In the election of 1932 a third party candidate emerged to run for the office of President of the United States. This was a first in U. S. Presidential elections. The traditional parties, the Democrats, ran Andrew Jackson as the nominee and the Whigs, who ran Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, faced opposition from the newly formed Anti-Masonic Party who ran William Wirt as their candidate. The Anti-Masonic party had formed in reaction to an incident that occurred in 1826 when William Morgan mysteriously disappeared after threatening to publish a book that would debunk the secrets of the Masonic order.
In these early years of America’s democracy, secret societies had become unpopular for various reasons. Great Britain maintained its tenacity for territorial rights as the Napoleonic Wars increased the tensions between the United States and Great Britain. Indian conflicts were subsidized by European interests to thwart any efforts from the United States to expand its western frontiers. Spanish and American relationships suffered as both fought over territory and concessions of territory in frontier America. These struggles fostered a degree of mistrust and suspicion among the American people as the newly formed U. S. was building an infrastructure of government to establish banks and economic prosperity. Outside interests were eager to grab the attention and pocketbooks of newly elected politicians as well as lay stake to promising mineral resources in the West. Any type of “private” enterprises, whether social or political, drew suspicion from the American people.
The Freemasons were a fraternal order whose history had ancient ties and included well respected American leaders such as Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. Masons represented a trusted fraternity that was quickly embraced by frontier families as a bond between strangers new to communities. It was important to have Masonic ties if you wanted to establish a new business or run for political office, particularly in small towns. To be rejected by the local Masonic order could result in ridicule and embarrassment. In addition, there were many who felt secrecy was the antithesis of a democracy, particular when there was so much conflict and pressure from outsiders.
In 1826 William Morgan viciously attacked Freemasonry and threatened to publish a book to debunk the secrets of the order. The motivation for the book supposedly occurred when Morgan was rejected as a member for a new Masonic lodge proposed in Batavia, NY. The print shop for the new book was “mysteriously” burned down and a series of events followed that jeopardized Morgan. On September 11, 1826, William Morgan was arrested for stealing a shirt and tie and taken to a jail in Canandaigua, NY. He was soon released for lack of evidence, but immediately re-arrested for failure to pay a $2.69 debt to an innkeeper. On September 12, a group of men came and paid Morgan’s fine. As they took him away Morgan was heard hollering “Murder.”
A body was recovered from Lake Ontario presumably that of Morgan. Several inquests were made concerning the body that washed upon the shore of Lake Ontario. In one inquest Morgan’s wife positively identified the body of that being her husband. In another inquest the body was identified as another man. Fifty-four masons were indicted for Morgan’s kidnapping and of those, ten Masons, including the Niagara County Sheriff, Eli Bruce, were given sentences ranging from 30 days to 28 months.
Because Morgan’s death was never confirmed, murder charges were never brought. That is one side of the Morgan story. What followed the disappearance of William Morgan was an incredible journey of tales and stories that resulted in a wave of popularity across the United States. William Morgan became a character similar to our modern day Kilroy or Waldo. He was everywhere and nowhere; was he dead or was he alive? He would appear as a sea captain in Smyrna selling fruit or was he the celebrated Indian chief, San Procope of a Native American tribe who confessed on his death bed that he was William Morgan. Or, was he that man in Russellville, Kentucky who died in 1840, confessing he was the notorious Morgan. A mariner swore that he saw William Morgan as a passenger that sailed to Holland in a respectable mercantile selling gin.
Some said that a group of Freemason’s murdered Morgan, others said it was a rue by anti-Masons to fuel support for a new political third party. Nevertheless, the event around William Morgan activities raised a notion of “skepticism” and support for those who were critics of Freemasonry and wanted “transparency.” It resulted in the anti-Masonic political party. Well, the rest is history- with the result: Andrew Jackson, winning his second term in office, had 219 electoral votes with a popular vote of 701,780. Henry Clay who represented the Republican Party, had 49 electoral votes and 401,285 popular votes. Anti-Masonic candidate William Wirt received 7 electoral votes with 101, 715 popular votes.