William L. (William Leete) Stone.

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

. (page 2 of 49)
Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 2 of 49)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

extending itself in various directions, and its effective or-
ganization, create an era in the poUtical history of our
country. Parties w^ill always exist in republican govern-
ments, and indeed, in all governments where the elective
principle is recognised. But heretofore, the dividing lines
of parties have been drawn, generally, with reference to
certain prominent principles of the constitution, or policy of
the government. Or, whenever the coincidence of opinion
respecting the principles and action of a free government,
becomes so general, that room is scarcely afforded for op-
position, on the breaking up of old, new parties are formed
in respect rather to men than principles. Parties, originally
formed upon principle, in such cases, degenerate into fac-
tions. The political history of our own country affords
ample illustrations of the soundness of these propositions.
From the period of the adoption of the federal constitu-
tion, down to the close of the last war with Great Britain^
the people had been divided into two great parties only.
The division originated in differences of principle, touching
the powers vested in the general government under the
federal compact ; but after the accession of Mr. Jefferson
to the presidency, the principles of opposition, down even
to the close of Mr. Madison's administration, were rather
to be found in relation to the policy of the government,
than to the 'principles upon which the government was it-
self constituted. Nevertheless, the dividing line was cleaily
defined, and always distinctly understood ; at least by the
leaders of the difierent parties, and by their intelligent sup-

At the close of the late war, however, a recurrence, by
the majority, to the leading measures which had been so
long and so strenuously advocated by the opposition, dis-
armed the latter ; and after a few feeble and very partial
efforts to prolong the contest under the old watch- words and


banners of the respective parties, the strife ceased, and a
truce ensued, which continued nearly to the close of the ad-
ministration of the late president Monroe. Nor, in the
contest for the succession, was the attempt to rally the for-
mer parties, as such, successful. At any rate, it was but
partially so — although the old party watch-words were
rung in all their various changes, by a considerable portion
of the public press. The contest of 1824, was essentially
for men. There were four candidates for tlie presidency, —
at one period five ; — and yet, with the exception of one of
them, the success of whom was identified with the odious
practice of congressional caucussing, no controversy respect-
ing the cardinal principles of the government was entertained
by either. The general course of national policy to be
pursued, internal and external, was believed to be establish-
ed ; and few persons, warring in the ranks of either of the
candidates, contemplated any essential change or departure
therefrom. Still, much strife and bitterness of feeling were
engendered during the conflict ; and the passions were
wrought up to a degree of excitement, if not of positive
anger, w^hich forbade their sinking back into that state of
repose which could have been desired, on your accession to
the chief magistracy of the republic. The calm that fol-
lowed was deceitful. The aspirants who had been con-
tending in the ranks of the various unsuccessful parties, and
fragments of parties, were alike out of place ; and if they
had no common bond of union by virtue of any principle,
they had at least a common object, and therefore a common
interest in acting together, in any new enterprise promising
a more propitious result.

The ancient party land-marks having all been erased, and
the party watch- words having lost their charm, as the ex-
perience of the preceding contest had well demonstrated, it
was apparent that an entirely new organization was neces-
sary ; a combination was required among materials of the


most heterogeneous and even opposite qualities, possessing
no single property or principle of cohesion, save only what
may be found in the pregnant and comprehensive phrase —
SELF-INTEREST. Nor did the managers find it necessary to
look for a term of greater significance or power. A new party,
numerous and active, sprung up suddenly, as if summoned into
existence by the wand of another Prospero. The disaflfected
of all schools were united, — the Georgian contemner of the
treaty-making power ; the South Carolinian nuUifier ; the Vir-
ginian strict-constructionist ; the free-trade advocate — (as a
certain description of speculative political economists call
themselves, in contradistinction to those who would foster the
industry of their own country by protecting duties, when
necessary ;) — and the tariff' men of Pennsylvania and New-
York ; — men of rival interests, and of opposite, and even con-
flicting opinions — all, all combined in the formation of a new
party, without reference to antecedent creeds or principles,
and with the sole view of self-aggrandisement and power.
Their numbers increased beyond precedent or measure :
so that after a repose of twelve years and upwards, the
country once more found itself divided into two formidable
political parties — one of them as we have seen, (the youngest,
and, very speedily, the strongest,) so utterly heterogeneous,
among its own members, upon every subject but the passion
for power, that, were that principle of action removed, we
might have anticipated for them the fite of the fabled war-
riors who sprung from the dragon's teeth of Cadmus, on the
casting of even a stone amongst them.

But of all the parties to which I have adverted in this
brief retrospect, and of all the factions, and fragments of
parties, which at dilferent times, and in different sections of
the country, have broken off* and divided upon questions of
temporary interest and expediency, it may be predicated
that the principles of their organization and action have
been pretty well understood by tlie people. They have ei-


ther been combatting for what they supposed to be consti-
tutional principles, or for measures, or for the success of
personal favorites, or openly and avowedly for a new division
of the spoil. And in either case, the dividing lines of these
parties have been well defined. The circumstances out of
which they sprung — the principles upon which they have
been maintained, — and the objects intended to be effected,
have been, among intelligent men at least, well understood.
Such is not the fact, however, with respect to the Anti-
masonic party, of which, since it is to form my principal
theme, I ought, perhaps, to have spoken with less circum-
locution. That is a political party sui generis. There
was none ever before like unto it. Nor will its likeness,
probably, be found in any pohtical party to arise hereafter.
It is of but recent origin, and yet is already powerful in
numbers — striking deep root in the land, and spreading far
and wide its branches. Its progress has hitherto given the
he to prediction, and in its strides it has outstripped the cal-
culations of its friends. Already is its weight heavily felt
in our elections, and it bids fair, at no distant day, to exer-
cise a prodigious influence, for weal or for woe, in the poli-
tical concerns of the republic. " Behold how great a matter
" a little fire kindleth." It is but little more than four years,
I believe, since the commencement of this new party. It
had its origin in a small town in the interior of this state,
with reference, solely, to a town election. Since that period
it has drawn into its ranks nearly one hundred thousand free
and intelligent electors of the state of New- York ; it has
almost divided the vote of Pennsylvania ; it has planted it-
self deeply in the soil of Massachusetts ; it is spreading in
other of the New England states, in Ohio, and elsewhere ;
while in Vermont, like the rod of Aaron, it has so far
swallowed up both of the former parties, as to have obtained
the control of the state government. Nor is it of factious
partizans, or disappointed office seekers, that this party is


composed. It is a truth, let partizan opponents say what
they please to the contrary, that it comprises among its
members, as great a portion of wealth, and character, — of
talents and respectability, — as any party of equal numbers,
ever formed in this or any other country. And yet I am
constrained to believe, that this party, possessing such num-
bers, and such moral as well as political power, is far from
being well understood, or properly appreciated, by a vast
majority of the people of these United States. I am con-
strained to say — for I know the fact — that many gentlemen,
filling a wide space in the public eye — eminent for their
talents, and distinguished for the soundness of their learn-
ing, and the extent of their political information — have no
just knowledge or conception of Anti-masonry. They look
upon it merely as a party, originating in a spirit of fanati-
cism, engaged in a crusade against an innocent institution,
and proscribing, without reason or justice, all the members
of that institution, whether innocent or guilty. They know
little of the merits of the case ; — doubt, or affect to doubt,
whether any great crime has been committed to justify the
excitement out of which it sprung, — and are still less in-
formed as to the wide extent in which, in the course of these
Letters, truth will compel me to admit the Masonic institu-
tion has been compromised by the dark transaction to which
I am referring.

Allowing what I have just been saying to be true, and
that it is so, I know from extensive and close personal ob-
servation, — may it not, sir, be a matter of profitable inquiry,
to ascertain the cause of this want of information, with a
view, if possible, by a subsequent investigation of facts, of
removing the obstacles to a more general diffusion of light
and truth?

In searching for the origin of Anti-masonry, we discover
it as proceeding exclusively from the fact, that in the year
1826, a great outrage was committed in the western part


of New- York, against the peace of the people and the nna-
jesty of the laws. An extensive conspiracy was formed
against a free citizen, commencing in his seizure and abduc-
tion, and ending in his murder. The men engaged in this
foul conspiracy, thus terminating in a deed of blood, belong-
ed to the society of Freemasons ; and the life of the victim
was taken, as a punishment for a disclosure, on his part, of
what have been deemed the secrets of that institution. The
fact of the abduction and murder having been satisfactorily
ascertained, the people of that section of country, laboring
under a very honest feeling of indignation at the perpetra-
tion of such an outrage, set themselves about a thorough
investigation of this black transaction. But they soon found
their investigations embarrassed, by Freemasons, in every
way that ingenuity could devise. At that time, by the then
existing law of the state, grand jurors w^ere selected and
summoned by the sheriffs of counties. In one county, sus-
picion was strongly fastened upon the sheriff' himself; and
the grand jurors summoned by him refused to find bills, where
the ex-parte testimony was on all hands believed to be suf-
ficient to put the offenders upon their trial. In some instan-
ces, where convictions were had for the lesser crime of ab-
duction, the parties offending, so far from having been expel-
led from their respective lodges for their crimes, received aid
and comfort from their brethren. In others, sonie witnesses
stood mute ; others were believed to have perjured them-
selves; while in other cases, the Masons on the petit juries,
would refuse to convict, even where the testimony was
strong as proofs of holy writ. The arm of the law was
raised, and the power and authority of the state invoked and
exercised in vain ; while the grand supervising bodies of the
Masonic institution, were themselves strongly suspected of
favoring the cause of the accused. The natural conse^
quence of such a chain of circumstances, was to increase the
excitement of the people at every new developement of facts^


and to chafe them into a yet more angry mood, with every
successive disappointment. A large portion of the press,
moreover, either observed an ominous silence, or attempted
to heap ridicule upon those who honestly beheved the blood
of an innocent man to be crying from the ground for ven-

Thus irritated and inflamed, the Anti-masons no longer
confined their denunciations to a few misguided Masonic fa-
natics at the west, but proceeded in no measured terms, to
denounce the whole fraternity, and to hold the institution of
Freemasonry itself as directly responsible for the alleged
murder. At one time it was said that the Grand Lodge, at
another that the Grand Chapter, and at another that the
General Grand Chapter, had directly authorised and requir-
ed the murder of the victim — whose name, I need not add,
was William Morgan. Nay, more, an illustrious citizen,
now no more, whose life was a pattern of public and private
integrity and virtue, and whose name is proudly associated
with the glory of his country, was basely coupled with the
conspirators ; while newspaper files, and the records of coro-
ners' offices, were ransacked for cases of suicide, to be charg-
ed as so many additional murders upon the Freemasons. A
number of seceding Masons disclosed a series of oaths, pur-
porting to be those administered in the lodges and chap-
ters, which, unexplained, look frightfully enough, I admit ;
but which, according to the construction put upon them
by the Anti-masons, would not only cover every crime
and every enormity, against the laws alike of God and
man, that Masons could commit, but would compel the
participation in crime, of all who have taken such obliga-
tions. Feeling keenly the injustice of such sweeping de-
nunciations, the Masons, in turn, became highly exaspera-
ted. Thousands and tens of thousands of men, as virtuous
and as pure in their lives and conversation as any in the re-
public — men exalted by their talents, and the splendor of


their public services — or for their piety and benevolence in
the walks of private life— of a sudden found themselves charg-
ed v^^ith infidelity, blasphemy, and murder. They could
not brook it. Many thousands of them were only nominal-
ly Freemasons. They had joined the society when young
men, as a benevolent social institution, relinquishing it in a
few years, to attend to the more important concerns of life,
but without perceiving any harm in it. There were thou-
sands and tens of thousands more, preserving their relation-
ship to the institution, who absolutely not only knew noth-
ing of the abduction and murder of William Morgan — but
who had actually never heard of the person, or his book, until
months after his bones were whitening at the bottom of the
Niagara. And again, there were thousands of Masons, as
well as others, who believed, (and many of them so believe
unto this day,) that the whole story of the abduction and
murder was an ingeniously devised fiction, got up for the
purpose of realiznig a fortune from the sale of a book — pre-
tending to be a revelation of the secrets of Freemasonry,
All these classes of Masons felt not only insulted, but ag-
grieved, at the wholesale charges brought against them.
When personally assailed, it was in vain that they opened
their mouths in explanation or defence, or that they expres-
sed the deep abhorrence with which they looked upon th©
crime that had been committed. They were roughly told
that those oaths, those horrible oaths, were upon them, and
that consequently it was utterly out of their power to speajj;
the truth of the order. The effect upon the social relations,
m many peaceful communities, was such as all good men
could but deplore. Friendships were broken amongst neighs
bors; the harmony of the social fire-side was destroyed ; the
pastors of the christian religion were driven from their
flocks, and exemplary professors thrust rudely from the com-
munion table.


Thus arose a mutual state of distrust and exasperation.
Many thousands of honest and inteUigent men have brought
themselves to believe, that Masons have so bound themselves
by horrible oaths, that they are disqualified for performing
the duty even of good citizens — much less for discharging
faithfully the duties imposed by civil trusts of any descrip-
tion whatever. And they are consequently from year to
year appealing to the ballot boxes for such a decision from
the people, as will sustain their views. While on the other
hand, the great majority of the Masons, particularly be-
yond the state of New- York, and the numerous body with-
in the state, who feel a proud consciousness of their own
individual honor and integrity, and who condemn the Mor-
gan outrage as much as the most indignant Anti-mason can
do it, are bent on opposing the crusade against them with
equal pertinacity. Sorry am I to add my fears, that the ob-
stinacy on both sides, is but too often indulged at the ex-
pense of what the paities know and feel to be the true inter-
ests of the country.

Such a state of feeling, it w^ill readily be conceded, is in
no wise favorable to a calm investigation as to the merits
of the controversy. On the one hand, the Anti-masons per-
sist in holding the whole Masonic fraternity guilty — impu-
ting that guilt to the nature of the institution itself — and re-
fusing to allow any explanations as to the manner in which
Freemasonry was received, understood and practised by vir-
tuous and intelligent men. Such explanations, they afiect
to believe, would not only be cx-park\ but unworthy of cre-
dit, on account of the "horrible oaths." Indeed they invert
the sound maxim of the common law, which declares that
every man is to be considered innocent until he is proved
guilty, and believe every Mason guilty who is not proved
innocent. On the other hand, an equally strong prejudictj
against the Anti-masons, has prevented the vast body of Ma-


&ons, who are in truth and in fact innocent of all the charges
directly advanced, or insinuated against them, from that
full and impartial inquiry into the whole history of the Mor-
gan outrage, which its importance demands. The conse-
quence is, that they are not aware of the extent to which
the Masonic institution of this state, stands compromised in
relation to the Morgan outrage, and the subsequent efforts
to succor, and even to screen, the guilty; They, on their
part, moreover, look upon the Anti-masonic publications
as ex-parte, and will not believe them.

Here, in my opinion, lies the great difficulty in question^
The mutual hostility of the parties, engendered as I have
related, has prevented that calm and deliberate search after
truth that is needed. These asperities must be softened.
The Anti-masons must be made to perceive, that, whatever
they may think of Freemasonry itself, their indiscriminate
proscription of its members, whom they know to be pure and
virtuous, patriotic and upright citizens, is cruel and unjust.
The Masons, on their part, must in like manner be made to
perceive, that there has been great cause for the excitement
and indignation of the Anti-masons. They must likewise be
made to perceive, that the masonic institution, having over a
wide region of country been corrupted and abused — nay,
stained with blood which its officers have not tried to wipe
away — is liable to be so abused and corrupted again ; and,
therefore, that it cannot and ought not longer to be sustained.

To produce these results, is the design of the undertaking
upon which I have now commenced. In the minds of many,
the attempt may argue on my part no small degree of
presumption. Still, I have the vanity to believe I shall be
in a degree successful — that my labors will tend, in some
small measure at least, to advance the cause of truth and
justice. The Anti-masons know me well. They know that
from the outset, my course upon the subject of this unhappy
excitement, and the tragical cause of it, has been open,

13 1.KTTEJI I.

straight-forward, free and independent. They know that
neither threats, nor abuse, nor motives of self-interest, have
deterred me from speaking or pubhshing the truth — and the
whole truth. By them, therefore, I shall be read and be-
lieved. The intelligent and virtuous members of the Ma-
sonic fraternity likewise know me. They know me as a
Mason, who, for ample cause, as will be seen hereafter, has
not attended the sittings of any lodge, since the atrocity of
the west was disclosed, but who has nevertheless made na
renunciation. By them, therefore, I likewise trust I shall be
read, and I hope also by them to be believed. In any event,
my aim will be impartiality and truth. The search for the.
latter, I am aware, will be laborious, even if it can at all
times be discerned. " Truth," to borrow a beautiful simile
from Milton, "came once into the world with her divine
"master, and was a perfect shape, most glorious to look on :
"but when he ascended, and his apostles after him were laid
"asleep, there straiglit arose a wicked race of deceivers, who
"as the story goes of the Egyptian Typhon with his conspir-
^'ators, how they dealt with the good Osiris, took the virgin
** Truth, hewed her lovel}^ frame into a thousand pieces, and
<* scattered them to the four winds. From that time ever since,
"the sad friends of Truth, such as durst appear, imitating the
"careful search that Isis made for the mangled body of Osiris,
"went up and down gathering up limb by limb still as they
"could find them." Like the widowed divinity of the my-
thology, I, also, shall search up and down after the scattered
members of tlie victim ; and although I may not promise in
bringing together every joint and limb to mould them a»
Isis did, into "an immortal feature of loveliness and perfec-
"tion," yet I trust I shall not fail in presenting her plain, honest
features, though in humble garb, to the recognition of the

It is no part of my design to write a vindication of Free-
masonry, as such. Its character, its usefulness, and its res^


pectability are gone, and its officers and members, through-
out the Union, would act wisely to bury all their tools and
implements, and inscribe the name ICHABOD on the cap-
stone. But it will be my object to describe Freemasonry
as I received, understood, and practised it myself, and as it
has been received, understood and practised by the hundreds
of excellent men — of sound heads, and pure hearts, — whom
I have known to be Freemasons, and with whom, before the
black outrage which has disgraced and destroyed the insti-
tution, I have had the happiness to associate in the lodge
room. Having discharged tliis duty to those of my brethren
who are worthy citizens, and having, (as I hope I shall be
able to do,) relieved them from a heavy weight of the odium
unjustly cast upon such Masons, I shall next proceed to give
a full and impartial history, without fear, favor or affection,
of or for any one, of the origin, rise and progress of Anti-
masonry — nothing extenuating, nor setting down aught in
malice — embracing an account of the original quarrel w4th
Morgan, together with a succinct history of the several tri-
als that have taken place in relation to the subject, with all
the pertinent and material facts elicited, in testimony, togeth-
er with such other incidental information as may be found
interesting and authentic.

You will perceive, sir, that 1 have entered upon a wide
field of investigation ; but I hope in the course of the winter
to accomplish the task in a manner that will be equally sa-
tisfactory to yourself and the public, while at the same time
its tendency may be to allay excitement and animosity, and
to produce a better understanding among good men now
widely apart, but who love the country and its inhabitants
with equal ardor and sincerity.

I am, sir, with sentiments of high respect,

Your very humble servant^



New- York, Nov. 25, 1881.

Pursuing the design of this correspondence, in the man-
ner indicated in my former Letter, it will be first in order
to speak of the Masonic institution as I first became ac-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 2 of 49)