New Acquisition Highlights Masonic Political Resistance to the Anti-Masonic Period in Vermont

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.

[page 1]1

[page 2] 

 [page 3]


[page 1]
Burlington. Oct. 3 1830

Dear Sir,

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

[page 2]
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

[page 2: margin]
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 --

[page 3]
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.

Yours truly
J. Burdick


Letter from Justus Burdick to Norman Williams, October 3, 1830. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 600.001.

Joseph Green's 1739 Anti-Masonic Broadside

A1980_001_1DS_webThe first public procession of Freemasons in the city of Boston took place on June 24, 1737, the Masonic feast day of Saint John the Baptist. Freemasonry in the American colonies was still young. Saint John's Lodge, Boston's first Masonic lodge, was founded just four years earlier. In 1739, a third annual procession commenced, with the members of Saint John's Lodge, led by men playing instruments, paraded through the streets of Boston wearing their aprons. Beginning at the house of Brother John Waghorn, they paraded to Province House, the home of Governor Jonathan Belcher (1681/2-1757), also a Mason, who joined the procession. The parade reached its final destination at the Royal Exchange Tavern on King Street, whose proprietor, Luke Vardy (d. 1753), was a member of the lodge and let Saint John's Lodge use his tavern for their meetings.

Joseph Green (1706-1780) was, as David S. Shields has written "the foremost wit of Boston," and Green wrote a number of satires about Freemasonry from the 1730s through the 1750s. The broadside shown here, printed in 1739, is entitled "A True and Exact Account of the Celebration of the Festival of Saint John the Babtist [sic], by the Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons..." It contains Green's satirical take on the event. 

The library's copy of this broadside is the only known copy in the world. We have digitized it and made it available via the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives Digital Collections website. According to Kent Walgren's 2003 bibliography, Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States: 1734-1850, Green's 1739 broadside is only the third publication in North America related to Freemasonry. It followed Benjamin Franklin's Constitutions of the Free-Masons (1734) and An Astronomical Diary, or, an Almanack for the Year of Our Lord Christ, 1738..., printed by Nathaniel Ames in 1737, which includes a poem with Masonic content.

If you would like to read more about Joseph Green and his satires about Freemasonry in colonial Massachusetts, we recommend David S. Shields' essay, "Clio Mocks the Masons: Joseph Green's Anti-Masonic Satires" in Deism, Masonry, and the Enlightenment: Essays Honoring Alfred Owen Aldridge, ed. J.A. Leo Lemay (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1987), 109-126.

And be sure to check out a number of other interesting broadsides that we've digitized and made available at the Library & Archives Digital Collections website.

A Fraternity Rises Again: New Acquisition Highlights the Rebirth of Freemasonry

Letter to Thomas W. Smith from John C. Humphreys, October 5, 1844.


Brunswick Oct. 5, 1844

Dear Sir,

We have erected a new Masonic Hall at Brunswick, and by a vote of the Lodge last evening we have decided to have it dedicated on the 24th inst. in the evening, in a public manner, and if it accords with your wishes, we would respectfully request your aid in the matter, but if it should be inconvenient for you, or Mr Childs to attend, we should like to have you appoint the Hon. R. P. Dunlap to discharge that duty.

Yours truly

John C. Humphrey
Master, United Lodge

To the Most Worshipful
Thomas W. Smith
Augusta, ME

While the content of this letter may seem unexciting upon first glance, research into this record held in the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library draws attention to a period of rebirth in American Freemasonry. As Masonic historian Ralph Pollard points out, the fifteen years leading up to 1844 had been quite hard on the Fraternity, the “effect of the Anti-Masonic movement on the Maine Lodges was paralyzing. Candidates ceased to apply for the degrees. Members ceased to pay their dues. The indifferent, the timid, and the weak deserted the Fraternity in droves.”

By 1844, with the worst of the anti-Masonic furor finally over, John C. Humphreys, the Master of United Lodge, No. 8, of Brunswick, Maine, sent the above message from his Lodge to Thomas W. Smith, the Grand Master for the Grand Lodge of Maine. In his letter, Humphreys invited Smith to preside over the rededication ceremony of the old Masonic Hall currently residing on Mason Street. United Lodge, No. 8, had built and dedicated the Hall in 1807, and now in 1844 its members wished to have the old building, which had been recently enlarged and refurnished, rededicated by the Grand Lodge of Maine. A report in the Freemason’s Monthly Magazine documents this event, which Smith did preside over and gave the main address.

Twenty-eight years after the rededication, United Lodge, No. 8, had outgrown the old Masonic Hall on Mason Street, and sold it to town of Brunswick, which converted the building into a firehouse for Engine No. 3, the “Niagara.” United Lodge, No. 8, moved into the third floor of the newly built Adam Lemont Building on the corner of Maine and Pleasant Streets on October 3, 1872. The new accommodations were “a marked improvement” Deputy District Grand Master Joseph M. Hayes reported to the Grand Lodge in 1873; “United Lodge, at Brunswick, has now one of the best arranged suites of rooms for masonic uses in the District…”


Letter to Thomas W. Smith from John C. Humphreys, October 5, 1844. Gift of Carl W. Garland. Collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum and Library, MA 260.002.


Grand Lodge of Maine (1872). Fourteenth District. In Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, 1870 - 1872, (Vol. 7, pp. 652 – 653). Portland, Maine: Stephen Berry.

Grand Lodge of Maine (1875). Fourteenth District. In Proceedings of the Grand Lodge, 1873 - 1875, (Vol. 8, pp. 205 – 206). Portland, Maine: Stephen Berry.

Moore, Charles W. (1845). Masonic Chit Chat: Dedication of a Masonic Hall. In Freemason’s Monthly Magazine. (Vol. 4, pp. 64). Boston: Tuttle and Dennett. 14 November 2015.

Pollard, Ralph J. (no date). Freemasonry in Maine, 1762-1945. Portland, Maine: Tucker Printing Company. 14 November 2015.

Pumper Niagara, Brunswick, c. 1920, in the Maine Memory Network, The Maine Historical Society. Portland, ME, USA. 14 November 2015.

Taoab (2013). 1870 Adam Lemont Building, 144-150 Maine St., Brunswick, Maine, in Panoramio, Google Maps. 14 November 2015.

Wheeler, George Augustus, and Henry Warren Wheeler (1878). History of Brunswick, Topsham and Harpswell, Maine, Including the Ancient Territory Known as Pejepscot. Boston: Alfred Mudge and Son. 14 November 2015.

A Cowan's X-Rays

X_Rays_in_FreemasonryI recently wrote about Auld & Smellie, two eighteenth-century Scottish printers who, it turns out, actually existed and were not, as I had originally suspected, another printer's idea of a practical joke ("old and smelly"). This post takes a look at a book with an author's name that is, in fact, a bit of a practical joke. Let’s put on our x-ray vision glasses and take a look at what’s behind this title page and this author’s name.

Writers, more than printers, are the people that one might first think of as using either pseudonyms or pen names. An interesting - and fairly obscure - example from our collection is one that cleverly plays with the idea of Masonic insiders and outsiders. He is "A. Cowan," the pseudonymous author of anti-Masonic book entitled The X Rays in Freemasonry.

The author's name probably wouldn't make the average reader think twice, since Cowan is an actual surname. But to anyone with knowledge of Freemasonry, "A. Cowan" is a funny play on a Masonic term. Albert Mackey, in his Encyclopaedia of Freemasonry and Its Kindred Sciences, provides a succinct definition of the word "cowan': "This is a purely Masonic term, and signifies in its technical meaning an intruder, whence it is always coupled with the word eavesdropper." Another helpful definition of a cowan is, simply, "one unacquainted with the secrets of Freemasonry." Taking these two definitions together, a cowan may be defined as a non-Mason, intent on discovering the “secrets” of Freemasonry.

Knowing what "a cowan" is then, it should come as no suprise that this is a book written by a self-declared non-Mason, intent on revealing the "truth" about Freemasonry - in this case, proving his thesis that Freemasonry is at odds with Christianity (a perennial anti-Masonic point of view). Who was this eavesdropping non-Mason? Thanks to the catalogers at London's Library and Museum of Freemasonry, I was able to discover that "A. Cowan" was a pseudonym for James J. L. Ratton (1845-1924).  Ratton was a physician and a Catholic with anti-Masonic views. After a stint as Professor of Surgery at the Medical College, Madras (India)and after publishing fairly sober works about salt (including an article with the wonderful title "The Ultimate Source of Common Salt"), Ratton began to study the Bible's Book of Revelation (i.e. The Apocalpyse of St. John) and published a number of books on the topic. On the title page of one book that he published, Ratton also helpfully lists his previously published books, which helps us confirm that Ratton was, indeed, "A. Cowan."

All very interesting, you may be thinking, but what about the strange title of this book? Why x-rays? I think it is a fairly clever analogy to make, since Ratton promises to essentially “see through” Freemasonry and expose what he considers to be its nefarious secrets. By using x-rays as his metaphor, Ratton suggest that he will, in essence, make visible the invisible. Of the hundreds of anti-Masonic works that have been published, this is the only one that I'm aware of that uses x-rays as a metaphor for exposure. The title page shown here, from our collection, is the 2nd edition, published in 1904 - a follow-up to the original published in 1901. Was something going on at the time that would have made x-rays seem especially relevant?

X-rays were all the rage when Ratton's work was first published. In late 1895, just a few years before Ratton's book came out, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen began investigations that would lead to his discovery of a method for taking x-ray images. The idea of a technique that could see through what seemed solid, and render visible what to the naked eye was invisible, entranced both scientists and the press. By the end of 1896, over 1,000 books and articles had been published about x-rays. In 1901, the same year that The X Rays in Freemasonry was published, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the first Nobel Prize in Physics to Roentgen for his discovery of what became popularly known as the x-ray. And three years later, the same year that the second edition of Ratton’s book was published, an x-ray machine was one of the attractions at the St. Louis World's Fair. While not a great resource for factual information about Freemasonry, The X Rays in Freemasonry is an interesting historical object – combining the old tradition of Masonic exposures with an important scientific discovery that had captured the public’s imagination.

Photo caption:
A. Cowan (i.e. James J.L. Ratton). The X Rays in Freemasonry [2nd ed.] London: Effingham Wilson, Royal Exchange, E.C., 1904.
Call number: 19.41 .C874 1904
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives
Gift of Wallace M. Gage

Henry Gassett's Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution

Gassett_Catalogue_of_Masonic_Institution_web In the fall of 1831, around the time that former U.S. Attorney General William Wirt was nominated as the Anti-Masonic political party's presidential candidate for the 1832 election, a prominent Boston businessman named Henry Gassett presented a number of anti-Masonic publications to the libraries of Harvard College, Amherst College, and Andover Theological Seminary.  Gassett would continue this practice of giving gifts of anti-Masonic literature to public and academic libraries for the next twenty years. Although his first gifts were given to libraries in his home state of Massachusetts, Gassett later sent anti-Masonic books and pamphlets to libraries as far west as Utah, as well as to numerous libraries outside the U.S., mostly in Great Britain.

In 1852, Gassett published his Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution, In Public Libraries of Twenty-Eight States of the Union, Anti-Masonic in Arguments and Conclusions, a book that lists the name of each institution, date of gift, and list of anti-Masonic titles that he donated (see image).

Henry Gassett (1774-1855) was a dry-goods importer described by one biographer as "an intimate personal friend of John Quincy Adams." Adams, of course, was perhaps the most prominent politician who supported anti-Masonry during the late 1820s and 1830s, and published his own anti-Masonic book in 1847. Gassett lacked neither political influence nor finances in getting anti-Masonic publications into libraries. He is listed in an 1846 publication entitled "Our First Men:" A Calendar of Wealth, Fashion, and Gentility; Containing a List of Those Persons Taxed in the City of Boston, Credibly Reported to Be Worth One Hundred Thousand Dollars, With Biographical Notices of the Principal Persons. Gassett was heavily involved in the Anti-Masonic political party; in 1831, he served as one of the delegates from Massachusetts' Suffolk County at the Anti-Masonic political party's national convention in Baltimore, Maryland in September 1831 at which Wirt was nominated.

Gassett clearly perceived that if he gave books freely to libraries, they were likely to accept his gift and add the books to their collections. And he was, on the whole, correct. In part, Gassett was successful because he was doing this at such an early time in the history of American libraries, a time before the professional field of librarianship had developed and when selection of materials for libraries was decidedly more haphazard. Charles Ammi Cutter (1837-1903), colleague of Melvil Dewey (1851-1931), and an important early leader in the new field of library science, wrote the following in 1891 about Gassett's attempt to use public libraries "for the purposes of propagandism":

"Some 40 years ago Henry Gassett, during the Anti-Masonry trouble, presented to over 100 libraries a series of books opposed to the society. These, so far as we are aware, are the only distinct attempts that have been made as yet to disseminate a doctrine or opinion through the library, and were not only of trifling extent, but were made at a period when libraries were both inadequate and little used. Now we have organized societies for spreading particular theories and arguments, yet it is to be questioned if they take advantage of this extremely cheap and advantageous way."
Today, scholars interested in the history of printing and anti-Masonry may be strangely grateful to Gassett for his 1852 book. As William L. Cummings wrote in his 1963 book A Bibliography of Anti-Masonry, "[Gassett's Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution] has proved very helpful in locating collections in which some of the more rare Anti-Masonic items could be found." More recent scholarly bibliographies, such as Kent Walgren's 2-volume 2003 publication Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States, 1734-1850: A Bibliography, also owe an odd debt to Gassett's fervent, twenty-year campaign to insure that libraries throughout the United States (and a handful beyond) contained works of anti-Masonry on their shelves.

As for whether any of these institutions still have Gassett's gifts in their collection, we'd love to know. If you're one of the libraries that was gifted anti-Masonic works from Gassett, are any of these books in your special collections? It would also be interesting to know (most likely through property stamps on books) whether any of these books made their way out of public or academic libraries and into any Masonic libraries.

Sources mentioned

Cummings, William L. A Bibliography of Anti-Masonry. 2nd ed. Revised and enlarged. New York: Press of Henry Emmerson, 1963.
Call number: 04.4 .C971 1963

Gassett, Henry. Catalogue of Books on the Masonic Institution, In Public Libraries of Twenty-Eight States of the Union, Anti-Masonic in Arguments and Conclusions, By Distinguished Literary Gentlemen, Citizens of the United States: With Introductory Remarks, and a Compilation of Records and Remarks. Boston: Printed by Damrell & Moore, 1852.
Call number: RARE 19.G252 1852

Walgren, Kent Logan. Freemasonry, Anti-Masonry and Illuminism in the United States : 1734-1850: A Bibliography. Worcester, MA : American Antiquarian Society, 2003. 2 volumes.
Call number: REF 04 .W165 2003

Are Early Masonic Ritual Exposures Anti-Masonic?

Three_Distinct_Knocks_web Masonic ritual exposures from the collection of the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives are just one of the many examples of anti-Masonic materials that will be on view in the reading room through May 15 in the exhibition Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives. In selecting objects for the exhibition, I was looking at our collection of ritual exposés and thinking about this interesting and complicated corner of anti-Masonry.

Steven C. Bullock, in his essay “Publishing Masonry: Print and the Early American Fraternity” calls Masonic ritual exposés “the first important Antimasonic genre.” The first ritual exposure in book form – Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected – was printed in London in 1730. Prichard’s book, while an exposure, is an important document for historians as it provides the earliest known description of the Master Mason degree. To the historian, this type of documentation is invaluable. To the Mason, however, the idea of a ritual exposure is perhaps worrying at best, providing evidence of a betrayal of trust. But what about the historian who is also a Mason?

Arturo de Hoyos, who is both a historian and a Mason, addresses this tension in the introduction to his book Light on Masonry: The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Exposé. De Hoyos writes: “The great secret of Masonic historians is that many of us have a love affair with ritual exposures. Like other affairs of the heart, it is exciting, but it may also be a love-hate relationship. On the one hand, they are the product of betrayal and are ipso facto suspect. On the other hand, they present the possibility of authenticity and may teach us a great deal about the evolution of the ritual.” In other words, what was once the product of betrayal may now be carefully used by historians to trace some of the changes and developments of Masonic ritual.

Masonic ritual is taught “mouth to ear,” although some jurisdictions also provide officially sanctioned ciphers or other memory aids that assist in memorizing ritual and also help insure uniformity in ritual work. As Masons who have visited other states or countries can attest, Masonic ritual is not exactly the same from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Likewise, not all men’s memories are the same and so it’s only natural that some candidates have wished for a printed version of the ritual to assist them. Unsurprisingly, in the absence of officially-sanctioned printed rituals, exposures sometimes served that role, especially in the late-18th and early-19th centuries.

One book illustrates this point well. Jachin and Boaz, a ritual exposure first published in London in 1762, was reprinted almost thirty times in the United States from 1793 to 1827. Although considered a ritual exposure, the book’s largest audience was likely those named on the book’s title page: the “New-Made Mason,” and “all who intend to become Brethren.” As Stephen C. Bullock has pointed out, “Although curious onlookers probably picked up the pamphlet on occasion, only an audience of brothers seeking to learn the rituals better could have encouraged American printers to reprint the pamphlet twenty-eight times between 1793 and 1827.”

From the point of view of the librarian, Jachin and Boaz is a book that complicates the question of whether a book should be classified as anti-Masonic or not. On the one hand, exposing Masonic ritual appears to serve the intention of betraying and antagonizing the Fraternity and can easily be thought of as anti-Masonic. On the other hand, a book like Jachin and Boaz is not sensationalist in nature and, one might argue, served a need for the Fraternity – both by helping Masons learn ritual, as well as potentially attracting the attention of men who became interested enough to join the Craft. Not all ritual exposures are the same, though, and some – if not most – were clearly printed with intentions hostile to Freemasonry.

Suggestions for further reading

Carr, Harry, ed. The Early French Exposures. London: Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, 1971.

---. Samuel Prichard’s Masonry Dissected 1730: An Analysis and Commentary. Bloomington, IN: Masonic Book Club, 1977.

de Hoyos, Arturo. Light on Masonry: The History and Rituals of America’s Most Important Masonic Exposé. Washington, D.C.: Scottish Rite Research Society, 2008.

Jackson, A.C.F. English Masonic Exposures, 1760-1769. London: Lewis Masonic, 1986.

Smith, S.N. “The So-Called ‘Exposures’ of Freemasonry of the Mid-Eighteenth Century.” Ars Quatuor Coronatorum 56 (1946): 4-36.

Three Distinct Knocks and Jachin and Boaz: With an Introduction and Commentary by Harry Carr. Bloomington, IN: Masonic Book Club, 1981.

[A version of this article was originally published in the August 2009 issued of The Northern Light. You can now access all back issues of The Northern Light - back to its start in 1970 - at the Scottish Rite Northern Masonic Jurisdiction's website.]

Photo caption:
The Three Distinct Knocks...
London: Printed by John Bailey, ca. 1814-1822.
Call number: RARE 19 .T531


American Anti-Masonry in 1880: Edmond Ronayne and the National Christian Association

A2002_38_1_webIf you know about the history of anti-Masonry in America, it's likely that you know about the "Morgan Affair" and the anti-Masonic movement that followed it, lasting from 1826 until the mid-1830s. But there was another anti-Masonic movement that took place in the 1870s and 1880s, spear-headed by a group called the National Christian Association.

Pictured on this 1880 broadside is Edmond Ronayne, a former Freemason who served as both Secretary and Master of Keystone Lodge No. 639 in Chicago. Ronayne traveled to cities across the country, performing what he said was Masonic ritual for large crowds. His intent was to "expose" and deride Freemasonry. The National Christian Association (NCA) sponsored Ronayne’s lectures. Formed in 1868, this organization stated that it sought “to expose, withstand and remove Secret Societies, Freemasonry in particular, and other Anti-Christian movements in order to save the Churches of Christ from being depraved….” The NCA claimed that Freemasonry is a religion, a conclusion they drew partially from the altar, holy book, and recitation of prayers at Masonic meetings.  Although Freemasonry requires that its members believe in a Supreme Being, there is no further religious test. The NCA interpreted this requirement as anti-Christian.
The roots of the National Christian Association’s anti-Masonic views trace back to the Morgan Affair, fifty years earlier. One of its founding members, Jonathan Blanchard, was involved in anti-Masonry as a young man in the 1830s in Vermont. (Blanchard was the first president of Wheaton College, in Illinois, whose Archives & Special Collections holds an extensive collection of National Christian Association records.) The Morgan Affair’s importance to the organization persisted into the 1880s. In 1882, the NCA erected a 38-foot-tall monument to William Morgan in Morgan's hometown of Batavia, New York, where it still stands today.

The broadside above advertises the 12th annual meeting of the National Christian Association, held on March 24 and 25, 1880, in Boston. A March 25, 1880, Boston Globe article described the lecture advertised in this broadside, stating that Edmond Ronayne did not meet a sympathetic audience. The crowd of about 500 people – half of whom were local Masons – reportedly interrupted Ronayne several times by hooting and hollering. The Globe reporter - who was possibly a Mason - commented that Ronayne’s performance was “ridiculous” owing to his “ignorance” of Masonic ritual. Echoing other reports that his Boston audiences were less than welcoming, Ronayne wrote in his memoir that, at the March 1880 National Christian Association meeting in Boston, “the crowds in the galleries made [the] most disturbance, throwing handfuls of peas and exploding torpedoes with a loud report upon the platform.”

The broadside seen above is currently on view in Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives at the National Heritage Museum.

Opposed to Secret Societies!, 1880. Boston, Massachusetts. Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2002/38/1

Anti-Masonry, Catholicism, Communism, and Anti-Semitism

Freemasonry_unmasked_web The title of the current exhibition in the Library and Archives reading room - Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives - is drawn from the book shown here (and on view in the exhibition): Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism. The cover of this book is an example of how Freemasonry has been blamed as the secret power behind just about everything.

Although published in 1956, the text of this book actually reproduces a lecture that a Catholic priest delivered in Scotland in October, 1884. At that time, the Vatican had just issued Humanum Genus: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Freemasonry, an official declaration of the Catholic Church’s opposition to Freemasonry. The Vatican's 1884 document claimed that Masons were “planning the destruction of the holy Church publicly and openly, and this with the set purpose of utterly despoiling the nations of Christendom.”

Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked was published by the Britons Publishing Society, a group that formed in 1923, and which was an off-shoot of the Britons, a group that formed in England in 1919 for the express purpose of disseminating anti-Semitic propaganda. While the name Britons Publishing Society doesn't sound particularly threatening, one historian has called them "one of the most extreme of the post-1918 formations on the radical and far right" in England. A quick search of the British Library's online catalog reveals a number of both anti-Semitic and anti-Masonic titles published by the Britons Publishing Society. One title in particular stands out and is the likely key to the the group's interest in Freemasonry: according to one source, the Society published 85 different editions of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion over a forty-year period, including two separate editions during World War II.

Why would the Society's interest in The Protocols point to an interest in anti-Masonry? First published in Russia in 1905, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a notorious work of anti-Semitic propaganda. The book purported to document a secret conference at which the Elders of Zion, a fictitious Jewish group, discuss using Freemasonry to deceive humanity and attain worldwide domination. Both the text and the meeting are complete fabrications. Regardless, the book persists as a popular piece of propaganda even today.

You can learn more about the overlap between anti-Masonry and anti-Semitism here:

Here's a good intro to the history of the relationship between the Catholic Church and Freemasonry:

For more on history of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has a great online exhibition about this forgery:

If you are interested in any of the topics above, be sure to check out the two bibliographies we've prepared which will point you to helpful resources so that you can learn more about both Freemasonry and anti-Masonry.

Also, be sure to check out Chip Berlet's guest blog post from last week. Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.

Pictured above:
Dillon, Monsignor George E., D.D. Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked as the Secret Power Behind Communism, Through Discovery of Lost Lectures. London: Britons Publishing Society, 1956.
Call number: 19.41 .D579 1956

Conspiracy Theories, Scapegoating, & Demonization are Toxic to Democracy, by Chip Berlet

Chip Berlet, a Senior Analyst with Political Research Associates, will be speaking at the Museum on Saturday, October 24th, 2009, at 2 p.m. in the Farr Conference Center. His talk is in conjunction with "Freemasonry Unmasked! Anti-Masonic Collections at Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives", on view through May 15, 2010. To learn more about this free public lecture generously funded by the Lowell Institute, click here.


The man accused of killing a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., warned of a conspiracy of Jews and Freemasons to control the world and keep White Christians subjugated while at the same time elevating Blacks to under-served positions of power.


How could such a bizarre and bigoted claim make any sense?


The alleged shooter, James W. von Brunn, wrote a book that was like a catalog of historic conspiracy theories, including references to the infamous antisemitic hoax document, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. His website included links to White Supremacist and Holocaust denial sites. According to von Brunn, between 1881 and 1914 a series of political assassinations were “traceable to Bolshevism, Freemasonry … and other ILLUMINATI sponsored terror groups.” Czar Alexander II of Russia, King Humbert of Italy, U.S. President McKinley, Archduke Ferdinand of Austria, and others were killed in order to provoke World War I.



BerletBlog_collage-2 copy The library at
Political Research Associates, where I work, has shelves full of books making the same false conspiracy claims in elaborate detail. These conspiracist tracts and volumes trace back to the late 1700s. Now many of these false claims are posted on the Internet and available worldwide. The exhibit "Freemasonry Unmasked!", now at the National Heritage Museum traces how these conspiracist allegations often include the demonization of Freemasonry.


The current political environment is awash with seemingly absurd, but nonetheless influential, conspiracy theories, hyperbolic claims and demonized targets. The political right blames sinister plots on a vast conspiracy supposedly run by liberal secular humanists and Democrats, portrayed as running a covert network of subversives. Scratch the surface of these stories and commonly scapegoated groups emerge: Jewish bankers, Freemasons, civil rights activists, labor union leaders, community organizers.


On the political left, conspiracy theories portray conservatives, neoconservatives, and Republicans as staging the terror attacks on 9/11 as part of an elaborate scheme to justify war in the Middle East and the erosion of civil liberties at home.


These are not legitimate criticisms of public policy or the institutions of power in our society; they are populist anger and anxiety exploited by demagogues to undermine the democratic process. Democracy requires informed consent. When conspiracy theories enter public debates, they are toxic to democracy.


Conspiracy theorists use the same four “tools of fear." These are: 1) dualism (the division of the world into a good "Us" vs. a bad "Them"); 2) scapegoating; 3) demonization; and 4) apocalyptic aggression. The basic dynamics remain the same, no matter the ideological leanings of the demonizers or the identity of their targets.


Meanwhile, our ability to resolve disputes through civic debate and compromise is hobbled. It is the combination of demagogic demonization and widespread scapegoating that is so dangerous. Some angry people already believe conspiracy theories in which scapegoated groups are targeted as subversive, destructive, or evil. Add in aggressive apocalyptic ideas that suggest time is running out and quick action is mandatory and you have the conditions for a perfect storm of mobilized resentment threatening to rain bigotry and violence across the United States. Historically, the violent attacks target marginalized groups, especially people of color, immigrants, and Jewish institutions. In the last decade, the list has expanded to include Muslims, Arabs, and people in the gay community.


We can stop this. Law enforcement needs to enforce laws against criminal behavior. Vicious bigoted speech, however, is often protected by the First Amendment. We do not need new laws or to encourage government agencies to further erode civil liberties. We need to stand up as moral people and speak out against the spread of bigoted conspiracy theories. That's not a police problem, that's our problem as people responsible for defending and expanding democracy and building a free and just society.

Leo Taxil and Baphomet

TAXIL POSTER_cropped_web

Many people find the image on this poster a little creepy. It's supposed to be.  

It's even more startling when you see it in person - it's about 4' x 3' - and it's the first thing you see when you walk into the reading room for the Library and Archives new exhibition, Freemasonry Unmasked!: Anti-Masonic Collections in the Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives.

The arresting goat-headed image on this poster is Baphomet, an invention by Éliphas Lévi (1810-1875) for his 1856 book, Dogma and Ritual of High Magic. Anti-Catholic writer Léo Taxil later incorporated Lévi’s Baphomet figure into an elaborate hoax which falsely linked Freemasonry with devil-worship. Taxil, whose real name was Gabriel Antoine Jogand-Pagès, sought to publicly embarrass the Catholic Church, which was traditionally opposed to Freemasonry, by winning their sympathy through his anti-Masonic hoax and then revealing it all to be an outlandish lie. Although shown here wearing a Masonic apron, Baphomet has no association with Freemasonry.

This poster was printed by Edward Ancourt & Co., a Parisian firm that today is well-known for having printed many of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec's posters. The poster is an advertisement for an anti-Masonic book written by Leo Taxil, entitled The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled. The French text at the top of poster translates to "At all the bookstores and newspaper shops." The text below the image indicates that the book was sold in parts ("livraison") - a common way of publishing books in the late nineteenth century. As a lure to get book-buyers to purchase the book, the publisher indicates that the first part is free ("La 1.ere livraison est gratuite..."). The French word for "free" - GRATUITE - is hard to miss.


Baphomet has proven an irresistable image to anti-Masons ever since Taxil first falsely associated the figure with Freemasonry. As recently as the early 1990s, Jack T. Chick used the image on one of his "Chick Tracts," called The Curse of Baphomet, pictured here. In this booklet, Chick uses a quote that has been falsely attributed to well-known Freemason Albert Pike (1809-1891) that “Lucifer is God.” Léo Taxil made the quote up in the 1890s.  Taxil's fabricated Pike quote has been repeated many times in print, and a quick web search reveals that this fabricated quote has made the leap from books to websites. 

If you're interested in learning more about anti-Masonry, be sure to check out the annotated bibliography available at our website. One book that appears on that bibliography, Is It True What They Say About Freemasonry?: The Methods of Anti-Masonsis available in its entirety online. The authors, S. Brent Morris and Arturo de Hoyos, do an excellent job exploring the source of many anti-Masonic claims, including both the fabricated Albert Pike quote and Baphomet.

Les Mystères de la Franc-Maçonnerie Dévoilés par Léo Taxil [The Mysteries of Freemasonry Unveiled by Léo Taxil], ca. 1886, Printed by Edw. Ancourt & Co., Paris, France, Chromolithograph on paper.
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, A2000/80/1, Museum purchase. Photograph by David Bohl.

The Curse of Baphomet, 1991, Published by Chick Publications, Ontario, California
National Heritage Museum, Van Gorden-Williams Library and Archives, Vertical Files.