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 45 of 49)
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of the threat of a man by the name of Doyle, to an unpat-
ronised weekly paper in Rochester ; but, sir, you may rest
assured that the instances were exceedingly few. My own
experience is not inconsiderable in this matter : the course
which I adopted as an editor, was such as to draw forth as
much hostility from the conspirators an(J their friends, and
those who palliated their conduct, as that of any other in-
dividual in the country ; and, I am free to say, that although
some of our masonic subscribers have differed with me, yet
with the masonic proscriptions of which I have heard so
much, in the Anti-masonic papers, we have never been vis-
ited. It is possible that the establishment in which I am
interested, may have lost fifteen or twenty friends, from the
independent tone which has been adopted in regard to this
matter ; but such a loss is unworthy of being mentioned. It
is not greater than is felt upon many other occasions. There
is scarcely any subject of morals or religion, or of the pub-
lic policy of the government, the free discussion of which
does not, at one time or other, give offence in some quarter ;
and in all such cases, subscribers of papers whose minds
are too narrow to tolerate any difference with their own
favorite notions or opinions, resort at once to the withdrawal


of their names, as the most convenient and certain mode of
retahation or revenge ; — as the most powerful method of
exerting their own intellects. These are occurrences with
which every editor who occasionally ventures to essay an
opinion of his own, must be familiar : but in regard to the
subject before us, I hesitate not to assert, that in the exer-
cise of this narrow-minded and American mode of attempt-
ing to shackle the freedom of discussion, on a comparison
of facts, the Anti-masons would have little whereof to boast
on the score of liberality. While they have been talking of
the proscriptive threats of the Masons towards such papers
as should dare to publish the Morgan trials, they have them-
selves been acting upon the same principle. The proscrip-
tive resolutions proceeding from their conventions and po-
pular assemblages, have been numberless ; while, so far as
my own experience goes, I believe 1 am warranted in say-
ing, that as miany Anti-masons have testified their displea-
sure because I have not gone far enough with them, as have
the Masons, becai^se, in the opinion of some of that order,
I have gone tob far. My object, throughout, has been
TRUTH without FEAR ; " aud as the good public has always
more than made up the trifling losses sustained from both
extremes, there has been additional cause for believing in
*the soundness of the maxim, " in medio tutissimus ibis."

This practice of withdrawing subscriptions from papers,
on every trivial occasion, for a mere difference of opinion
between the editor and subscriber, upon accidental ques-
tions, more frequently abstract than of national importance,
I have ventured above to denominate American. In no
other country, according to the best information I can ob-
tain, is it so frequently resorted to, as in this : and in my
view, it is but a sorry method of manifesting displeasure, or
dissent. With papers long established, and liberally sup-
ported, these individual instances of private proscription,
can have little effect ; but in respect of papers enjoying


slender patronage, and struggling for existence, they strike
at the root of the freedom of thought and discussion. In
this point of view, connected with the erroneous principle
upon which all our public journals are established, this il-
liberal system may be said to work essential injury. So far
as it goes, it is directly at war with free discussion, and the
independence of the press. Far better would it be, in this
respect, if, in the work of composing and vending newspa-
pers, there was the same division of labor, which exists in
the Europ^ean capitals. There, the editors and publishers
have no personal knowledge of their supporters, as such ;
here, they are known to nearly all ; and the support which
newspapers receive, is but too frequently begged on the one
hand, and bestowed on the other, more in the form of per-
sonal favoritism, than in the manly and independent course
of business, in which favors are neither known nor acknow-
ledged on either hand. Where such are the relations be-
tween publisher and subscriber, there is no such thing as the
freedom of the press. Every paragraph must be carefully
balanced, and frequently all its pungency and meaning
must be frittered away, to render it inoffensive to Mr. A., or
palatable to Mr. B. Even gross official delinquencies must
remain unwhipped of justice, and the cause of morality left
to vindicate itself, lest peradventure the offending officer is
a 'patron I forsooth, or Mr. C. and Mr. D. do not acknow-
ledge the same criterion of orthodoxy, either in morals or
religion, which the publisher, according to his sense of dut-y,
would wish to uphold.

Let me not be misunderstood, however, as maintaining
the opinion that the subscribers to a paper have no right to
exercise this species of influence, or to manifest their dis-
pleasure in this way, under any, or even under very many,
circumstances. I am speaking only of respectable papers,
conducted by educated and responsible men, — by men who
have character at stake themselves, and whose principles
and general mode of conducting their papers, are upon all


great cardinal principles of government, — upon all leading
measures of public policy — held in common by editor and
subscriber. It is in cases like these, that I condemn the
disposition so prevalent in this country, of endeavoring to
avenge every trifling disagreement, or even a casual error,
by striking at the pocket of the publisher. It is an ignoble
device, unworthy of all "who are willing that the same free-
dom of thought and action should be enjoyed by others,
which they glory in exercising themselves. But when edi-
tors are derilict in their duty to the public, — when they be-
lie their professions, and degrade their calling, — when they
prove 'recreant to their principles, or habitually violate the
proprieties of the press, and the courtesies and charities of
social life, — when, from change of conductors, or for base
bribes, they turn their backs upon old friends and old prin-
ciples, — or w^hen, from general licentiousness, personal
scurrility, a mockery of things sacred, and a disregard of
those principles of morality and virtue which form at once
the jewels of private life, and the true glory of the state,
a newspaper becomes unworthy of support, and unfit to be re-
ceived into families, — then is it a high moral duty to discard
the offender, and make him feel the heaviest weight of public,
as well as of private indignation and scorn. But in such in-
stances, the remedy should be effectually applied ; for every
effort to crush the growth of vicious principles, or to check the
career of those who disseminate them, which falls short of the
object, " serves no other purpose than to render them more
" known, and ultimately to increase the zeal and number
" of their abettors.*'

But to return to the subject of immediate consideration.
There is a cause for the silence of a very large portion of
the press, in regard to Morgan's abduction, and the transac-
tions connected with, and growing out of it, which did not
probably occur to Mr. Rush, when he penned his first and
principal philippic, but which is the most prominent of the


xvhole. I mean the withering, palsying spirit of party,
which has taken such deep root in our soil, and which ex-
ercises such a fatal influence upon our political and social
relations. Scarcely had the public, beyond the confines of
the original excitement, begun to believe that there had
actually been an outrage, before the question assumed a de-
cidedly political aspect. This was at once fatal to every
e/Tort for a universal dissemination of correct information,
and for the cause of truth. The eloquent Robert Hall re-
marks, that " When a public outrage is committed against
*' the laws, the crime is felt in a moment." But this able
divine knew little of the nature of party spirit, as it is in-
culcated and fostered by the demagogues of the United
States. The spirit of party, here, has neither a tongue to
speak, nor ears to hear, nor eyes to see, any thing that may
perchance militate against its favorite objects or idols.
Hence, from the moment that Anti-masonry began to array
itself against the powers that be, the crime which had been
committed, could neither be seen, felt, nor exposed, by the
conductors of the party presses attached to the majority.
You may perhaps, sir, be startled at the boldness and ap-
parent incongruity of the assertion, but it is nevertheless
true, that there is but little freedom of the press in this
country. Talk as we please of the despotisms of Europe, —
of the restraints imposed upon the mind and the tongue, —
I hesitate not to avow, that neither in England nor in France,
is the press held in such abject subjection, as the great ma-
jority of the American presses are by demagogues, and the
discipline of party. It is said to be a difficult thing to draw
the line between the liberty of the press, and its licentious-
ness ; but heaven knows that in this country the line is as
broad and as visible as can be desired. We have licen-
tiousness enough on all sides, and upon every possible sub-
ject, ^he eye sickens at the profligacy -of the press, and
the mind turns from it with abhorrence and loathing. With



this portion of the press, the bitterness of party is mingled
in every thing ; and the ferocity of its attacks, is equalled
only by the profligacy of its conductors. " Gorgons, hy-
" dras, and chimeras dire, are harmless monsters compar-
" ed with such a press. No matter how virtuous, how in-
" nocent, or elevated, or noble, or persuasive, or beneficent
" the character may be, which is the object of its extermi-
" nating purpose, — be it Socrates, or Cato, or Peter, or
" Paul, or John Rodgers, or the Saviour of men himself;
" there are neither e.yes, nor ears, nor heart, nor compunc-
" tion, nor feeling, nor flesh, nor blood. The general and
" inexorable cry, crucify ! crucify ! consummates the fate
" of the victim." Still, with all this apparent liberty, it is
not that liberty of the press which is the safeguard of free-
dom. There is among the mere party papers, little of that
noble spirit of independence, that is exercised in England
and France, which assumes the right of free and manly dis-
cussion of every subject in which the public becomes from
day to day interested, or which appertains to the political
or civil relations of the country. When a candidate is to
be assailed, or an incumbent hunted down, — no matter for
his services, his wants, the purity of his character, or his
claims upon the gratitude of his country, — " spare no ar-
" rows," is the maxim ; while the cause of sound morals,
and enlightened government, and the love of truth, are as
far from their thoughts as the remotest orb from the dull
sphere on which they arc unworthy to tread. It has been
well remarked by the anonymous author I have just quoted
above, that every good has its counterbalancing evil. " The
" contemplation of the delightful freedom of our institu-
« tions,. is most pleasant. But ihe extreme license, the
" coarse abuse, the gross' misrepresentations, the frequent
" and unprovoked assaults of private character, the wanton
" dragging of niamos before the public eye, — these are great
" counterbalancins: evils of freedom, for which there can


" be no effectual corrective, but the slow and distant one, to
" be found in an enlightened public sentiment. Whenever
" general feeling shall be guided by gentlemanly tact, and
" correct conceptions of what is right, and respectable, and
" dignified, and of good report, any attempts of those who
" assume to sway that feeling, and direct the public senti-
« ment, to overstep the limits of decorum, unsustained by it,
" would be at once repressed by a general and palpably in-
" dignant expression of the public award in the case. The
'" rebuked party would be instantly awed back to propriety
" and duty. Unhappily, all the individual minds of which
" the public mind is composed, are so liable to be swayed by
" prejudice and passion, and there is so much temper in
*« party feeling, mixed up with all the expressions of the
" public will amongst us, that it is long before we may pro-
^' mise ourselves, that they, who are the most efficient in
" guiding public opinion, will find their land-marks, and
" stand corrected when they go beyond them." The fer-
vent prayers of all good men are needed, that this time may
speedily come ; for unless it does, it is greatly to be fear-
ed that the evil w^ill have become incurable. A lax state
of political morals among the people, and a degenerate
press, operate with mutual and fatal effect upon each other,
and the course at the present day is tending downward
with fearful rapidity.

None knew better than Mr. Rush this low condition of
the party presses of the day ; the manner in which most
of them had been established ; or the effective party orga-
nization which they support, and by which in turn they
are supported. Whence, then, seeing that Anti-masonry
had become political, his surprise at their silence in regard
to the murder of Morgan, and the fruitless efforts, legisla-
tive, judicial, and by voluntary associations, made to dis-
cover and bring to punishment the authors ? It is not in
the case ef Morgatr^fone, that more than a moiety of the


press has been silent. . There have been other atrocities,
equalling the outrage upon Morgan, that have been conceal-
ed from the readers of those papers, or denied, or extenu-
ated, for political purposes. Look at the conduct of the
same description of presses at the present moment. Look
at the government papers, from v^^hich, if from any, the
people should receive the fullest and most impartial details
of the public affairs of the land. The same vindictive spir-
it of party which I have been attempting to describe : the
same suppressions of every publication calculated to ren-
der even common justice to their political opponents: (he
same studied suppressions of the truth, which marked the
course of the presses opposed to Anti-masonry, is openly
practised, and publicly defended. An Enghsh or French
journalist, would scorn to suppress the speeches in opposi-
tion, in either the parliament, or the chambers. No mat-
ter how strong their party feelings, the presses on that side
of the Atlantic would never stoop so low as to deprive the
adversary of a fair hearing. The speeches and documents,
therefore, upon all questions of moment, are impartially re-
ported, and the comments of the editors, given thereon in
gentlemanly language. There is a degree of fairness and
manliness in this course of political conti'oversy, which
commands respect, and illustrates the true character and
uses of the freedom of the press. But instead of imitating
such examples, of candor and magnanimity, by publishing
the speeches of the soundest and most eloquent in opposi-
tion, our partizan prints, from the government official to the
end of the catalogue — make a merit of substituting there-
for, their own miserable commentaries and malignant dis-
tortions. Why, then, I would again ask, should Mr. Rush,
and the other leaders of the Anti-masonic party, after they
had made the controversy political, — and it began to as-
sume that aspect in a very short time, — dwell so much
upon the silence of the presses opposed to them? That si-


ience, I repeat, was only in conformity to the tactics, — to
"the systems,"^of party discipline, and was in fact no
greater cause of marvel than is presented to our observa-
tion every month in the year. There may have been, and
there doubtless v^^ere, papers conducted by Masons, who
refused to break silence because they were such. But these
instances were few ; and it is the baneful influence of party
spirit, and the tyranny of party " systems," and the artful
appliances of controlling demagogues, to which we are to
look for the causes of what Mr. Rush has called " the dull
" insensibility of the press" in regard to the murder of Mor-
gan. It was not, therefore, because Morgan was slain by
Masons, that these presses were silent ; but because assist-
ance to those who were laboring to avenge the broken ma-
jesty of the laws, would have been injuring " the party."
And if another Morgan, and yet another, were to be ab-
ducted, and murdered, every month, so that a political con-
troversy would be made of it, the same course would again
be pursued by the same men. It is indeed a deplorable
state of things, — such as almost to induce a belief that the
press has become of questionable utility. Certainly, from
more than one half of the newspapers of the United
States, the people derive no benefit either on the score of
intelligence, or morals. The small modicum of knowledge
which is imparted to them, only leads them into error, and
instead of enlarging and liberalizing their minds, they are
narrowed by new-created prejudices, and blinded by mis-
representations that are not accidental. A great cause of
this alarming evil, is to be found in what the world igno-
rantly enough conceives to be a blessing, — the cheapness of
newspapers, and the facility with which new. ones are
established. In England, there is attached to the newspa-
per press, an array of talent and learning, which commands
the confidence and respect of the community. In France,
the great master spirits of literature and science — the first


men of the age and country, are connected with the press.
Hence, when it speaks, it is with a degree of force, and en-
ergy, and talent, calculated to render the press that effec-
tive engine of moral power w^hich it was designed to be-
come. But it is far otherwise in this land of a thousand
newspapers. Five hundred dollars, raised by subscription,
will start a press ; every village must have its paper ; jealous-
ies arise, and that paper must have its competitor. Person-
alities soon take the place of argument, even upon local and
trivial matters : flippancy is mistaken for wisdom ; smart-
ness for talent ; epithet for argument ; and a reckless disre-
gard of the feelings of others, and of the courtesies of life,
for that manly independence which ought to characterize the
guardians of the citadel of freedom.

But nil desperandum should be the watch-word of eveiy
patriot: and though we have" in some respects fallen
upon evil times, yet we shall do well to remember, in the
words of Robert Hall, "that wisdom and truth, the offspring
" of the sky, are immortal ; while cunning and deception,
" the meteors of the earth, after glittering for a moment,
" must pass away.*'

With high regard, I am, &c.


New- York, March 31, 1832.

The judicial history of Anti-masonry is closed, and
yet the inquiry remains : — " What was the fate of Morgan ?"
For notwithstanding the number and extent of the legal in-
vestigations described, — notwithstanding the number of
persons engaged, directly or indirectly, in the abduction, —
and notwithstanding, likewise, the fact, that some of the ac-


tors in the dark conspiracy, had become witnesses for the
state, no evidence had yet been elicited showing what was
the ultimate fate of the wretched victim ; or, if his life had
been taken, marking, with judicial certainty, the persons of
his executioners. It is indeed one of the most extraordina-
ry features of this conspiracy, that, when the fatal secret
must have been known, (at least with sufficient certainty to
have indicated the principals,) to so many people, no disclo-
sure should have been made of the particulars of the last
terrible act of the drama. Neither the apprehensions, nor
the jealousies, usually existing among partners in crime ;
nor the hope of reward ; nor the compunctious visitings of
conscience ; had the effect to produce any satisfactory le-
gal disclosures, in regard to the final disposition of Morgan,
after his confinement in the magazine.* This fact furnishes
the strongest possible illustration of the strength of the tie
which bound the conspirators together, while it affords an
unanswerable argument against the continuance of any so-
cial institution whatever, that can exert such a dangerous
power, for evil, as well as for good, if indeed good can again
flow from it.

The difficulty of procuring testimony, was, from the be-
ginning of the legal investigations, the greatest obstacle with
which the prosecutors had to contend. Witnesses either
fled the country voluntarily, or were spirited away, or were
hired to absent themselves, in numbers, and with a readi-
ness, altogether unexampled in the judicial annals of this, or
perhaps any other country. Often did it happen, that, when
the officers of justice had been apprised of the existence of
fresh testimony, or when they had become acquainted with
the place of retreat, far beyond the boundaries of our own
state, of important witnoRses, while they supposed the pos-

* EUsha Ailams, mig'ut, perhaps, have formci! an exception to this remark,
had not a misconception of duty, on the part of Governor Throop, induced
Jiimto withhohl the rev,'ard that liud hcen oftr'rcd h}' Governor Clinton.

536 Letter xlvii.

session of such knowledge was a secret in their own bo-
soms, such witnesses have been secretly apprised that the
officers would soon be upon them, and were thus enabled
again to escape their vigilance. In other instances, have
these witnesses, when caught by surprise, while in charge
of the officers, been followed hundreds of miles by members
of the fraternity, interested in the fate of the accused, until
plans could be matured, and the means put into operation,
to steal them away from their keepers. In other cases still,
witnesses have no sooner agreed to make honest revela-
tions of the facts with which they were acquainted, than
they have been surrounded by their masonic brethren, and
so successfully dissuaded from their good resolutions, as to
become as silent and uncommunicative upon the subject as
the sphynx. Examples of this description have already
been noted in the progress of this history, and others might
be adduced were it necessary. Money seemed to be of no
value, in these matters. Travelling agents were kept in
pay, whose duty it was to visit the absconding witnesses in
their places of retreat, and strengthen their integrity to-
wards each other. Even Giddings, much as they affected
to discredit his testimony, was tampered with, and money
oftered him to any amount he might desire, if he would leave
the country.

Nor was this all. When, after encountering every diffi-
culty, the attendance of reluctant witnesses had been secur-
ed, their conduct, as it has already been seen, was often of
the most exceptionable character. In many instances, the
manner of the witnesses upon the stand, was painful to look
upon. Whatever of truth was obtained, was absolutely
wrung from them. There was not only an almost uniform
evasiveness of manner, among the masonic witnesses, but
numerous cases of obvious and palpable falsehood. " Some
" of them exercised a species of casuistry, in relation to their
"judicial oath, which is not a little remarkable. It seems


*' that those implicated had argued themselves into the belief,
" that there was no greater sin than the breaking of a ma-
" sonic oath, even in obedience to the paramount laws of
" the land ; that if they told the truth in relation to theout-
" rage,' they should divulge a secret which they were ma-
"sonically bound to keep, which would criminate them-
" selves ; and that, therefore, their only course was to tes-
" tify that they knew nothing about the affair. Strange as
" is the infatuation manifested by this reasoning, there was
" not wanting a counsellor of the Supreme Court, a Royal
** Arch Mason, to advise them, that if they were implicated
"in the affair, they might thus safely swear. Many wit-
" nesses, to whom circumstances almost unerringly pointed,
" as having a knowledge of, or being implicated in, some

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 45 of 49)