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Anti-Masonic Party

This political Party, the first "Third Party" in US Politics, was active in some states from about 1827 to 1840. The Anti-Masons appeared in New York State as a political party opposed to Jackson and all secret societies. The Anti-Masonic Party (also known as the Anti-Masonic Movement) was the first "third party" in the United States. It strongly opposed Freemasonry and was founded as a single-issue party aspiring to become a major party. Although lasting only a decade, it introduced important innovations to American politics, such as nominating conventions and the adoption of party platforms.

Masonry is an oath-bound order of men with a secret ritual supposedly based upon the medieval guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders. Freemasonry appeared in Britain's North American colonies within a few years after organization of the (national) Grand Lodge of England in 1717. The first lodge in the colonies probably met in Philadelphia in 1730, but the first body to receive a legal charter from the Grand Lodge of England was St. John's Lodge in Boston, established in 1733. By 1776 there were about 100 lodges in the thirteen colonies, with a membership estimated at somewhere between 1,500 and 5,000-of a total population of 2,500,000.

American Masonry developed at a rapid rate, accelerated by the acceptance of deism and religious freethinking during the previous decade, the weakening offormal church establishment, and the formation ofmilitary lodges during the recent war. The Masonic affiliation of prominent military and political figures, such as George Washington, undoubtedly encouraged other men to lodge membership.

At the time there was but one political party, the Democratic-Republican, but various conditions tended towards formation of a new party. While the Federalists had disappeared as a force in national polities, they retained a hold in some states. New England had never completely entered the Democratic-Republican ranks, and many of the aristocrats of the North kept out of the Democratic-Republican party by their old fear of "Jacobinism." Within the ostensibly solid ranks of the Democratic-Republican party, factions had arisen due to jealousy among leaders. And various sections of the country were becoming arrayed against each other. The economic interests and social ideals of the South, West, and East were different, and these sections were becoming conscious of the fact.

Before Antimasonry became a political party, it existed in New York as a moral crusade with strong religious overtones, being led both by clergy and by concerned laymen. Religious Antimasonry found a forum in Protestant churches as an independent, altruistic, moral crusade characterized by enormous enthusiasm and a deep sense of immediacy. The Antimasonic fervor that swept the Burnedover District was enthusiastically evangelical, its advocates "preaching" with profound conviction, its written materials almost identical to missionary tracts, and its literary style reminiscent of revivalistic sermons.

Many of the leading religious men of the country entered the Anti-Masonic party so that it become for all effects and purposes, a religious party, wielding religion as one of its most effective weapons. Most of the evangelical Antimasons appear to have been orthodox fundamentalists in religious orientation, possessing a strong dislike for the more "liberal" denominations such as Universalism and Unitarianism and worrying about the rise of deism and rationalism in the United States.

In contrast to the generally uninvolved Methodists, Baptists became so preoccupied with the Blessed Spirit that by 1830 they were almost suffering a major schism. Traditionally zealous on any given issue, lacking the central ecclesiastical control of the Methodists and Presbyterians, conducting all affairs with the consent of the church membership, and motivated by Masonic seceders, Baptists achieved the "fullest expression" of Antimasonry among all denominations.

In 1826, William Morgan of Batavia, New York, wrote a book, Illustrations of Masonry, in which he claimed to reveal the secrets of freemasonry. When David Miller, editor of the Republican Advocate, agreed to print and publish the work, several local freemasons resorted to intimidation. Millerís printing works were burned and Miller himself was abducted, but later released unharmed. Morgan, however, was kidnaped and never seen again, alive or dead.

The death of William Morgan, was the occasion of the formation of the Anti-Masonic party. As time went by and no trace of Morgan was found, Elihu Mather and others were charged in connection with his disappearance. When they were acquitted, public outrage mounted and America's first "third party", the Anti-Masonic Party, was founded. Anti-Masonic sentiment, fueled by the publication of Morgan's book, Illustrations of Masonry, 1827 and the very light sentences imposed upon those found guilty of his kidnaping, led Thurlow Weed and others to form the Anti-Masonic Party.

In the 1800ís, American citizens wanted more direct involvement in politics. So, delegates, who were selected by party members at the state or county level, were given the duty of selecting a presidential candidate instead of congressional caucuses. The first nominating convention was held in September 1831 by the Anti-Masonic Party in Baltimore, Maryland.

William Wirt in 1832, and William Henry Harrison in 1836 were its presidential candidates. William H. Seward, Millard Fillmore, Thaddeus Stevens, Joseph Ritner, and Thurlow Weed, were members of that party. William Wirt won enduring fame for his performance at the Burr trial, but in later years he achieved even greater prominence in law and literature. In 1817, President Monroe appointed him U.S. attorney general, a post he held for twelve years.

His opposition to the Jackson administration led to his nomination as president by the Anti-Masonic party inMasons in general were assumed to naturally be in opposition to "Jacksonian Democracy," but circumstances forced most of them into the ranks of Jackson. President Andrew Jackson, himself a Mason, was the only one of the great national leaders who dared support the Order openly. On one occasion, he declared that "the Masonic Society was an institution calculated to benefit mankind and trusted it would continue to prosper."

Second, Masons joined the Democratic party in response to the coalition between the Anti-Masons and the National Republicans, (the other Anti-Jackson party in 1832), especially in New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Later, it became clear that the Anti-Masonic party was essentially an Anti-Jackson party, and Masons returned to the National Republican ranks and worked with such Anti-Masonic leaders as Thurlow Weed.

Some time after the election of 1836, the party was absorbed by the Whigs. Except in Pennsylvania, Antimasonry was a little more than memory by 1837, although three sham "national" conventions in 1836, 1837, and 1838 attempted to present the illusion of a national party. In the Keystone State, Thaddeus Stevens kept the cause alive as late as 1843 through his forceful personality, organizational ability, and the publicity generated by his infamous but nonproductive legislative investigation of Masonry in 1835-1836.

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