers and the rest of us, the privileged and the people. If the purpose of the two parties was maintaining and riding that divide into office, then rank and file anti-Masons and workingmen wanted to abolish social distinctions as much as possible. From these two elemental sources arose [00:19:00] the first identifiably libertarian political movement in American history, the Locofoco or equal rights party.
Liberty Chronicles is a project of Libertarianism.org. It is produced by Tess Terrible. If you’ve enjoyed this episode of Liberty Chronicles, please rate, review, and subscribe to us on iTunes. For more information on Liberty Chronicles, visit Libertarianism.org.