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From Basket Case Masonic History Page



Masonic History

Biblical References
Labor Origins, Part I
Labor Origins, Part II
From Literal to Symbolic
Rise of Modern Masonry

Anti-Masonry in the U.S.

The Disappearance of William Morgan


Appendix A: Masonic Lodges in Operation by State, 1820-1860



Throughout my social studies classes in elementary and high school, textbooks gave brief mention to the rise of a national political party in the early 1800s, called the Anti-Masons.

As the child of a strongly Masonic family, I understood exactly what Masons were. My grandfathers and stepfather were Masons. My mother, grandmother, aunts, and all their friends have always been very active in Eastern Star, an affiliated women's order (of which I am now also a member). I had been groomed for initiation in Job's Daughters, a Masonic order for girls, which I joined immediately upon reaching the required age of eleven. So a party name like "Anti-Masons" meant something to me.

But public school texts offered no elaboration of the Anti-Masonic Party, no explanation even of who the Masons were, much less why they inspired a national movement dedicated to opposing them. I wondered what the Masons had done to deserve the attention.

When I began researching the issue, then, I entered it with the assumption that anything my family had been involved in was probably very conservative and was probably up to some political infiltration on the scale of the modern Moral Majority.

I was surprised to find that the opposite was true: in fact, the kind of conservatism and closed-mindedness I had expected to find among Masons was actually the compostition of their opponents. Eventually, I reconciled this surprise when I realized that all the players in the American Masonic debates were white men, mostly Protestant Christians. Clearly, they were all up to no good.

Originally, I planned also to research twentieth-century Masonry and to examine how it is reponding to issues of diversity: I was always skeptical of the explanation that black Masons were segregated in separate lodges because they wanted it that way, and I wondered if those practices might be changing.

Unfortunately, my paper ran long, while information and time ran short, so I chose to limit my focus to the history of Freemasonry and the nineteenth-century political uproar which rose up around it.

The Many Histories of Masonry

It often seems as though the history of Freemasonry has been as mysterious, and as hotly debated, as the shrouded rites of the brotherhood itself. The roots of Masonry can be traced to a number of widely varied sources, and no single definition of history would adequately explain the structure which resulted from their synthesis.

In the nineteenth century, both supporters and opponents of Masonry sought to turn these permutations to their own advantage, for the group which controlled the definitions of Masonic history also strongly influenced public opinion, at a time when membership was at issue in political contests across the nation.

In this, as in many such delicately waged battles, the Masons found that the secrecy of their order placed them at a disadvantage when they were required to defend themselves. However, publications from that time suggest that the Masons were fairly open about the essentials of their own version of their history, and the public was fairly well aware of both sides of the debate.

Myth and Ritual: The Biblical Origins of Freemasonry

The Masons' own account of their history and development, in fact, forms a critical basis for their ritualistic work, and their claims to an origin in Biblical times proved to be double-edged. While Masons felt that their antiquity lent the organization a greater respectability, the anti-Masons in turn made much of challenging both the stories and the scriptural interpretations.

The books of First and Second Chronicles contain the Biblical account of the building of King Solomon's temple, and it is here that Masons begin their history.

Our ancient brethren dedicated their lodges to King Solomon, because he was our first Most Excellent Grand Master.1

According to Masonic accounts, three Grand Master Masons oversaw the building of the temple: King Solomon himself, whom they further credit with the temple design; Hiram, King of Tyre; and Hiram Abiff, a stoneworker sent to Solomon by King Hiram. The three pillars of the temple, called Wisdom, Strength and Beauty, represented each of these men.

They conducted lodge meetings in the sanctum sanctorum, or Holy of Holies, in the temple, and were the holders of the Mason's word. Each kept one syllable, and all were sworn to repeat it only when together, and standing in a particular formation. However, before the temple could be finished, Hiram Abiff was attacked on the road by three ruffians, who demanded that he reveal to them the Mason's word and other secrets of the lodge. When he refused, they murdered him and buried him in the hills.

Eventually his body was discovered by a party of Fellow Crafts, and was disinterred by King Solomon, using what became the Master Mason's grip, or lion's paw. Solomon then raised the body upon the five points of fellowship: foot to foot, knee to knee, breast to breast, hand to back, and mouth to ear. The body was returned to the temple and buried under the sanctum sanctorum, and a marble statue erected to honor the martyr:

A virgin weeping over a broken column, with a book open before her; in her right hand a sprig of cassia; in her left, an urn; Time standing behind her, with his hands infolded in the ringlets of her hair.2

Although the temple eventually was finished, as the Mason's word could not be given without Hiram Abiff, it was lost.

The murder, burial, raising, and reburial of Hiram Abiff are reenacted in in detail during the initiation ceremony for the degree of Master Mason. The candidate, blindfolded, is cast in the role of Hiram Abiff. He is symbolically slain, is made to fall into a canvas, is buried in various places around the lodge room, and is finally raised by the Worshipful Master upon the five points of fellowship, at which time the Master Mason's word and other secrets are revealed to him.

The Royal Arch and other subsequent degrees present further stories of Hiram Abiff. In the Royal Arch degree, it is told that after his death, workers found an underground arched vault, constructed by Hiram Abiff, and containing the Ark of the Covenant.

Higher degrees reveal that Hiram Abiff had left his mark on the keystone of the vault: the initial letters of "Hiram, Tyrian, Widow's Son Sent To King Solomon." Other artifacts were also found in the Ark, including the only remaining copy of the law, a key to the "ineffable letters of the degree," and a triangular gold plate engraved with Hebrew vowel points spelling the "ineffable name of God," as revealed to Enoch.

In essence, then, the Masons claim responsibility for the preservation of the law, and further, claim to have sole knowledge of the true name of God.

Throughout these stories, however, we hear the anti-Masons' cries of dissent. It is true that almost none of these accounts is found in scripture; while Masons themselves acknowledge this, anti-Masons point out that many details in fact directly contradict the teachings of the Bible.

For example, Solomon did not conceive of the plans for the temple, but received them from David. None but the high priest was allowed in the sanctum sanctorum, not even King Solomon himself, so lodge meetings could not have been conducted there. The detailed description of the furnishings of this chamber do not include any statue. The Ark of the Covenant was rested there, not buried or missing. Most importantly, in chapter four of Second Chronicles, Hiram Abiff is noted to have finished his work on the temple.

Intellectuals have further noted that Hebrew vowel points did not exist in Enoch's time, so could not have been used by him to engrave the "true name of God"; further, Hiram Abiff's "mark" could not have been composed of eight English words.

To quote all that is scandalously false in its teachings and pretensions would be to quote these books almost entire. We hear professed Christians, and even ministers, claiming that Freemasonry enables them to better understand the Bible. Can it be that they are so ignorant as to believe this? But this is often urged as an inducement to join the lodge.3

While most anti-Masonic writers were content to point out the scriptural inconsistencies in an organization which claimed for itself a religious foundation, others took the matter further.

For example, Edmond Ronayne goes to great lengths to compare Masonry and its rituals to the pagan rites of Baal-worship (and, interchangeably, Egyptian sun-gods and "Hindoo Mysteries"). Other authors suggested connections to the Druids and other "infidels." Others simply insisted that Masonry had not existed at all before 1717, when the first Grand Lodge was founded in England. Nearly all religious critics ignored Masons' even stronger ties to an economic, decidedly secular past.

1 Mackey, "Manual of the Lodge,": quoted in Ronayne, Edmond, The Master's Carpet; or, Masonry and Baal-Worship Identical (Chicago: T.B. Arnold, 1887), p. 198.

2 Finney, C.G, The Character, Claims and Practical Workings of Freemasonry (Chicago: Ezra A. Cook, 1887), 140.

3 ibid., 148.

Development of Masonic Structure and Traditions

In 1940, Douglas Knoop, himself a Mason, attempted to summarize the different focuses of the anti-Masonic and intellecutal Masonic historians. He argued that any true understanding of the development of Freemasonry had been obscured by "polemics" and by the tendency of scholars to study a single origin exclusively, rather than the union of several branches.

Some of them, chiefly concerned with the erection of ancient and medieval stone buildings, were insufficiently aware of the fact that the history of building is not the same thing as the history of freemasonry. Others, conceiving of freemasonry mainly as a peculiar system of morality, veiled in allegory and illustrated by symbols, explored the ancient history of symbolism without realizing that symbolism became a characteristic of freemasonry only in relatively modern times. Still others, primarily interested in masonic ceremonies, sought to connect freemasonry with one or other of the ancient or medieval societies which practised initiatory rites; but these investigators commonly ignored the fact that the influence, if any, of old rituals could have been exercised upon freemasonry only in and after the third decade of the eighteenth century.1

By contrast, Knoop discusses the development of Freemasonry in the context of economic history, and claims that it probably had its earliest beginnings among British stoneworkers in the eleventh century. While modern symbolic, or "Speculative" Masonry, bears little resemblance to the medieval "operative" craft, or the literal working in stone, many of the traditions of the modern lodge can be seen to have their origins in medieval practices.

Following the Norman conquest, the building of castles and cathedrals in stone came into vogue, and along with it a demand for skilled craftsmen. With this increased call to labor, it became necessary for both the workers and the lords to standardize their dealings with one another. Lords wanted to ensure that masons were properly trained, and were performing their duties as efficiently as possible; masons wanted assurances that they would be treated fairly and would receive their due benefits.

While other crafts responded to this need by unifying in guilds, such a structure was unsuitable for masons. Guilds were primarily community-based organizations, where craft workers in a particular geographical area would gather with their neighboring fellows. But masons were primarily migrants, or journeymen, required by the nature of their craft to live at a building site until the job was finished, then to move someplace where more work was available. For this reason, masonic organization centered around the "lodge."

The lodge itself referred to the building in which masons performed their work, usually a large wooden shed which offered some shelter from the weather. Besides serving as a workshop, however, the lodge provided a place for masons to rest and to take midday meals, especially at building sites which were far from towns. many instances, no doubt, the masons rested at noon in the lodge, and at the permitted times, drank there also. The lodge might thus be a kind of refectory and club; and it is likely that questions affecting the mason's trade were discussed, and grievances ventilated, within its walls.2

As the lodge was the basis for social contact with other masons, it naturally became the basis for labor organization as well. In York, rules for the governance of the lodge were in existence as early as 1352.

1 Knoop, Douglas, and G.P. Jones, A Short History of Freemasonry to 1730 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1940), v-vi.

2 ibid., 13.

Organization of the Operative Lodge

The Articles and Points, a compilation of masonic customs from the "Book of Charges," dating back to about 1360, are one of the earliest records of rules of conduct.

The Articles are directed chiefly to masters, i.e., to craftsmen in charge of a building operation; they are to be loyal to the lord, i.e., the employer, and not to waste his goods by giving more pay to any man than he may deserve, the price of corn and victuals being considered; no master is to take an apprentice of less than seven years, for the art cannot be learned in a shorter time; nor may he take an apprentice of bond blood, nor one that is maimed or physically incapable; like other masons, the apprentice is not to be unduly charged for, "that the lord of the place that he is taught may have some profit by his teaching"; a master is not to be a maintainer of night-walkers or robbers; he is, wherever possible, to dismiss an insufficiently skilled workman and to take a better in his place, "to the profit of the lord"; lastly, no master is to supplant another, for no man can so well finish a piece of work as he that began it.

The Points are directed to fellows, i.e., to workmen other than the master in charge. Such a workman must love God and the Holy Church and regard his fellows as brethren; he must be secret, not disclosing "the counsel of his fellows in lodge or chamber"; he must take his pay meekly at the time appointed and avoid quarrelling; if quarrels do break out between him and his fellows, the discussion must be postponed to the next holiday and then settled, for to pursue the matter immediately would mean hindering the building work and cause loss to the lord. The mason must keep the seventh commandment; the reason given for that, if not scriptural, may have been sound enough, namely, that breach of the commandment would lead to discord among masons. If a mason should be a warden, he should be a true mediator between the master and his fellows. Lastly, a mason who is more skilled than his fellows and sees one of them working wrongly, so that a stone is likely to be spoiled, should instruct him and help him to do the work properly, "that the more love may increase among them and that the work of the lord be not lost."1

The beginnings of a capitalist labor structure can be seen clearly in the relationship between the lord, the laborers, and the managerial masters and wardens. The Articles also show the extent of the authority which the master mason had over his workers. Further, the Points in particular illustrate the genesis of many of the traditions of Freemasonry, especially the charge to maintain the secrets of the lodge.

Knoop suggests that these rules existed to prevent disagreement among Masons, which would hinder the efficiency and quality of their work. He also traces the development of one element of the lodge, the Mason Word, which made the secrecy rule in particular a practical necessity.

The Mason Word refers not only to a password, but to an entire system or "institution" of secret work within the lodge, including words, grips, and other practices.

...the Mason Word was first instituted to serve a strictly "operative" aim. That was to distinguish masons who were members of their trade organization, and to enable them to claim, at need, benefits in the way of employment and relief.2

The Mason Word served to protect trained masons (and their families) against claims and competition from untrained stoneworkers, or "cowans," and from entered apprentices, who had not yet completed their training. In modern times, the secret work of the Masonic lodge is less important as a literal safeguard, but the symbolic protection remains.

1 Knoop, Douglas, and G.P. Jones, A Short History of Freemasonry to 1730 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1940), 21-22.

2 ibid., 43.

From Operation to Speculation

The transition from labor-based, operative masonry to symbolic, Speculative Masonry was gradual, with its beginnings in the sixteenth century, and was brought about by two primary influences. First, the frenzy of stone-building died down, in part because the Reformation stalled the construction of elaborate churches and cathedrals. Masons generally found less employer demand for their skills, and the importance of a large-scale labor organization was diminished. In addition, the structure of that organization was changing from within.

Up until this time, the skill of the master mason included not only the hewing and laying of stones, but also the architectural design of the building itself. Manuscripts from about 1390 to as late as 1703 show provisions for the master mason to study, to design, and to be paid for that work.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the educated classes also began to take an interest in the craft of masonry, as the work of the mason-architect represented a practical application of geometry, one of the revered seven liberal arts. As the number of working masons active in the lodge began to shrink, the formation of "adoptive" lodges began. In these, persons with an interest in masonry and building design could meet together with the trained stoneworkers and could learn more about the craft.

When the Lodge records commence in 1670, we find that of the forty-nine fellow-crafts or master masons who were then members of the Lodge, only ten were operative masons; the other thirty-nine consisted of four noblemen, three gentlemen, eight professional men, nine merchants and fifteen tradesmen.1

Ultimately, this interest developed not only into the strictly symbolic modern lodges, but also into a division of labor, in which the professional architect superseded the mason-architect.

Freemasonry as it is known today probably developed in England, Scotland and Ireland from the adoptive lodges. The spread of the craft is a study in colonial export: in the eighteenth century, European colonial administrators carried Masonry to nearly every conceivable part of the globe.

While in many areas, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, Lodge work remained the exclusive province of white men, it is interesting to note that in India, northern Africa, and other regions, indigenous participation (within certain class limits) was actually encouraged.

By the nineteenth century, Masonic participation flourished on every continent, in virtually every nation.

1 Knoop, Douglas, and G.P. Jones, A Short History of Freemasonry to 1730 (Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1940) 65-66.

Masonry through the Nineteenth Century

The features of the Speculative Lodge have significantly changed in substance from the work of medieval stonemasons, and today bear only faint resemblance to the goals of the original lodges. The directive of the Articles and Points, that a spirit of brotherhood be preserved for efficiency's sake, were transformed into the ideal of a fraternal order.

The benefits and relief offered by trade organizations became a doctrine of benevolence and charity; the social character of the working lodge became a forum where political and business connections could be forged; the travels of the journeyman mason grew into a system of international Masonic acceptance. Most importantly, however, the mandate of the Points that each fellow "love God and the Holy Church" expanded into a religious philosophy which forms the foundation of modern Masonry.

From the mythic history of Solomon's temple developed an intricate system of ritual which provided the structure of each meeting. The layout of the Lodge room is said to have been based on the design of the sanctum sanctorum, the chief officers and their stations on its three master masons, and so forth. Devotion to God was a requirement for membership, prayer became a central part of Masonic ritual, and participation was considered an opportunity to expand religious learning.

Outside the lodge, brothers founded Masonic Homes (continuing-care communities for elderly members of Masonic and affiliated orders); today, nearly every state offers at least one Home. Lodges began group participation in charity work as well. In general, Masons tried to build an overwhelmingly positive public face for their order.

This theme, just now, seems to absorb all others, and if the brethren are to be believed, Freemasonry is one of the noblest, if not the noblest, tinstitution [sic] in the world. "Its members," they say, "assist each other in distress. It is purely benevolent. It is petted and patronized by the government, encouraged and upheld by ministers of the gospel. It can count within its membership some of the very best and greatest men in the community," and they argue, and, I must confess, not without some show of reason, that "if Freemasonry were as bad as its enemies would make it out to be, all those great and good men would not continue to be members of it."1

Yet above all, Masonry remained an intensely secret society, and it is not surprising that those outside the lodge doors might envision some unknown threat growing within.

1 Ronayne, Edmond, The Master's Carpet; or, Masonry and Baal-Worship Identical (Chicago: T.B. Arnold, 1887), 18-19.

Anti-Masonry in the U.S.

Post-Revolutionary Jitters

Although it is likely that anti-Masonic sentiment has existed as long as Masonry itself, the political climate in the post-revolutionary United States created an atmosphere where these undercurrents of opposition grew into a movement with a national agenda and a new sense of urgency.

With a solid victory over the Crown, Americans faced a "villain vacuum" similar to our early-'90s directionlessness in the wake of the Cold War, and they too sought the focus of a new bad guy. Secret societies, it was believed, were a threat to the fragile new republic, and the Freemasons were public enemy number one.

After the struggle of the Revolution, and no enemy near to disturb their deliberations, a government was founded on plain, simple, republican principles.... Now let us examine our institution, and clearly ascertain whether it is founded upon as pure a basis as that of our common country. If it is as pure and well adapted to our circumstances, we had better ingraft with it our political government; if not, and if it does have a tendency to inculcate aristocratical principles, then abandon Masonry, and adhere to the government as founded by our ancestors, for it is true, in the various requirements of life, we cannot fulfil our duty to both at the same time.1

Still, denouncements of Masonic influence were limited to local editorials and sermons for years, until the disappearance of one outspoken anti-Mason brought an accusation of murder against the Fraternity, and with it national attention to the Masonic debates.

1 Greene, Samuel D., The Broken Seal; or, Personal Reminiscences of the Morgan Abduction and Murder (Chicago: Ezra A. Cook & Co., 1873), 212.

The William Morgan Controversy

In Batavia, New York, in 1826, a Royal Arch Mason named William Morgan announced that he intended to publish a pamphlet exposing the secret work of the first three degrees of Masonry. Although exposures were already gaining popularity in Europe, this was the first such document to be published in the United States, and it aroused great excitement in the lodge.

The accounts of Masons and anti-Masons differ greatly in the events which followed, but it is agreed that Morgan was kidnapped by a group of Masons, was taken to the Canadian border and held for several days, and then disappeared. Anti-Masons charged that Morgan had been murdered according to the provisions in his oath, but no body was ever found. Masons responded that they had simply paid him to leave the country.

In any case, David Miller, Morgan's publisher, went ahead with the release of the pamphlet, entitled "Illustrations on Masonry," which sold predictably well.

In the years which followed, a number of local Masons were charged with involvement in Morgan's disappearance, and several men offered confessions. No one, however, was ever convicted of Morgan's murder, which anti-Masons attributed to the Masonic makeup of the courts. Masons, on the other hand, insisted that the courts had already been purged of Masonic involvement, and anti-Masonic jurors had simply been overwhelmed by the lack of evidence.

Thirteen months after Morgan's disappearance, the discovery of a body drowned in Lake Ontario led to a political scandal—for the anti-Masons. Initially, the body was determined to bear no resemblance to Morgan, and was buried. Almost immediately, however, Thurlow Weed, an ambitious anti-Masonic politician, demanded that the body be exhumed and reexamined. Although the evidence was unconvincing, Weed remarked that "it is a good enough Morgan until after election." Lucinda Morgan was persuaded to testify that the body was indeed her husband's, and with great ceremony it was reburied as the martyr William Morgan.

Shortly thereafter, however, word came from a small Canadian town that one Sarah Munro was looking for her husband, who had last been seen in a rowboat on Lake Ontario. Her description of her husband and his possessions matched the body exactly. It was disinterred again, examined again, and found to be not Morgan, but Timothy Munro.

As the story became public, two men at last came forward to testify that they had seen Thurlow Weed himself shave the whiskers off of the corpse before examination to ensure that it resembled Morgan, who had worn none. The press made sure that Weed never lived down his attempted hoax.

As to the real outcome of Morgan, in 1932 Thomas Knight, a Mason, published documents which suggest that Morgan fled first to Boston, then to Smyrna, where he remained until his death.

A spectacular monument to Morgan still stands at the "martyr's grave" in upstate New York. Although the tale is not well-known among modern Masons or anti-Masons, the issue of Morgan's "murder" is occasionally raised in publications and Internet debates. Anti-Masons, however, frequently discredit their arguments by claiming (whether innocently or deliberately) that the body found in Lake Ontario was Morgan's. The facts are much more interesting.

Ideological objections

Opponents of Masonry had a wide range of quarrels with the order. At the height of anti-Masonic activity, in the 1830s, publications assailed Masonry from nearly every conceivable angle; however, these critiques generally fell into two categories.

On one side, Christians (of a decidedly fundamentalist inclination) questioned its religious nature, while intellectuals on the other warned of a Masonic conspiracy to undermine the authority of the republic. All sides wondered whether the true character of the order lived up to its claims, and in every case, its secrecy was at issue.

The Masons' complete collection of secret work at this time would likely have filled several volumes, and the public were intensely curious about what such a prominent organization could have to hide.

This made the Masons particularly expedient targets in any conspiracy theory: first, their secrecy created curiosity which, when thwarted, led to suspicion and closer scrutiny. Second, secrecy made it difficult, if not impossible, for Masons to answer any of the charges against them, and made it unlikely that the answers they gave would be convincing.

Public curiosity fed one branch of anti-Masonic writing, where publishers concerned themselves less with ideological convictions than with sensationalism and sales. This led to a flood of "exposures," pamphlets and books which simply listed much of the secret work of the Masonic degrees, describing and often illustrating passwords, grips, hand and arm signals, steps, costumes, symbols, and other minutiae with what appears to have been reasonable accuracy. For a time, exposures were practically guaranteed money-makers.

Most analytical writers, however, focused their analyses on a relatively tiny portion of these volumes, the mysterious Masonic oaths.

The oaths were a logical focus for a number of reasons. First, they were universal, in that every Masonic degree had an oath, and every candidate for a degree first took its oath as part of the initiation ceremony. In addition, the oath was the first experience of Masonry for the initiate.

For a writer attempting to explain Masonry to the general public, however, the oaths had one distinct advantage over nearly all other secret work: the language of the oaths was clear and explicit, in stark contrast to the heavily veiled symbolism of other rituals. Signs, grips, or passwords, for example, were entirely symbolic, in that their origins and importance may have been well-understood by the Masons who used them, but the hand gestures or syllables themselves carried no inherent meaning outside of the lodge.

The oaths, on the other hand, simply delineated each member's obligations to the lodge. The symbols were the words and promises themselves, and the scope of their meaning and significance extended far beyond the lodge doors. The non-Masonic reader could examine the oaths, understand them on their face, and draw conclusions about their implications for society as a whole.

Masons, however, argued the opposite. The public was taking the oaths too literally, they protested, when their intent was strictly symbolic and rooted in tradition.

The debates over interpretation of the oaths essentially parallel similar controversies in other disciplines, such as the Constitutional studies of founders' intent versus strict constructionism, or the tension between literal and symbolic interpretations of the Bible.

Scriptural and religious opposition

I spake openly to the world, and in secret I have said nothing. (John 18:20)

The words of Christ in this passage from scripture formed the basis for much of anti-Masonic opposition to secret societies in general, and Freemasonry in particular. Christian writers also took strong exception to the uses of the Bible throughout Masonic ritual. The Masons' embellishment of the story of Solomon's temple is only one such example; others similarly embellish the teachings of scripture with specifically Masonic messages, to the horror of conservative Christians.

I beg my Christian readers to examine these books for themselves, and then see what they think of the assertions of so many professors of religion, and even of professed Christian ministers, that "there is nothing in Freemasonry inconsistent with the religion of Jesus Christ!" I cannot imagine anything more directly calculated to bring the Word of God into contempt, than such a use of it in Masonic lodges. It is enough to make one's blood curdle in his veins to think that a Christian minister, or any Christian whatever, should allow himself to pass through such an abominable scene as is frequently represented in the degrees of Masonry:—multiplying their horrid oaths, heaping up one imprecation upon another, gathering up from every part of the Divine oracles the most solemn and awful sayings of Jehovah, and applying them in a manner so revolting, that the scene must make a Christian's heart tremble, and his whole soul to loathe such proceedings.1

In examining the Masonic oaths, opponents also argued that the taking of any oaths was blasphemous.

But I say unto you swear not at all. (Matthew 5:34)

Further, they claimed that the invocation of God in each oath constituted a violation of the third commandment, by the use of the Lord's name in vain.

For some anti-Masons, however, oath-taking was the least of the blasphemies professed by Masonry. The religious practices of Masonry were essentially deistic; that is, they were set up to be inclusive of any religion whose foundation was a belief in a deity.

Prayers were directed to God, or the Lord, and retained a distinctly Christian flavor, but the actual name of Christ was carefully omitted. Again, conservative Christians were appalled, insisting that Christless religion was the work of hypocrites, pagans, and infidels. (Today, TV evangelist and author John Ankerberg uses similar arguments in his anti-Masonic works.)

No man can serve two masters; and no Christian can worship God, through Christ, in the church, while he pretends to worship the pagan's God, without Christ, in the lodge.2

While these writers objected that Christ was the only way to know the true God of heaven, their writings make it clear that eternal salvation was not their only concern.

The claim is made that "the Budhist, the Parsee, and the Confucian," according to Masonic law and usage "may, and do, harmoniously combine with the Mahomedan, the Jew, and the Christian in the moral and intellectual work" of the Masonic institution, but surely all these do not believe in the same God. The Confucian believes in the God Josh; the Mahomedan believes in the God of the Koran; while the Budhist and the Parsee are idolatrous pagans of the most pronounced and positive type.3

The idea that professing Christians might associate thus with non-Christians, "including the wild Arab and the American savage," was equally distressing. Conservatives discussed the issue in terms of outside influences compromising their rigid religious standards, but their language clearly shows that contempt for other cultures and races was a motivating factor.

Indeed, in some parts of the world it seems that the ideal of Masonry to "harmoniously combine" different ideologies was successful. In Tunis in 1877, the Lodge of Ancient Carthage reported a membership of 17 Protestants, 75 Roman Catholics, two Greek Orthodox, 35 Jews, and five Muslims.

Ironically, lodges in the United States seem to have been less concerned with inclusivity. Although Native Americans were active in some lodges, membership was virtually all white, mostly Protestant, and despite the good intentions of the order, American Masons were not particularly enlightened with regard to ethnic issues. One pro-Masonic writer, for example, shows his sympathy for another secret society of the day:

And coming down to a later date has anyone outside of the Negroes themselves condemned the Klu Kluxers of 1867-68 for their lawless acts when they arose in their righteous might and unlawfully punished the all too obstreperous Negro office holders?4

Anti-Masonic writers, interestingly, strongly condemned the Ku Klux Klan, although often on the same secrecy grounds as they did Masonry.

1 Finney, C.G., The Character, Claims and Practical Workings of Freemasonry (Chicago: Ezra A. Cook, 1887), 136.

2 Ronayne, Edmond, The Master's Carpet; or, Masonry and Baal-Worship Identical (Chicago: T.B. Arnold, 1887), 67.

3 ibid., 65-66.

4 Knight, Thomas A., The Strange Disappearance of William Morgan (Brecksville, Ohio: By the author, 1932), 56.

The Politics of Masonic Affiliation

But to all this testimony adhering Masons have objected. First, that the movement against Freemasonry was a political one. Answer: I have already said that by its having seized upon all the civil offices, and totally obstructing the course of justice, it was forced into politics by Masons themselves.

It was found that there was no other way than for the people to rise up and take the offices out of their hands by political action.1

At the time of the abduction of Morgan, the public began to realize the extent of Masonic membership among their public officials. In upstate New York, nearly every county sheriff was a Mason, as were many judges. DeWitt Clinton, the state governor, had also served as Grand Master of the state lodge.

Anti-Masons alleged that these public servants valued their Masonic obligations over their oaths of office, and that allegiance to the order was obstructing justice, not only in the Morgan case, but on a nationwide scale. Opponents of Masonry feared that the Masonic oaths constituted a mandate to subvert the rule of law.

It is perfectly plain that if Freemasons mean anything by this oath, as they have given frequent evidence that they do, this obligation must be an effectual bar to the administration of justice wherever Freemasons are numerous. No wonder, the refore, that dishonest men among them are very anxious greatly to multiply their numbers.2

An examination of the oaths themselves (see Appendix A) shows that anti-Masons may in fact have had good cause for alarm. Even the lowest-rank Mason faced a gruesome death penalty for violating his oath. In the higher degrees, however, dangerous potential is clearer.

Master Masons were sworn to answer the call of distress (para. 3), and to obey all signs and summons (para. 11); anti-Masons worried that such signs might be given, at their extreme, by a Masonic defendant to a Masonic witness, juror, or judge. A Master Mason was required to warn another of approaching danger (para. 8), which could mean of subpoena or arrest.

Master Masons were required to keep a brother's secrets, "murder and treason excepted" (para. 12), which amounted to Masonic protection, perhaps even sanction, of robbery, rape, arson and the like.

Master Masons swore not to wrong their fellows "to the value of one cent" (para. 4), which suggested preferential treatment in business dealings.

Finally, a Master Mason swore not knowingly to "violate the chastity" of a brother's female relatives (para. 9):

But why not this promise in respect to all women? If this oath had included all women, it would have the appearance of justice and benevolence, but as it is, it is only an odious partiality, and does not imply even the semblance of virtue.3

Similar dangers were posed by the Royal Arch degree. Royal Arch Masons were required to keep all secrets of their fellows, without exception (para. 3), and to cast their votes for Royal Arch candidates over others (para. 2).

It was these perceived threats which inspired the creation of a national political party devoted solely to the opposition of Masonry, and to the ousting of Masons from public office.

If masonry is to be thus fortified behind the patronage and power of the government, where is it to be sought and attacked by those who desire to destroy its baneful influence on morality and religion, and its usurpation of the rights and privileges of the people? It is to be sought where alone it is to be found,—in its intrenchments. Anti-masonry, therefore, is necessarily political.4

At its height, the Anti-Masonic Party nominated a candidate in the presidential election of 1832, who captured the electoral votes of the state of Vermont. Nevertheless, Andrew Jackson, past Grand Master of the state lodge of Tennessee, seemed untouched by the Masonic controversy, and went on to win the presidency in spite of it.

With the beginnings of the Civil War, the anti-Masonic fervor died out almost as quickly as it had begun, but the effects on the Masonic institution continued to be felt for decades.

In many states, particularly New York, Masons were convinced to secede in large numbers. In Vermont, the exodus was so great that the Grand Lodge suspended operations for several years for want of members. One Masonic author, however, notes that the secession rates had less to do with choice than with pressure from the anti-Masonic public.

In some cases it meant social ostracism from neighbors and friends; in others it meant what amounted to disfranchisement; in a good many cases a Mason had no chance whatever of holding public office and, as has been pointed out, there were many instances where physical castigation was resorted to.5

Masonry experienced a rebound following the Civil War, as did the opposition to it, but the controversy never again reached the fever pitch it had known before.

1 Finney, C.G., The Character, Claims and Practical Workings of Freemasonry (Chicago: Ezra A. Cook, 1887), 33-34.

2 ibid., 79.

3 ibid., 84.

4 The Proceedings of the United States Anti-Masonic Convention, Held at Philadelphia, September 11, 1830 (Philadelphia: J.P. Trimble; New York: Skinner & Dewey; Albany: D.B. Packard; Utica: William Williams; Ithaca: D.D. Spencer; Hartford: N.D. Strong; Boston: John Marsh & Co., Office of the Boston Christian Herald, and of the Free Press; and at most of the bookstores in the United States, 1830), 73.

5 Knight, Thomas A., The Strange Disappearance of William Morgan (Brecksville, Ohio: By the author, 1932), 221.


Appendix A: Masonic Lodges in Operation by State, 1820-1860

State 1820 1830 1840 1850 1860
New Jersey 37 43 9 12 51
New York 295 82 79 172 432
Connecticut 59 75 30 30 64
Vermont 52 73 * 17 53
Maine 31 58 58 60 96
Rhode Island 15 19 19 19 20
Ohio 57 91 60 166 295
North Carolina 37 50 42 65 124
Georgia 31 40 34 114 242
Florida 0 3 10 23 48
Virginia 118 * 64 88 184
Pennsylvania 185 224 226 262 350
Maryland 67 84 86 92 111
District of Columbia 8 10 10 9 11
Mississippi 3 17 38 105 238
Missouri 3 15 29 110 205
Kentucky 45 67 37 * 320
New Hampshire 35 55 55 56 69
Massachusetts 86 108 56 66 116
Delaware * * * 17 19
South Carolina
Indiana 13 * 20 112 263

* Indicates that no report was made to the Grand Lodge for this period.
— Indicates that records were burned during the Civil War.

Knight, Thomas A., The Strange Disappearance of William Morgan (Brecksville, Ohio: By the author, 1932), 220-221.

Sources Consulted

Finney, C.G. The Character, Claims and Practical Workings of Freemasonry. Chicago: Ezra A. Cook, 1887.

Gould, R.F. Gould's History of Freemasonry Throughout the World. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1936.

Greene, Samuel D. The Broken Seal; or, Personal Reminiscences of the Morgan Abduction and Murder. Chicago: Ezra A. Cook & Co., 1873.

Katz, Jacob. Jews and Freemasons in Europe, 1723-1939. Translated by Leonard Oschry. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Knight, Thomas A. The Strange Disappearance of William Morgan. Brecksville, Ohio: By the author, 1932.

Knoop, Douglas, and G.P. Jones. A Short History of Freemasonry to 1730. Manchester: University of Manchester Press, 1940.

Odiorne, James C. Opinions on Speculative Masonry, Relative to Its Origin, Nature and Tendency. Boston: Perkins & Marvin, 1830.

The Proceedings of the United States Anti-Masonic Convention, Held at Philadelphia, September 11, 1830. Philadelphia: J.P. Trimble; New York: Skinner & Dewey; Albany: D.B. Packard; Utica: William Williams; Ithaca: D.D. Spencer; Hartford: N.D. Strong; Boston: John Marsh & Co., Office of the Boston Christian Herald, and of the Free Press; and at most of the bookstores in the United States, 1830.

Stearns, John G. An Inquiry Into the Nature and Tendency of Speculative Free-Masonry. 3d ed. Utica, New York: Northway & Porter, 1829.

Ronayne, Edmond. The Master's Carpet; or, Masonry and Baal-Worship Identical. Chicago: T.B. Arnold, 1887.

[Ward, H.D.] Free Masonry. New York: Privately printed, 1828.

Wright, Dudley. Woman and Freemasonry. London: William Rider & Son, Ltd., 1922.

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