Anti-Masonic Party

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Anti-Masonic Party
Founded 1828 (1828)
Dissolved 1838 (1838)
Preceded by Federalist Party unofficially
Succeeded by Whig Party unofficially
Ideology Anti-Masonry
Economic nationalism
Social conservatism
Politics of the United States
Political parties

The Anti-Masonic Party (also known as the Anti-Masonic Movement) was the first "third party" in the United States.1 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.


The Anti-Masonic Party was formed in upstate New York in 1828. Anti-masons were opponents of Freemasonry, believing that it was a corrupt and elitist secret society which was attempting to rule the country in defiance of republican principles. These opponents came together to form a political party after the Morgan affair convinced them the Masons were murdering men who spoke out against them. This key episode was the mysterious 1826 disappearance of William Morgan, a Freemason of Batavia, New York. Morgan had been a member of the lodge in Rochester, New York, but was denied admission in Batavia,2 and intended to retaliate by publishing a book detailing the secrets of the Freemasons. When his intentions became known to the lodge, an attempt was made to burn down the publishing house. In September 1826 Morgan was seized and disappeared.3

The event created great excitement and led many to believe that that Freemasonry was in conflict with good citizenship. Because judges, businessmen, bankers, and politicians were often Masons, ordinary citizens began to think of it as an elitist group. Moreover, many claimed that the lodges' secret oaths bound the brethren to favor each other against outsiders, in the courts as well as elsewhere. Because the trial of the Morgan conspirators was mishandled, and the Masons resisted further inquiries, many New Yorkers concluded that Masons "controlled key offices and used their official authority to promote the goals of the fraternity. When a member sought to reveal its 'secrets', so ran the conclusion, they had done away with him, and because they controlled the officials, were capable of obstructing the investigation. If good government was to be restored all Masons must be purged from public office".4 They considered the Masons to be an exclusive organization taking unfair advantage of common folk and violating the essential principles of democracy. True Americans, they said, had to organize and defeat this conspiracy.

Formation of a political party

Opposition to Masonry was taken up by the churches as a sort of religious crusade, and it also became a local political issue in Western New York, where, early in 1827, the citizens in many mass meetings resolved to support no Mason for public office.

In New York at this time the faction supporting President John Quincy Adams, called "Adams men," or the "Anti-Jackson" faction, were a very feeble organization, and shrewd political leaders at once determined to utilize the strong anti-Masonic feeling in creating a new and vigorous party to oppose the rising Jacksonian Democracy. In this effort they were aided by the fact that Andrew Jackson was a high-ranking Mason and frequently spoke in praise of the Order. The alleged remark of political organizer Thurlow Weed, that a corpse found floating in the Niagara River was "a good enough Morgan" until after the election, summarized the value of the crime for the opponents of Jackson. In the elections of 1828 the new party proved unexpectedly strong, and after this year it became the main opposition party in New York. In 1829 it broadened its issues base when it became a champion of internal improvements and of the protective tariff. The party published 35 weekly newspapers in New York. Soon one became preeminent, the Albany Journal, edited by Thurlow Weed. The newspapers reveled in partisanship. One brief Albany Journal paragraph on Martin Van Buren included the words "dangerous," "demagogue," "corrupt," "degrade," "pervert," "prostitute," "debauch" and "cursed."5

Political conventions

Former Mason William Wirt won Vermont's Electoral College votes in the 1832 Presidential Election for the Anti-Masonic Party.

The party invented the convention, a system whereby locally elected delegates would choose state candidates and pledge their loyalty. Soon the Democrats and Whigs recognized the convention's value in building a party, and held their own conventions. By 1832 the movement had lost its focus on Masonry, and had spread to neighboring states, becoming especially strong in Pennsylvania and Vermont. A national organization was planned as early as 1827, when the New York leaders attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade Henry Clay who was a Mason, to renounce the Order and head the movement. In 1831, William A. Palmer was elected governor of Vermont on an Anti-Masonic ticket, an office he held until 1836. Palmer's brother-in-law, Augustine Clarke was an Anti-Masonic presidential elector in 1832, served as Vermont State Treasurer from 1833 to 1837, and was appointed to the Whig National Committee in 1837. Other Vermont Anti-Masonic electors in 1832 included former Governor Ezra Butler and former United States Representative William Strong.

The party conducted the first presidential nominating convention in U.S. history in the 1832 elections, nominating William Wirt (a former Mason) for President and Amos Ellmaker for Vice President in Baltimore. Wirt won 7.78 percent of the popular vote, and the seven electoral votes from Vermont. The highest elected office ever held by a member of the party was that of a governor: besides Palmer in Vermont, Joseph Ritner was the governor of Pennsylvania from 1835 to 1838.

This was the high tide of its prosperity; in New York in 1833 the organization was moribund, and its members gradually united with the National Republicans and other opponents of Jacksonian democracy in forming the Whig Party.

Following the election of Joseph Ritner as Governor of Pennsylvania in 1835, a state convention was held in Harrisburg6 on December 14–17, 1835, to choose Presidential Electors for the 1836 election. The convention nominated William Henry Harrison for President and Francis Granger for Vice President. The Vermont state Anti-Masonic convention7 followed suit on February 24, 1836. National Anti-Masonic leaders were unable to obtain assurance from Harrison that he was not a Mason, so they called a national convention. The second Anti-Masonic National nominating convention8 was held in Philadelphia on May 4, 1836. The convention was divisive, but a majority of the delegates were able to restate that purpose of the party as strictly anti-Masonry and to officially state that the party was not sponsoring a national ticket for the presidential election of 1836.

Although Harrison was not elected, his strength throughout the North was hailed by Anti-Masonic leaders because the party was the first to officially place his name in contention. The party held a conference in September 1837 to discuss its situation; one delegate was former President John Quincy Adams. The third Anti-Masonic National nominating convention9 was held in Temperance Hall, Philadelphia, on November 13–14, 1838. By this time, the party had been almost entirely engulfed by the Whig Party. In any case, the AMP convention unanimously nominated William Henry Harrison for President and Daniel Webster for Vice President. When the Whig National Convention nominated Harrison and Tyler, the Anti-Masonic Party did not make an alternate nomination and vanished.

A later political organization called the Anti-Masonic Party was active from 1872 until 1888. This second group had a more religious basis for its anti-Masonry and was closely associated with Jonathan Blanchard of Wheaton College.

The growth of the anti-Masonic movement was due more to the political and social conditions of the time than to the Morgan episode, which was merely the catalyst. Under the banner of "Anti-Masons" able leaders united those who were discontented with existing political conditions. The fact that William Wirt, their choice for the presidency in 1832, not only was a former Mason but also even supposedly defended the Order in a speech before the convention that nominated him indicates that mere opposition to Masonry was by no means the central premise of the political order.


See also


  • Epstein, David A. (2012). Left, Right, Out: The History of Third Parties in America. Arts and Letters Imperium Publications. ISBN 978-0-578-10654-0.
  • Holt, Michael F. "The Antimasonic and Know Nothing Parties," in History of U.S. Political Parties, ed. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (4 vols., New York, 1973), vol I, 575-620.
  • McCarthy, Charles (1903), The Antimasonic Party: A Study of Political Antimasonry in the United States, 1827–1840, Washington: Government Printing Office , reprinted from Annual Report of the American Historical Association 1, 1902, pp. 365–574 .
  • Robert J. Rayback, Millard Fillmore: Biography of a President. Buffalo Historical Society. 1959.
  • Hans L. Trefousse; Thaddeus Stevens: Nineteenth-Century Egalitarian. University of North Carolina Press. 1997.
  • Vaughn, William Preston (1983) The Antimasonic Party in the United States, 1826-1843. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1474-8, the standard history
  • Van Deusen, Glyndon G. Thurlow Weed, Wizard of the Lobby (1947)
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


  1. ^ Richard B. Morris, Encyclopedia of American History, revised edition, Harper & Row (New York), 1961, pages 170-171
  2. ^ Robert James Maddox, McGraw-Hill Higher Education, American History, Volume 2, 1998, page 37
  3. ^ Peck, William F. (1908). History of Rochester and Monroe county, New York. The Pioneer publishing company. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  4. ^ Rayback 1959, pp. 18–19
  5. ^ John G. Gasaway, Tippecanoe and the Party Press Too: Mass Communication, Politics, Culture, and the Fabled Presidential Election of 1840, 1999, page 228
  6. ^ "PA US President - AM Convention Race - Dec 14, 1835". Our Campaigns. 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  7. ^ "VT US President - AM Convention Race - Feb 24, 1836". Our Campaigns. 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  8. ^ "US President - AM Convention Race - May 04, 1836". Our Campaigns. 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 
  9. ^ "US President - AM Convention Race - Nov 13, 1838". Our Campaigns. 2009-05-23. Retrieved 2014-02-21. 

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