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. Continue reading