One of the most peculiar periods in American political history is the rise and fall of the Anti-Masonic Party. In 1826, William Morgan, who lived in Batavia, New York, decided to write a tell-all book about the Masons after he was denied admission to the local lodge. Some members of the Batavia lodge ran an advertisement denouncing Morgan. Various Masons claimed that Morgan owed them money. Someone attempted to set fire to the newspaper offices of David Miller who had agreed to help publish Morgan’s planned book exposing the Masons. Morgan was jailed for debt. On September 11, 1826 he was freed from jail when his debts were paid by a man who claimed to be a friend of Morgan. The two men went by carriage to Fort Niagara, the carriage arriving there the next day. Morgan was never seen again. Suspicion was immediate that Morgan had been killed by Masons drowning him in the Niagara River. Three Masons served jail terms for kidnapping him. No prosecution was ever attempted for the murder of Morgan.
This caused a huge stink in New York, with popular opinion believing that Masonic officials had literally gotten away with murder. Thurlow Weed was the driving force in transforming this anti-Mason sentiment into the anti-Masonic political party. Churches throughout New York state denounced the Masons. In the 1828 election it became the main opposition party to the Democrats in New York and broadened its appeal by supporting internal improvements and a high protective tariff. The movement quickly spread to other states, becoming powerful in Pennsylvania and Vermont, electing governors in both states. In 1832 it held the first national political convention and nominated William Wirt, a former United States Attorney General for President. In 1836 the party did not nominate any candidate for President, but most anti-Masons support William Henry Harrison, who ran well in Northern states thus setting himself up for a successful run in 1840.
By 1838 the party was largely a part of the new Whig anti-Democrat party, with the anti-Masonic party relegated to being one of the curios of American political history.
I originally posted this at Almost Chosen People, the American history blog that I and Paul Zummo run. Regular commenter Jon then gave some additional background and corrected an error that appeared in the original post:
LOL! We do have to meet one day.
The name of my hometown, where I lived my first twenty-six years and where my 62 first cousins and assorted aunts and uncles live to this day? Why, Batavia, New York!
The pinnacle statue of William Morgan sits over his grave at the front of Batavia Cemetery on Harvester Avenue. I’ve passed it countless times. William Morgan was one of our claims to fame. For a small town of 16,000, we had several others, most of Civil War notoriety.
Charles F. Rand, to first soldier to answer Lincoln’s call for 750,000 volunteers was from Batavia. So was Lieut. Col. Ely Parker, Grant’s adjutant who drafted the surrender terms at Appomattox. There was also General Emory Upton, of Wilderness fame, who has a road at West Point named for him, and the largest monument in Batavia, which sits in front of the county courthouse. Finally there is Joseph Ellicott, land agent for the Holland Land Company and founder of the town.
There’s more – Winfield Scott repaired to Batavia after the Battle of Lundy’s Lane during the War of I812 – but Upton and Ellicott are the two most prominent members of the list. This is common knowledge among the residents, as is the fact both Upton and Ellicott both died suicides, the former blowing out his brains while stationed after the war in San Francisco, and the latter hanging himself in a Manhattan insane asylum. Can’t do much better than that!
PS – The Morgan story is fascinating. We Catholic kids in town thought him a hero, but as you know, he had a bit of a chequered past. He was a ne’er do well of the first order. Morgan also wasn’t drowned in “Lake Niagara” btw. There’s no such place. He met his unfortunate end in the Niagara River. After his death, his widow went west, and reputedly became one of Joseph Smith’s first plural wives. Because of his notoriety, and I presume Smith’s affection for his wife, he was also one of the first departed granted the favor of Mormon, um, retroactive baptism or whatever they call it.
PPS – You went and got me started!
One of the more enjoyable aspects of blogging for me has always been having commenters point out new information about a topic I am posting on. Jon’s contribution was a classic example of this.