It’s no secret that Freemasonry has its many outspoken and vehement critics across society. From the leaders of the Catholic church to social and political commentators, there are many people willing to openly chastise Freemasonry for a whole variety of reasons.
But in the early nineteenth century in America, there was actually a single-issue party that had the sole objective to denounce and eventually outlaw Freemasonry in America. Let’s take a look at the story behind the formation of the Anti-Masonic party.
The origins of the Anti-Masonic Party.
Founded in 1828, the Anti-Masonic Party [also known as the Anti-Masonic Movement], was established as a direct response to the disappearance of whistle blower William Morgan.
Morgan was a former Mason who was about to publish a book revealing the secrets of Freemasonry, before he mysteriously disappeared, never to be seen or heard from again. Society in general pointed the finger at Masons and believed that his disappearance was the price he paid for speaking out against the fraternity and daring to reveal its secrets.
Freemasons were tried and ultimately convicted for Morgan’s kidnapping, but the sentences they received were deemed too light, and it bred significant resentment towards the way in which the justice system at the time viewed Freemasonry.
As public opinion turned against Freemasonry in the wake of the trial, the Anti-Masonic party was formed to try and channel this resentment and put an end to Freemasonry’s influence in the upper echelons of society.
The party also considered the values and teachings of Freemasonry to be contrary to those of the United States, and they couldn’t see how the two could co-exist harmoniously. They achieved relative success in the 1828 elections and began to take a position on the many other topical issues of the day.
By 1831, the Anti-Masonic party had gained popularity in various states, most notably Vermont and Pennsylvania. At their party conference in Baltimore of that year, they elected William Wirt as their leader, who became an extremely vocal and outspoken critic of Freemasonry in America.
Despite initial rousing successes [particularly Wirt winning the state of Vermont], their single-issue agenda wasn’t enough to convince everyday voters of their suitability for government. After less than a decade in the limelight, the Anti-Masonic party dissipated and focused more on anti-establishment rhetoric, before being fully absorbed by the Whig party in 1840.
Was the party successful?
While they failed in their overall aim of outlawing Freemasonry in America, the Anti-Masonic movement was undoubtedly influential with certain voters in parts of the US. Their stance on the exclusivity and secrecy of Freemasonry struck a chord with regular people, and they were the first to openly criticize the Craft over a sustained period of time. It would be fair to say then, that the Anti-Masonic party upset the natural growth of Freemasonry in America in the first half of the nineteenth century, and was successful in altering public opinion towards the Craft as a direct result of their one-issue mandate.