National Christian Association

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