Research into a new acquisition to the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, an 1830 letter written by a Freemason to the Past Master of his lodge, reveals a much more complex and interesting story of the Anti-Masonic movement in America. The movement began well before the death of William Morgan in 1826, and may be divided into two distinct periods: the moral opposition to Freemasonry, which began around 1790, and the political opposition to Freemasonry, which began after the election of President Andrew Jackson in 1828.
This basic timeline for the birth and evolution of Anti-Masonry was typified in the state of Vermont, the home state of both the author and recipient of the Archives’ 1830 letter. Moral opposition to Freemasonry arose as early as 1798 by members of the Baptist Church, and it continued in this form in the state of Vermont until 1829, when President Jackson’s use of the spoils system to remove Democratic office holders prompted the Anti-Masons to form a political party. This letter from the collection provides one Mason’s response to the growth and threat of Anti-Masonry as a political movement. It represents the opinion of a political insider and provides us with a fascinating insight into American politics.
The letter, written by Justus Burdick (1793-1849) of Burlington, Vermont, to Vermont Secretary of State Norman Williams (1791-1868) of Woodstock, Vermont, is reproduced below, along with a transcription.
Burlington. Oct. 3 1830
I received yours by [Mr. Brown?] last evening who left in the Boat at 9 o’clock for his majesty’s dominions. -- I am well aware that the election in yr [your] town must have been [a] matter of deep regret among you, as well as in other parts of the state. -- We here regretted it the more on account of the effect it would have in favor of the Antis. -- And we see those effects which were anticipated now making their appearance. -- How it is expected that the “[?]” is coming out, and I believe that Jno N. Pomeroy and Gam Sawyer the partner of Jno. C. broke ground yesterday + we shall be disappointed if it does not turn out that Hon Jno. C. himself and Bill Griswold are at the bottom of it. -- The state will become Antimason, beyond doubt. The thing will be cut + carved at Montpelier, many very many will act with that party, who wish for office, who we have not yet suspected. There are various reasons for [guessing?] so. -- In the first place, our party expected nothing not even civil treatment from the hands of the Adams men therefore it is six of one and ½ doz of the other with us
which of the parties rule the State. -- the Antis can do no more than proscribe all of us, and that much the nationals will do. -- Then again, the Clay men must be satisfied that their party can never here after alone make any election in this state, and their troops will desert by dozens + scores. -- The parties will stand at 90 Adams, 80 Antis, 50 Jackson and on the election of Gov. Crafts can get only a part of the Adams men + now the others. -- I therefore set him down as defunct. -- Meech is also out of the question -- his party will sooner go for an Anti candidate than Crafts. -- Then what is to be done? -- We hope that there will some arrangement be made between Crafts + Meech’s friends to go together for some person and elect him. -- If they will join forces the state is saved from disgrace. -- They can make the Gov. Senator, and Supreme Court and if they will act together on these questions this fall, they can go together also in one ticket in 1831 which will insure success. -- but if no overtures are made and accepted between those parties, then the State becomes Antimason -- certain -- Unless we are very much deceived Palmer stands a good chance for Senator as he will have the support of our people in preference to [your?] neighbor. We shall run a Jackson man but without expecting to elect him. -- I have no doubt should the Antis get the reins they will another year at least
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None of those persons, masons, who went with the Antis in [your?] election have disgraced themselves. except [B. F.M.?] the others had no character to lose --
Turn you out [?] + [?], + Maj. Swan Also -- now I apprehend that if the plan of uniting the two parties should come from [your?] county backed up by the most able men say Mr. Swan, Mr. Marsh, Wyllys Lyman, Mr. Everett + [co?]. You would succeed -- We are willing to do anything which is consistent and honorable, as I believe, to put down Anti-ism. -- I have nothing to lose thank God -- but I would rather lose my liberty one year than Titus should ride into the Senate on the Antimasonic hobby. I have not the least doubt of [your?] election this year. But I think you would stand better another year, if this union of parties can be brought about. And if you are of the same way of thinking you can do much. -- And as I believe risk nothing. -- The train must be set at home and when arrived at Montpelier. Then must be our great caucus, made up of all the members opposed to the Antimasonic rule, and they must agree who shall be Gov. and who shall be senator also and who shall be the Supreme Court. -- [There?] would be no trouble in convening a sufficient number to carry any measure and they would then stand pledged to draw to-gether. -- The measure however must be proposed by Adams men and not by us -- Mr. Marsh must come to Montpelier in good season too. He is no mason and can do much -- say to him so if you please -- these remarks are merely hints for your consideration, I may be wrong.
Letter from Justus Burdick to Norman Williams, October 3, 1830. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 600.001.