1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Anti-Masonic Party
ANTI-MASONIC PARTY, an American political organization which had its rise after the mysterious disappearance, in 1826, of William Morgan (c. 1776–c. 1826), a Freemason of Batavia, New York, who had become dissatisfied with his Order and had planned to publish its secrets. When his purpose became known to the Masons, Morgan was subjected to frequent annoyances, and finally in September 1826 he was seized and surreptitiously conveyed to Fort Niagara, whence he disappeared. Though his ultimate fate was never known, it was generally believed at the time that he had been foully dealt with. The event created great excitement, and led many to believe that Masonry and good citizenship were incompatible. 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 National Republicans, or “Adams men,” 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 Jackson was a high Mason and frequently spoke in praise of the Order. In the elections of 1828 the new party proved unexpectedly strong, and after this year it practically superseded the National Republican party in New York. In 1829 the hand of its leaders was shown, when, in addition to its antagonism to the Masons, it became a champion of internal improvements and of the protective tariff. From New York the movement spread into other middle states and into New England, and became 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, though a Mason, to renounce the Order and head the movement. In September 1831 the party at a national convention in Baltimore nominated as its candidates for the presidency and vice-presidency William Wirt of Maryland and Amos Ellmaker (1787–1851) of Pennsylvania; and in the election of the following year it secured the seven electoral votes of the state of Vermont. This was the high tide of its prosperity; in New York in 1833 the organization was moribund, and its members gradually united with other opponents of Jacksonian Democracy in forming the Whig party. In other states, however, the party survived somewhat longer, but by 1836 most of its members had united with the Whigs. Its last act in national politics was to nominate William Henry Harrison for president and John Tyler for vice-president at a convention in Philadelphia in November 1838.
The growth of the anti-Masonic movement was due to the political and social conditions of the time rather than to the Morgan episode, which was merely the torch that ignited the train. Under the name of “Anti-Masons” able leaders united those who were discontented with existing political conditions, and the fact that William Wirt, their choice for the presidency in 1832, was not only a Mason but even defended the Order in a speech before the convention that nominated him, indicates that simple opposition to Masonry soon became a minor factor in holding together the various elements of which the party was composed.