Timeframe: 1827 - 1836
The Anti-Masonic party was founded in 1827-28, chiefly as a result of the mysterious disappearance of Willam Morgan of Batavia, New York, a Freemason, who was planning to publish a book which revealed the secrets of the order. Morgan, an iternant worker, was arrested in 1826 and charged with stealing and indebtedness, apparently as pretext for seizing him. He was convicted and jailed, reportedly kidnapped shortly afterward. This incident touched off an Anti-masonic movement.
Although secret societies in general were frowned upon by early 19th century Americans, the Freemasons long continued exempt from criticism, perhaps because George Washington and other statesmen and soldiers of the Revolutionary period had been Masons. Indeed, in the first quarter of the 19th century membership is a Masonic lodge was almost a necessity for political preferment. In 1826, general approval of Masonry suffered a sudden, dramatic reversal as the Morgan incidend came to an end.
It was popularly believed, although never proved, that fellow Masons had murdered Morgan. Masonry in New York received a nearly mortal blow, membership dwindling in the decade 1826-1836 from 20,000 to 3,000.
Opponents of Freemasonry, including sections of the press, churches, and antislavery elements, joined together in the condemnation of the order. Thurlow Weed, publisher of the Rochester Telegraph and the Anti-Masonic Inquirer, led the press attack on Free-masonry and endorsed anti-Masonic candidates for New York State offices in the election of 1827. When fifteen of these candidates were elected to the state Assembly, an anti-Masonic party formed in 1828 and held its first convention.
The Anti-Masonic Party, formed in New York in 1828, reflected the widespread hostility toward Masons holding public office. Thurlow Weed in 1828 established in Rochester, N.Y., his Anti-Masonic Enquirer and two years later obtained financial backing for his Albany Evening Journal, which became the chief party organ. There was a rapid proliferation of anti-Masonic papers, especially in the Eastern states. By 1832 there were 46 in New York and 55 in Pennsylvania.
The Anti-Masonic Party was the first party to hold a nominating convention and the first to announce a platform. On Sept. 26, 1831, convening in Baltimore, it nominated William Wirt of Maryland for the presidency and Amos Ellmaker of Pennsylvania for the vice presidency. The political effect of the entrance, for the first time, of a third party into a United States presidential election was to draw support from Henry Clay and to help President Andrew Jackson (who was a Mason) win reelection by a wide margin. Vermont gave the party seven electoral votes and elected an Anti-Masonic governor, William A. Palmer. The party also gained members in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, and Ohio.
After the elections of 1836, however, the Anti-Masonic party declined. Together with the National Republican Party, it eventually was absorbed into the new Whig Party. It did win a considerable amount of seats in the 23rd congress and survived until 1834 when several prominent leaders founded the Whig Party or switched to the Democratic Party.