William L. (William Leete) Stone.

Letters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams online

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Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 16 of 49)
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have been created, — that the anger of the people should
have been stirred up, — that their wrath should have burnt
like a furnace ? Nay, sir, would it not have been far more
strange, among a people like the American, if such a spirit
had not been awakened ? It was a " blessed spirit," as it
was once emphatically declared to be, by the gentleman
who at the present time is governor of New- York. True,
it is deeply to be regretted, that in the progress of the ex-
citement, it was carried to such extremes, and that the pub-
lic vengeance was so far directed against the innocent as
well as the guilty. Allowance, however, is to be made for
the people, from the peculiarity of the case. The authors
of the outrage were active Freemasons, and it was in their
zeal for the safety of that institution, as they openly avowed,
that they had done this thing. The great body of the peo-
ple, who had been aroused into action upon this occasion,
were not Masons. They knew nothing of the constitution
of the society. They only knew that its proceedings were
veiled in impenetrable secrecy, — of such societies the peo-
ple are always jealous, — and they supposed that once a
Mason, always a Mason. They had no idea that more than
two thirds of those who have taken the degrees, speedily
relinquish their attendance and membership ; and that, for-
getting, soon afterwards, what little they have imperfectly
learned, they fall back among the people, and remain, in
fact, during the whole after-course of their lives. Masons
merely in name, without retaining a sufficient knowledge of
the mighty mysteries, to work themselves into an Entered
Apprentices' Lodge. These were facts which the uninitia-



fed, forming the great mass of the people, could not know
or comprehend. Hence, in their denunciations of the se-
cret crime they were now endeavoring to disclose and
avenge, they very naturally included the whole body ; —
the more readily, beyond a doubt, because of the silly
boastings of weak members of the brotherhood, in regard
to the extent, the power, the influence, and the universal
identity of the masonic institution, in all ages and countries,
and under all circumstances, together with its universal
knowledge of all things connected with it. Worse conse-
quences followed still. Aspiring politicians seized upon the
opportunity to convert a high and holy feeling of indigna-
tion, to the purposes of their political advancement. The
])eople were stimulated on the one hand to push matters to
the extremes of persecution ; and persecution, in any cause,
begets opposition. The next, and a necessary consequence,
was to arouse the feelings of the whole fraternity, and, with
few exceptions, array the innocent and the guilty in the
same ranks.

While the storm of popular fury was only directed against
the heads of the guilty, the inactive and merely nominal
members were bidding it roll on ; but when the anathe-
mas of the assailants began to be hurled in a spirit of bitter
and vindictive persecution, against all those, without any
discrimination, (unless by public renunciations they confes-
sed themselves to have been either knaves or fools,) whQhad
(^ver entered a lodge-room, they rallied in defence of their
own rights. Thus hundreds, and perhaps thousands of
Masons, rose up in opposition to Anti-masonry, some of
them even mounting the apron again, who, but for the belief
that they were persecuted, and for a spirit that would not
brook being trampled on, would have bidden the Anti-masons
God-speed, without the thought of ever crossing the thresh-
hold of a masonic temple again. Still, it will appear in


the developemGnts of this history, that the pubHc had but
too frequent cause to continue their jealousy and hatred of

But I forbear. This digression is probably too long al-
ready. I have been drawn into it, in this place, rather un-
awares. It is, however, a just view of this feature of the
case ; and from it I trust you will perceive, that, even in
the early stages of the excitement, the faults were not alto-
gether upon one side. Could the entire body of Free-ma-
sons, who were as ignorant as myself of the whole Morgan
business, until months after it transpired, have looked upon
the matter as I have uniformly done, I can but think that the
result, so far as it respects the public and political tranquili-
ty of those portions of the country where Masonry and
Anti-masonry have come into colhsion, would have been
widely different from what we have seen.

I am, sir, very truly yoprs.*


New- York, Feb. 10, 1832i

All traces of Morgan had been lost at Hanford's Land-
ing ; and the hope, for a time entertained, that he rtiight
even yet reappear, when his kidnappers should have either
succeeded, or failed, in their attempts to suppress his booL
either by compromise or intimidation, had disappeared.
And yet, regardless of the deep manifestations of public
feeling around, and the tempest breaking fearfully in all di-
rections over them — with a fatuity illustrating most fully
the Roman maxim, that the Deity first afflicts with mad-
nes those whom he intends to destroy, — the authors of the
mischief were still exulting in the belief that tbcir great ob-


ject had been accomplished, and that the wonderful revela-
tions which were to have buried all the wisdom of Solomon
beneath the ruins of the masonic temple, had been effectu-
ally suppressed. It was at this crisis, when the Masons
were reposing in fancied security, and ridiculing the efforts
of the various committees of investigation, now in full ac-
tion, that, of a sudden, the hated work, to suppress which,
so much pains had been taken, so much time and money ex-
pended, and so many crimes committed, — was issued forth
to the world. It purported to be a complete and entire re-
velation of the secrets of the first three degrees of Free-
masonry, and was accompanied with a notice that the il-
lustrations of the higher degrees, would be shortly forth-
coming. The discomfiture of the conspirators was com-
plete ; their chagrin unspeakable ; their anger without
bounds ; — and many and bitter were the imprecations
showered upon the head alike of author and publisher.

It forms no part of the task I have assumed, to discuss
the claims which these revelations have to entire authentici-
ty. Upon this point the public were probably enabled to
draw a tolerably correct conclusion, from the unparalleled
exertions made by the fraternity, in the first instance, to
suppress, and when that end had failed, to discredit them.
The distant masonic associations, moreover, were taught
to believe there was danger to be apprehended from these
disclosures, by the arrival of confidential messengers from
the officers of the Grand Lodge of New- York, with an ad-
ditional check-word, to guard the lodges from the intrusion
of " Morgan Masons," as the readers of his book were called.
This check-word I have never received as a Mason ; but
I am told the fraternity have not been strong enough to keep
it, and that it is published, among other precious secrets, in
" Allyn's Ritual." If these circumstances do not fix the
character of the revelations in question, perhaps a still
stvonorer inference mav be drawn from the fact, that Mor-


gan, whether dead or living, was every where, by the united
voice of Masonry, denounced as a perjured traitor to
the institution. He could not have been a traitor, if his
revelations v^ere fictions, but only an impostor upon the pub-
lic, as the world believed the author of " Jachin and Boaz"
to have been*

But in any event, although Morgan has been canonized,
as it were, by the writers upon Anti-masonry, yet I cannot
help looking upon his conduct as most unjustifiable and
wicked. If he had actually received the first three de-
grees within the doors of a regularly constituted lodge, he
was certainly bound by the strongest possible considera-
tions, to maintain his promises inviolate, unless, as some of
the anti-masonic writers have falsely contended, those pro-
mises were extorted by coercion, in which case of course,
they had no vaUdity ; or, unless the faithful performance
of such promises, should become unlawful. Thus, if he
were summoned into a court of justice, and the due execu-
tion of the civil law required of him the disclosure of the
secrets of the order, he would be relieved from the inferior
obligation. Nay, it would be his duty to disclose the se-
crets. And here, as one of the objections to the order of
Masonry itself, the advice of Paley is directly to the pur-
pose — " never to give a promise which may interfere in the
" event with duty ;" " for," says he, " if it do so interfere,
" the duty must be discharged, though at the expense of the
** promise, and not unusually of good name." Paley thus
sustains my view of the case, in its fullest extent. But, set-
ting aside his oaths, which, being extra-judicial, I am dispo-
sed to treat only in the light of solemn promises, or vows,
his violation of them, as such, cannot be justified, unless,
from the strongest convictions of his conscience and judg-
ment, he was persuaded that the promises were in them-
selves unlawful. " The guilt of such promises," says the

ethical philosopher just quoted, " lies in the making, not in



" the breaking, of them ; and if, in the interval betwixt the
*^ promise and the performance, a man so far recover his
" reflection, as to repent of his engagements, he ought cer-
" tainly to break through them." But no such case of con-
science could have arisen with Morgan, so long as he con-
tinued to practise the social and benevolent duties inculca-
ted upon him as a Mason, unmingled with any of its abuses,
or, so long as he had perceived no abuses to charge upon
the order — and I have never heard that he alledged any ; —
"for," says the same standard authority, "a promise cannot be
" deemed unlawful, where it produces, when performed, no
" effect, beyond what would have taken place, had the pro-
" mise never been made." This rule may be considered a
sound one, except perhaps, in a class of extreme cases, of
which Morgan's was not one. His case, besides, was nei-
ther of these, nor was he prompted to the disclosure by the
burden of secret- oaths which he abhorred. On the contra-
ry, he was actuated by two of the worst passions which
infest the human heart — avarice, and revenge. The fact
in respect to the latter point, I have established in a former
communication. It will be equally easy to prove the other
point ; and not only that, but to show, that in using the
means of obtaining the lucre he coveted, he was at the same
time desirous of escaping public responsibility, by a resort
to the same secret oaths which have been so violently con-
demned. His feelings of vengeance had been aroused by
his exclusion from the Batavia chapter ; and in gratifying-
this passion, he saw, or thought he saw, a sure and certain
" way to wealth." Accordingly, amongst the papers found
when his premises were first searched, was a written oath,
or obligation, subscribed, and certified to have been sworn
to by his partners in the proposed publication, wherein they
solemnly promised and swore, on the Holy Evangelists of
Almighty God, not to communicate or make known, in any
manner, to any person or persons in the known world, the


intentions of their principal to publish a book upon the sub-
ject of Masonry, " neither by writing, marking, or by insin-
" uations," or in any other manner whatsoever. There was
likewise found among the papers, a bond executed to Mor-
gan, by Miller, Russel Dyer, and John Davids, his three
partners in the work, in the penal sum of five hundred thou-
sand dollars, conditioned for the payment of one fourth part
of the money that should be received from the sales of the
book. There was, moreover, another paper, being the copy
of a letter purporting to have been addressed to these part-
ners, by which it appeared that they already had had a
quarrel, in anticipation of the division of the profits to
arise from the sale of the publication. A copy-right was
taken out for the work, and it was supposed that the sales
would inevitably be enormous. Indeed, Ketchum, in his
conversations with Mrs. Morgan, during the journey to Ca-
nandaigua, told her that if her husband had managed the
business with discretion, he might have realized a million of
money. Such, undoubtedly, were the excited expectations
of the parties themselves.

I repeat therefore, that Morgan has no claims to the hon*
ors of martyrdom, on the score of moral obligation. The
motives for his disclosures were clearly sordid and base ;
and his conduct in making them was consequently in every
sense unjustifiable. If he was a true Mason, his revela-
tions were so many violations of confidence, faith, honor,
and, which is above, and over all — of truth. " Confidence
*' in promises," says Paley, " is essential in the intercourse of
" human life ; because, without it, the greatest part of our
*• conduct would proceed upon chance. But there could bo
" no confidence in promises, if men were not obliged to per-
" form them ; the obligation therefore to perform promises,
" is essential, to the same ends, and in the same degree."
•' There is no vice," says lord Bacon, *• that doth so cover
" a man with shame, as to be found false and perfidious."


The case of other members of the masonic fraternity,
however, who have disclosed the secrets of the institution,
or borne testimony to the general accuracy of Morgan's
illustrations, as for instance, of the members of the Le Roy
convention, to be more particularly mentioned hereafter, is
widely different from that of Morgan. So, also, in respect
of many clergymen, and other pious individuals, who have
taken the same course. These gentlemen, as we are bound
to believe, have acted from a high and powerful sense of
moral and religious duty. They have seen that a succession
of lawless outrages, ending, most probably, in the perpetra-
tion of a great crime, have been committed by Masons, act-
ing avowedly as such. They have likewise seen Masons, on
the stand, maintaining that the masonic is of higher powder
than the civil obligation. And they have been made to believe
— whether truly or not, does not affect the moral character
of the case — they have been made conscientiously to believe,
that the crimes which they have seen, or of which they have
heard, have sprung from the nature and principles of the in-
stitution itself; and that those crimes are not only sanction-
ed, but in certain emergencies, required by its obliga-
tions. Hence they have renounced, and denounced, and
concurred in the exposure of these alledged obligations,
with the view of aiding in the destruction of an institution,
frau^jht, as they have recently been taught to believe, with
so much iniquity. Nor, if we come to the point of strict
construction, have they disclosed any secrets, since those
things can scarcely be called secret, which are published in
thousands of shapes and forms, to the whole world. But
even were it otherwise, those late, or remaining members
of the order, of whom I am now speaking, under the cir-
cumstances supposed, would find a sufficient warrant for
the course they have taken, upon sound principles of moral
philosophy. For, says the reverend and learned John
Brown, " in all vows and promissory oaths, the matter must


*' be both lawful and expedient, and in our power to per-
" form, and the end must be to glorify God." " Nothing,"
says the same writer, " can be more manifest than that
" we may bind ourselves to what is just and lawful, to neces-
" sary duties ; and that though a promise, oath, or vow,
" cannot bind to sin, yet in any thing not sinful, being taken,
*' it binds to performance." But, " no command requiring,
" or bond engaging, to any thing sinful, can include in it
" any real or valid obligation T In such matters, a man's
conscience must of course prescribe the line of duty.

I have touched upon this branch of the subject, as con-
nected with its consideration ; but have not thought it ne-
cessary to go further and deeper into the discussion of the
questions of moral obligation which it involves. In some
new treatise on moral philosophy, it is not improbable that
the nature of masonic oaths, and the validity or invalidity
of the obligations they impose, may be learnedly and logic-
ally discussed, by some unprejudiced and enlightened wri-
ter. I am aware that a strong argument may be made, and
sustained by the opinions of the highest uninspired authors,
who have treated of the duty of man; from Cicero down to
Archdeacon Paley, to prove that masonic obligations are
not only imperfect, but actually void. And I am not pre-
pared to say, that the same conclusion may not be drawn
more directly and forcibly from the literal commands and
prohibitions of the sacred writings, taken as the sole basis
of morals. I am also aware, that the binding force of an
oath, by w^hich the juror pledges himself not to do a parti-
cular act, has been discussed in our legal tribunals. The
states of New- York and Virginia passed laws, requiring all
who sought admission to the bar, or who were appointed to
any civil office, to take and subscribe the oath against duel-
ling. It has been found expedient to expunge these laws
from the statute-books of both states ; and the inference is,
that even such an obligation, though bearing the sanction of


a judicial oath, was considered as doubtful, imperfect, or
dangerous in its nature. But such an abstract investigation
is foreign to the purpose of these letters, or, at least, unes-
sential to it.

However base and perfidious Morgan's conduct had been
towards the masonic fraternity, it affords not the slightest
justification for their outrages upon his property, or his rights
of life and liberty. We live in a land of law, as well as of
liberty : and to the laws we are all amenable for our good
conduct, and by them only are we punishable for the bad.
Were it otherwise — were private associations of men, or
secret societies, formed for no matter what purpose, — allow-
ed to incorporate penal laws with their social regulations,
and permitted to execute them, there would be no longer
personal safety in the land ; and the secret chambers of the
lodge-room would become as terrible as the ear of Diony-
sius, or the subterranean vaults of the sacred vehme.

I am, sir, very truly your^.


New- York, Feb. 12, 1832.

Having thus failed in the principal design of defeating
the publication of the disclosures, the conspirators, and their
friends next attempted to divert, or allay, for a term at
least, the tempest of popular indignation which had set in
with so much violence. For this purpose an intimation was
given out, and very rapidly and widely circulated, that the
disappearance and protracted absence of Morgan, was noth-
ing more than a ruse de guerre, to create and sustain an ex-
(iitemcnt, amidst the noise and alarm of which a countless
'number of worthless books might be sold for three or four


times their cost. The device succeeded to an extent that
could hardly have been anticipated by its authors ; and such,
for a long time, v^^as the prevailing belief, among at least
nine-tenths of the people of the northern states. 1 say north-
ern states, because I have been seriously informed, w^ithin
a few^ months, by gentlemen of distinguished consideration,
from the southern states, that, in those states, they do not,
many of them, even yet, believe in the reality of the causes
of the Anti-masonic excitement ; considering the whole story
of the abduction and subsequent fate of Morgan, to be a fic-
tion, invented solely to subserve local political objects. The
fact is, the atrocity of the deed was such, that men were
exceedingly reluctant to believe it possible that it could
have \)Qcn committed, in the manner, and for the paltry pur-
pose described, and by persons of so much respectability.
Beyond the immediate region of the excitement, therefore,
for a very long time, but little heed was paid to the clamor,
the murmurings of which only were heard at so great a dis-
tance. Masons, — I speak of the great majority who were
not in the secret — and those who w^ere not masons, — alike
believed it impossible, that a free American citizen could
thus be kidnapped, in open day, and carried with unlawful
violence, against his own consent, for hundreds of miles,
through a thickly settled territory, occupied, too, by a peo-
ple distinguished of all others in the country for their mo-
rals and their intelligence. That a man, under such cir-
cumstances, and among such a people, could thus be drag-
ged away into exile, and perhaps murdered, by means of
a conspiracy, embracing, as it was alledged to have done,
hundreds of such people, was too improbable a tale to ob-
tain ready credence ; and it w^as not believed, for many
months afterwards, and until confirmations strong as proofs
from holy writ, from hundreds of conspiring circumstances,
and the lips of clouds of witnesses, rendered longer disbe-
lief impossible. There w^ere, Likewise, a variety of other



stories afloat, during the several months to which I refer,
all tending to distract the public mind. Among these were
rumors that the absentee had been taken to Niagara, and
had passed over voluntarily into Canada, vs^ith an intention
of joining the North Western Fur Company, — he himself
desiring as much to remove beyond the influence of Miller,
as the Masons wished to have him do so. Another story was,
that he had been sent to Quebec, to enlist on board a ship of
war. And another, and yet more probable tale, arose from
the circumstance that within the fortnight after Morgan had
been taken away, a sloop was wrecked on lake Ontario, of
which all the crew and passengers perished. It w^as sup-
posed that Morgan must have been one of these passengers.
Indeed all were anxious to believe any thing, rather than
the horrible accusations against so large a number of men
as it was by this time known were leagued in the conspi-

None of these tales, however, diverted the committees in
the west, from the eflicient discharge of the duties devolving
upon them by the nature of the case. At the October term
of the General Sessions of the Peace, for the county of Gen-
esee, bills of indictment were obtained against James Gan-
son, Jesse French, Roswell Wilcox, and James Hurlburt,
for a riot, and for assaulting, and falsely imprisoning Col.
Miller. The finding of these indictments was the first legal
proceeding instituted in the Morgan business.

From tll^ 7th to the 26th of October, Governor Clinton
received no further information from the Batavia Commit-
tee. Understanding, however, from the public papers, that
no tidings had been heard of Morgan, and fearing, from the
tone of the reports from the west, that the outrages had
been of a much more serious and aggravated character,
than he had at first supposed, the Gk)vernor transmitted to
the committee at Batavia, his second proclamation, accom-
panied by the following letter :— -


" Albany, 2Qth October, 1826.
" Gentlemen,

" Understanding that William Morgan is still missing,
I have thought it advisable to issue the enclosed proclama-
tion, offering further rev^^ards, which you will please to see
published in the newspapers of your, and the neighboring
counties, and in handbills, if you conceive it advisable. The
expenses of which I will pay.

" I will thank you for such further advice as in your
opinion may lead to a full developement of the outrageous
proceedings that have occurred in your vicinity.
" I am, gentlemen, &c.

" T. F. Talbot, Esq., and others, committee, &c."

By this second proclamation, various rewards were of-
fered for the apprehension of the several offenders in the
outrages complained of, and a specific reward for the dis-
covery of the place to which the person of Morgan had been
conveyed, in order, to quote the language of the document
itself, " that the offenders may be brought to condign pun-
" ishment, and the violated majesty of the laws thereby ef-
" fectually vindicated." All sherilfs, magistrates, and other
officers, were again enjoined to activity in the discharge of

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 16 of 49)