President John Quincy Adams on Freemasonry

An obvious danger attending all associations of men connected by secret obligations, springs from their susceptibility to abuse in being converted into engines for the overthrow or the control of established governments. So soon was the apprehension of this excited in Europe by Freemasonry, that many of the absolute monarchies took early measures to guard against its spread within their limits. Rome, Naples, Portugal, Spain and Russia made participation in it a capital offense. Other governments more cautiously confined themselves to efforts to control it by a rigid system of supervision. in Great Britain, the endeavor of government has been to neutralize its power to harm, by entering into it and by placing trust worthy members of the royal family at its head. Yet even with all these precautions and prohibitions, it is believed that in France at the period of the revolution, and in Italy within the present century, much of the insurrectionary spirit of the time was fostered, if not in Masonic Lodges, at least in associations bearing a close affinity to them in all essential particulars. With regard to the United States, there has thus far in their history been very little to justify any of the most serious objections which may be made against Masonry in connection with political affairs. Yet the events which followed the death of Morgan, first opened the public mind to the idea that already a secret influence pervaded all parts of the body politic, with which it was not very safe for an individual to come into conflict. The boast of Brainard, already alluded to, was now brought to mind. It was found to bias, if not to control, the action of officers of justice of every grade, to affect the policy of legislative bodies, and even to paralyze the energy of the executive head. This power, by gaining a greater appearance of magnitude from the mystery with which it was surrounded, was doubtless much exaggerated by the popular fancy during the period of the Morgan excitement; but after making all proper allowances, it is impossible from a fair survey of the evidence to doubt that it was something real, and that it might, in course of time, have established an undisputed control over the affairs of the Union, had not its progress been somewhat roughly broken by the consequences of the violent movement against Morgan, which had its origin in the precipitate but fanatical energy of one division of the society. And even since the agitation of that day, there is the best reason for believing that throughout the region most affected by it, an organization was made up after the fashion of Masonic Lodges, the object of which was directly to stimulate a concerted insurrection against the governing power of a neighboring country, Canada, calculated to give rise to a furious contest with a foreign nation, and to mature plans by which such an attempt could be most effectually aided by citizens of the United States in spite of all the national declarations of neutrality and in defiance of all the fulminations of government at home.

But at the time of Morgan’s mysterious disappearance, the investigations then pursued, imperfect as they were, and more than once completely baffled for the moment, brought forth the names of sixty-nine different individuals, many of them of great respectability of private character, who had been directly concerned in the outrages attending his taking off. These sixty-nine persons were not living within a confined circle. They had their homes scattered along an extent of country of at least one hundred miles. That so many men, at so many separate points, should have acted in perfect concert in such a business as they were engaged in, would scarcely be believed, without compelling the inference of some distinct understanding existing between them. That they should have carried into effect the most difficult part of their undertaking, a scheme of the most daring and criminal nature, in the midst of a large, intelligent and active population, without thereby incurring the risk of a full conviction of their guilt and the consequent punishment, would be equally incredible, but for the light furnished by the phraseology of the Masonic oath. The several forms of this oath, as shown to have been habitually administered in the first three degrees, will be found in the Appendix to the present volume. These, together with the ceremony attending the Royal Arch and the Knight Templar’s obligation, have been deemed all of Masonry that is necessary to illustrate the letters of Mr. Adams. They are believed sufficient to account for the successful manner in which Morgan was spirited away. It is not deemed expedient to dwell here upon their nature, when it will be found fully analyzed in the body of the present volume. It is enough to point out the fact that obedience to the Order is the paramount law of association; that it makes every social, civil and moral duty a matter of secondary consideration; that it draws few distinctions between the character of the acts that may be required to be done, and that it demands fidelity to guilt just the same as if it were the purest innocence. Every man who takes a Masonic oath, forbids himself from divulging any criminal act, unless it might be murder or treason, that may be communicated to him under the seal of the fraternal bond, even though such concealment were to prove a burden upon his conscience and a violation of his bounden duty to society and to his God. The best man in the world, put in this situation, may be compelled to take his election between perjury on the one side and sympathy with crime on the other. The worst man in the world put in this situation has it in his power to claim that the best shall degrade his moral sense down to the level of his own, by hearing from him, without resentment, revelations to which even listening may be a participation of dishonor.

The facts attending the abduction of Morgan, not elicited without the most extraordinary difficulty by subsequent investigation, have been so often published far and wide as to make it superfluous here to repeat them. It may be enough to state, that from the day when the partnership between Morgan and David C. Miller, a printer of Batavia, made for the purpose of publishing the “Illustrations of Masonry,” was announced, no form of annoyance which could be expected to deter them from prosecuting their design, was left unattempted. The precise nature of these forms may be better understood, if we class them under general heads, until they took the ultimate shape of aggravated crime.

1. Anonymous denunciation of the man Morgan, as an impostor, in newspapers published at Canandaigua, Batavia and Black Rock, places at some distance from each other, but all within the limits of the region in which the subsequent acts of violence were committed.

2. Abuse of the forms of law, by the hunting up of small debts or civil offenses with which to carry on vexatious suits or prosecutions against the two persons heretofore named.

3. The introduction of a spy into their counsels, and of a traitor to their confidence, employed for the purpose of betraying the manuscripts of the proposed work to the Masonic Lodges, and thus of frustrating the entire scheme.

4. Attempts to surprise the printing office by a concerted night attack of men gathered from various points, assembling at a specific rendezvous, the abode of a high member of the Order, and proceeding in order to the execution of the object, which was the forcible seizure of the manuscripts and the destruction of the press used to print them.

5. Efforts to get possession of the persons of the two offenders, by a resort to the processes of law, through the connivance and co-operation of officers of justice, themselves Masons. These efforts failed in the case of Miller, but they succeeded against Morgan, and were the means by which all the subsequent movements were carried into execution.

6. The employment of an agent secretly to prepare materials for the combustion of the building which contained the printing materials known to be employed in the publication of the book, and to set them on fire

Such were the proceedings which were resorted to at the very outset of this conspiracy, and upon looking at them, it will be seen at a glance that the prosecution of them involved the commission of a variety of moral and social offenses, the commission of which may be fairly included within the literal injunction of the Masonic oath. Had the matter stopped here, it would have furnished abundance of evidence to establish the dangerous character of a secret Institution, when its interests are deemed to conflict with those of individual citizens or of society at large. But what has thus far been compressed in the six preceding heads, appears as nothing when compared with the startling developments of the remainder of the story.

On Sunday, of all the days in the week, the tenth of September, 1826, the coroner of the county of Ontario, himself Master of the Lodge at Canandaigua, applied to a Masonic justice of the peace of that town for a warrant to apprehend William Morgan, living fifty miles off at Batavia. The offense upon which the application was based was larceny, and the alleged larceny consisted in the neglect of Morgan to return a shirt and cravat that had been borrowed by him in the previous month of May. Armed with this implement of justice, which assumes in this connection the semblance of a dagger rather than of its ordinary attribute a sword, the coroner immediately proceeded in a carriage obtained at the public cost, to pick up at different stations along the road of fifty miles, ten Masonic brethren, including a constable, anxious and willing to share in avenging the insulted majesty of the law. At the tavern of James Ganson, six miles from Batavia, the same place which had been the head quarters of the night expedition against Miller’s printing office, the party stopped for the night. Had that expedition proved successful, it is very probable that this one would have been abandoned. As it was, the failure acted as a stimulus to its further prosecution. Early next morning, five of the Masonic beagles, headed by the Masonic constable, having previously procured a necessary endorsement of their writ to give it effect in the county of Genessee, from a Masonic justice of the peace, proceeded from Ganson’s house to Batavia, where they succeeded in seizing and securing the man guilty of the alleged enormity touching the borrowed shirt and cravat. A coach was again employed, the Masonic party lost no time in securing their prey, and at about sunset of the same day with the arrest, that is, Monday the eleventh day of September, they got back to Canandaigua. The prisoner was immediately taken before the justice who had issued the warrant, the futility of the complaint was established, and Morgan was forthwith discharged. The case affords a striking illustration of the abuse of the remedial process of the law to the more secure commission of an offense against law. Morgan was free, it is true, but he was at a distance of fifty miles from home, alone and without friends, brought through the country with the stigma resulting from the suspicion of a criminal offense attached to him, and all without expense to the parties engaged in the undertaking, as well as without the smallest hazard of a rescue.

It turned out that the person of whom the shirt and cravat had been originally borrowed, had never sought to instigate a prosecution for the offense. The idea originated in the mind of the Masonic coroner himself. He had executed the plan of using the law to punish an offense of Masonry, to the extent to which it had now been carried. Morgan had been brought within the coil of the serpent, but he was not yet entirely at its mercy. Another abuse of legal forms yet remained to complete the operation. No sooner was the victim landed upon the pavement, exonerated from the charge of being a thief, than he found the same Masonic Grand Master and coroner tapping him on the shoulder, armed with a writ for a debt of two dollars to a tavern keeper of Canandaigua. Resistance was useless. Morgan had neither money nor credit, and for the want of them he was taken to the county jail. The common property and the remedial process of the State was thus once more employed to subserve the vindictive purposes of a secret society.

Twenty-four hours were suffered to pass, whilst the necessary arrangements were maturing to complete the remainder of the terrible drama. On the evening of the succeeding day, being the twelfth of September, the same Grand Master coroner once more made his appearance at the prison. After some little negotiation, Morgan is once more released by the payment of the debt for which he had been taken. But he is not free. No sooner is he treading the soil of freedom, and perchance dreaming of escape from all these annoyances, than upon a given signal, a yellow carriage and gray horses are seen by the bright moonlight rolling with extraordinary rapidity towards the jail. A few minutes pass, Morgan has been seized and gagged and bound and thrown into the carriage, which is now seen well filled with men, rolling as rapidly as before but in a contrary direction. Morgan is now completely in the power of his enemies. The veil of law is now removed. All that remains to be done is to use the arm of the flesh. Morgan is taking his last look of the town of Canandaigua.

It is a fact that this carriage moved along night and day, over a hundred miles of well settled country, with fresh horses to draw it supplied at six different places, and with corresponding changes of men to carry on the enterprise, and not the smallest let or impediment was experienced. With but a single exception, every individual concerned in it was a Freemason, bound by the secret tie; and the exception was immediately initiated by a unanimous vote of the Lodge at Lewiston. It afterwards appeared in evidence that the Lodge at Buffalo had been called to deliberate upon it, and moreover that the Lodges at Le Roy, Bethany, Covington and Lockport, as well as the Chapter at Rochester, had all of them consulted upon it. There is no other way to account for the preparation made along the line of the road traveled by the party. Nowhere was there delay, or hesitation, or explanation, or discussion. Every thing went on like clock-work, up to the hour of the evening of the fourteenth of September, when the prisoner was taken from the carriage at Fort Niagara, an unoccupied military post near the mouth of the river of that name, and lodged in the place originally designed for a powder magazine, when the position had been occupied by the troops of the United States. The jurisdiction was now changed from that of the State to that of the federal government, but the power that held the man was one and the same. It was Masonry that opened the gates of the Fort, by controlling the will of the brother who for the time had it intrusted to his charge.

On this same evening, there was appointed to take place at the neighboring town of Lewiston, an installation of a Chapter, misnamed Benevolent, at which the arch conspirator was to be made Grand High Priest, and an opportunity was given to all associates from distant points to come together and to consult upon what it was best to do next. Here it is, that in spite of the untiring labors of an investigating committee organized for the purpose, and in spite of the entire application of the force of the courts of the country to the eliciting of the truth, the details of the affair which thus far have been clearly exposed, begin to grow dim and shadowy. There is reason to believe that Morgan was carried across the river in a boat at night, and placed at the disposal of a Canadian lodge at Newark. The scruples of one or two brethren who hesitated at the idea of murder, brought on a refusal to assume the trust. Consultations on this side of the river followed, and messengers were dispatched to Rochester for advice. The final determination was, that Morgan must die, to pay the penalty of his violated oath. After this, every thing attending the catastrophe becomes more and more uncertain. It is affirmed that eight Masons met and threw into a hat as many lots, three of which only were marked. Each man then drew a lot, and where it was not a marked lot, he went immediately home. There is reason to believe that the three who remained, were the persons who, on the night of the 19th or 20th of September, took their victim from the fort, where he had been kept for sacrifice, carried him in a boat to the middle of the stream, and having fastened upon him a heavy weight, precipitated him into eternity.

Such is a condensed statement of this eventful history -a history which in many of its details will vie in interest with any narrative of romance. That such a tragedy could be executed in the United States, a country fortified as the people fondly imagine by all known securities to life and liberty; that it could be carried on through a period of ten days, in a populous Christian community, without thought of rescue; that it could enlist as actors so large a number of citizens of good repute in so many different quarters as were members of the various lodges privy to the transaction; and finally, that it could secure the co-operation of the chosen ministers of justice, and even of some set apart to the service of the Deity, one of whom could be found bold enough to invoke the blessing of God upon the contemplated violation of his most solemn law; that it could involve all these possibilities, was a thing well calculated to rouse the human mind to a high pitch of wonder, until the problem found its natural solution in the disclosure of the Masonic oath. Construed as this Obligation was construed by the members of the order in Western New York, all cause of surprise at the consequences instantly disappears.

Yet strange as is this narrative, fearful as is the disclosure of the fanaticism of secret association which could impel men-holding a respectable rank in society, walking by the light of modern civilization, acknowledging the influence of Christianity over their daily life-to the commission of outrages so flagrant as were the abduction and murder of William Morgan, it would not of itself have sufficed to justify attaching even a suspicion to the entire institution of Freemasonry in the United States, or even to any considerable branch of it existing without the limits of the region where the events happened. Whatever might have been the private sentiments entertained of the danger attending the assumption of secret obligations, the exact nature of these was at the outset too little understood to sanction the inference that they allowed criminal enterprises. Extensive as the conspiracy against Morgan and Miller appeared to be, yet similar things have been done under the influence of passion and in open and acknowledged violation of moral and religious duty, in all stages of the world’s progress. It was hence no unreasonable thing to conclude that it might have happened once more. Censure was to be directed, if any where, against those over-zealous members of the order who could be believed to have overstepped the bounds of reason and of justice, acknowledged as well by the law of the fraternity as by the higher one of God and of civil society. It was reserved for events coming somewhat later, to develop the fact, that in the instance of Morgan, Freemasons, so far from thinking themselves to be violating, were literally following the injunction which they felt to be laid upon them in their oaths. The law of Masonry was to them more than that of civil government or of the Deity, even when it was known directly to conflict with them. It was the truth of this proposition, slowly and gradually wrested from the lips of adhering members, that turned the current of popular indignation from the guilty individuals towards the Institution itself. It was the proof furnished of this truth, which created the moral power of the political party that soon sprung up in New York and Pennsylvania and that under the banner of opposition to all secret societies rallied its tens of thousands in a fierce and vindictive, and at times, even a fanatical persecution of every thing that bore even the semblance of dreaded Freemasonry.

It would be tedious to recapitulate all the particulars of the evidence which ultimately fastened upon the public mind a conviction of the reality of the proposition above named. It may be sufficient to state the manner in which the powerful efforts made to discover the guilty parties and to bring them to justice, were perpetually baffled. The first and most natural impulse operating upon those who united in an endeavor to maintain the law, was to look to the Chief Executive Magistrate of New York for energetic support. The person who held that office at the moment, was no less distinguished man than the celebrated De Witt Clinton. But he was at the same time a Freemason, and what is more, he was High Priest of the General Grand Chapter of the United States, in other words, the highest officer of the Order. The fact was known throughout the region of Western New York, and was unquestionably relied upon as a protection from danger by those who were concerned in the deeds of violence. Indeed it afterwards came out, that what purported to be a letter from him was freely used for the purpose of instigating the members of the Order to prosecute their schemes. There are many living who yet suspect that the letter was actually genuine; but that suspicion is believed to be unjust to the memory of the late Governor Clinton, who did what he could, as soon as he became apprised of the character of the offense, to bring the guilty to punishment. The fact however furnishes an instructive illustration of the great danger attending the existence of secret ties, which may even be suspected to conflict in the mind of a high officer of state with the performance of his public duties. The moral influence of his situation was thus wholly lost upon men who believed, that whatever he might say in public to the contrary, his sympathies were all with them; who supposed that his private obligations to conceal and never to reveal the secrets of his brother Masons, as well as to aid and assist in extricating them from any difficulty in which they might become involved, might be depended upon, at least so far as to shelter them from the legal consequences of their own misdeeds, within the sphere of the Executive influence. Was this an inference wholly unwarranted from the language of the Masonic oath? Let any impartial individual examine its nature and answer affirmatively if he can. Doubtless De Witt Clinton was wholly innocent of guilt, but his situation was not the less clearly one of conflict between his Masonic and his social and religious duty. Although he may have escaped contamination, another and weaker individual might have made himself accessory to the crime. At all events, it must be conceded that the situation in which he was thrown, was one not unnaturally the consequence of his assumption of conflicting obligations, and one in which no high civil officer under any government should ever be suffered to stand.

The second manifestation of the force of the Masonic obligation was made visible in the courts of justice, which are established to try persons charged with the commission of offenses against human life or liberty. The sheriffs, whose duty it was under the laws of New York to select and summon the grand juries, were, in all the counties in which the deeds of violence against Morgan had been committed, Freemasons. Several of them had themselves been parties to the crime. They did not hesitate to make use of their power as officers of justice to screen the criminals from conviction. The jurors whom they summoned were most of them Masons, some of them participators in the offenses into which it became their civil duty to inquire. The consequence may readily be imagined. Money, time and talent were expended in profusion, for the purpose of bringing the perpetrators of the crime complained of to condign punishment; but almost in vain. Some of the suspected persons were found and put upon their trial; but the secret obligation prevailed in the jury box, and uniformly rescued them in the moment of their utmost need. Others vanished from the scene and eluded pursuit even to the farthest limits of the United States. One man, and probably the most guilty, was tracked to the bosom of a Lodge in the city of New York, by the members of which he was secreted, put on board of a vessel below the harbor, and dispatched to a foreign land. Five years were consumed in unavailing efforts to obtain a legal conviction of the various offenders. Nothing that deserves the name of a true verdict followed. Such a history of deeply studied, skillfully combined and successfully executed movements to set at naught the lawfully constituted tribunals of justice, has at no other time been made evident in America. Important witnesses were carried off at the moment when their evidence was indispensable, and placed beyond the jurisdiction of the State; or if present and interrogated, they stood doggedly mute; or else they placed themselves entirely under the guidance of legal advisers employed to protect them from criminating themselves. It was made plain to the most ordinary capacity that the Order was assuming the responsibility of the crime of some of its members. It was exerting itself to throw over the guilty, the protecting garb of the innocent. The obligation of Freemasonry was then the law paramount, and the social system sunk into nothing by the side of it. Even distant Lodges responded favorably to the call made upon them to aid in the defense of the endangered brethren, by actually voting and forwarding sums of money for their relief. And the brief and insignificant period of imprisonment which two or three of them paid as a penalty for comparatively light offenses, was spent by them in receiving the sympathy of a martyr’s fate. The end of all was, that for the first time Masonry enjoyed its complete triumph. The men who actually participated in the murder have gradually dropped off, until it may be said that not a single individual remains within the United States. But they lived and died secure from every danger of legal punishment. The oath of Masonry came in conflict with the duty to society and to God, and succeeded in setting it aside.

The ends of justice were defeated; but the labors of those indefatigable persons who had striven day and night to promote them, were not altogether thrown away. The materials were collected to show to the world the chain of connection woven by the Masonic obligations between the subordinate Lodges in Western New York and the higher authorities of the East. The popular attention was turned to every Masonic movement-not solely in the State in which had been the cause of offense, but in all of the neighboring States. Extraordinary powers to pursue the investigations to its source were demanded of various legislative bodies, and the treatment of these applications elicited the fact that Freemasonry exercised a power almost as great in the deliberative assemblies as in the executive council chamber, or in the jury box of the courts. The opposition to Masonry became gradually more and more intensely political, and in the process took up an aspect of extreme and illiberal vindictiveness towards all who ventured to stay its progress. The other parties were compelled to bend to the force of the blast that was sweeping over them. The revelations made by Morgan, in the book which cost him his life, though at first called an imposture, proved on examination to be strictly true. But they embraced only the first three degrees of Masonry. Other persons, disgusted and indignant at the proceedings of their adhering brethren after the fate of Morgan was known to them, voluntarily came forward and supplied all the remaining forms used in America, and many of those which had been adopted in Europe. A considerable number openly and voluntarily seceded from the Order. A meeting of such persons, held at Le Roy, ended, as has been already stated, in a formal renunciation by them of all their obligations. Here and there in other States the example was followed by a few. There were more who silently seceded, having made up their minds never again to visit a Lodge. Yet in spite of all this, in spite of the earnest exhortation addressed to his brethren by Colonel W. L Stone, in a book written by him to prevail upon them to dissolve the Lodges and Chapters and to abandon Masonry altogether, it must be admitted that the great majority of the Society remained equally unmoved by denunciation, flattery or prayer. Some had the assurance publicly to deny the truth of all the allegations made against Masonry, and further to affirm that they had never taken obligations as Masons not compatible with their duties as citizens. Others,-and the most important of these was Edward Livingston, then uniting with the possession of one of the chief posts of responsibility in the general government, that of the highest dignity in the Masonic hierarchy, made vacant by the death of Clinton,-deemed it the part of wisdom to remain sullenly dumb, abstaining from all controversy, and suffering the excitement against Masons to blow over and spend itself in vain. In this spirit Mr. Livingston proceeded to deliver what he called an Address to the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the United States, upon the occasion of his installation as General Grand High Priest. He recommended that all attacks made upon the Order to which they belonged should be met with dignified silence; as if dignified silence were not equally a resource for the most atrocious criminal and for the most unspotted citizen. The charge as against Mr. Livingston was surely worthy of some little consideration when connected with the evidence already laid before the public to sustain it. It was neither more nor less than this, that he, being Secretary of State of the United States, one of the confidential advisers of the President, and moreover the reputed author of a strong proclamation issued by the chief magistrate against those in danger of falling into treasonable practices by their connection with South Carolina nullification, was yet himself under secret obligations which required him to conceal the evidence of all the offenses denounced in that state paper, provided only that it should be communicated to him under the seal of Masonic confidence. Not to answer such a charge as this, implied rather a doubt of the ability to do so satisfactorily, than a perfect reliance upon the consciousness of innocence. If Masonry was free from all the objections raised by its opponents, what more effective step to establish its innocence than a simple statement of the truth? If it was a valuable institution, worthy of preservation, surely the effort to sustain it against injurious calumnies was worth making. Could it be supposed that the unanimous testimony to the alleged character of the oaths, brought by hundreds of respectable persons who had taken them but who now renounced them, was to be discredited by the merely negative action of adhering Masons, however individually respectable, or however exalted in position ? Considering the precise nature of the difficulties by which they were surrounded, it is clear that no defense could have been assumed by them, in its character more nugatory. It manifested only the consciousness of wrong, combined with a dogged resolution never to admit nor to retract it.

The address of Mr. Livingston, such as it was, proved the inciting cause of the publication of a series of letters directed by Mr. Adams to him, which will be found to make a part of the present volume. In these papers the argument against the Masonic obligation, as the root of all the crimes committed in the case of Morgan, was pushed with a force which carried conviction to the minds of many persons at the time, and which seems even at this day scarcely to admit of reply. Mr. Livingston himself made no attempt at rejoinder. This was the part of discretion, for had he done so, there is little reason to doubt that Mr. Adams would have fulfilled his promise when he said to him, ” Had you ventured to assume the defense of the Masonic oaths, obligations and penalties-had you presumed to commit your name to the assertion that they can by any possibility be reconciled to the laws of morality, of Christianity, or of the land, I should have deemed it my duty to reply, and to have completed the demonstration before God and man that they cannot.”

The opportunity for a complete and overwhelming victory was thus denied to Mr. Adams by the tacit secession from the field of Mr. Livingston. Yet the effect of his letters was by no means trifling in many States. The moral power of the opponents of Masonry visibly increased, and with it the earnestness of their political hostility to those who practiced its rites. It showed itself in the general election of State officers, both in New York and Pennsylvania, and in the nomination of Mr. William Wirt as a candidate at the ensuing election for the presidency of the United States, in opposition to General Jackson, the incumbent, who was found to be a Freemason. Neither was Mr. Adams himself suffered to remain disconnected with the movement of political opinions upon the subject. A large convention of citizens of Massachusetts unanimously called upon him to suffer his name to be used in the canvass for the office of Governor, which took place in that State in the year 1833. Reluctant as he was to enter into the arena, and to sacrifice his preference for the position in the House of Representatives of the United States, which he then occupied, the nature of the appeal made to him overcame all his scruples. The election took place. It terminated in the failure to make choice of any person by the requisite constitutional majority. The power of the party which had for a long time held the control of the government of Massachusetts, and with which Mr. Adams had up to this period co-operated, was broken under the effort to sustain Masonry against him. Had he determined to persevere, it is quite uncertain what might have been the consequences to the position of the Commonwealth. But it was not his wish to press the matter beyond the point which a sense of duty dictated. No sooner was it ascertained by the return of the votes that a continuance of the contest in the Legislature of the State was to be the result of his adherence to his position, than he determined to withdraw his name from the canvass. At the same time that be took this step, he caused to be published an address to the people of the Commonwealth, explaining his views of the connection between Masonry and the politics of the country, and justifying himself from the charges with which he had been most vehemently assailed. With this paper, the last in the present volume, and the close of which is in a strain of eloquence which alone should secure its preservation, Mr. Adams appears to have terminated his public labors in opposition to secret obligations and to Freemasonry. But their effects were soon afterwards made visible, by the adoption of laws prohibiting the administration of extrajudicial oaths, by the voluntary dissolution of many of the subordinate lodges, and by the tacit secession of a large number of individual members. Indeed, such was the silence preserved for a long time respecting the Institution, that its existence in Massachusetts might almost have been questioned. The purposes for which the organized opposition had been made, seemed so completely answered, that the motives for maintaining it were no longer strongly felt. The current of public affairs soon afterwards took a new turn. Anti-masonry gradually disappeared as an agent to effect changes in the political aspect of the States, and the individuals who had associated themselves in the movement, again joined the ordinary party organizations with which they most nearly sympathized.

Thus it happened that Freemasonry, by cowering under the storm, saved itself from the utter prostration which would have followed perseverance in the policy of resistance. Years have passed away, and it again gives symptoms of revivification. A new and kindred Institution has suddenly manifested an extraordinary degree of development under the guise of benevolence. What the precise nature of the obligations may be, which bind great numbers of citizens, mostly young, active men, into this connection, has not yet been fully brought to light. The: objects are stated to be charity and the rendering of mutual aid. If these are all the purposes of the association, it cannot be otherwise than meritorious. Yet it can scarcely be maintained that any unlimited pledge of secrecy is essential to the successful execution of them. In a republican forte of government, the only real and proper fraternity is the system of civil society. To that, every member is bound to bow. The obligations which it imposes need no veil of secrecy to cover them. Illustrated by the law of love enjoined by the superior authority of the divine command, it marks out with distinctness to each individual the paramount duty of charity, of benevolence and of mutual aid and support. There can be, therefore, no good excuse for resorting to smaller and narrower spheres for the invidious exercise of such virtues among those who ought to stand upon a perfectly even footing, when the broad and general one better answers to every useful and honorable exertion. The disadvantages attending the formation of all associations connected by secret obligations, no matter how harmless may be their appearance, are, first, that if they have any effect at all, it is injurious to those who do not choose to join them; secondly, that they substitute a private pledge of a doubtful nature to a few who have no moral right to the preference, for a clear and well defined and entirely proper one given to the many. In all similar cases, the tendency to introduce objects of exertion in the smaller circle which conflict with those of society at large, and which may sometimes even threaten its safety, is obvious. It is the temptation presented to conspiracy which has made secret associations the objects of denunciation by the monarchs of Europe. The same thing should at all times render them marks for jealousy and distrust in republican States. They threaten the harmony of the community wherever they are. The pledge of political preference which was rapidly becoming engrafted upon the Masonic Institution in the United States at the time of the Morgan excitement, and which had already produced visible results in many of the smaller towns of New York and New England, by unaccountably exalting some individuals to the depression of neighbors equally worthy, furnishes a good illustration of the mode in which social discord of the bitterest description may be made in the end to spring up. In view of the possibility of this hazard, it would seem as if few could be found, when once made sensible of the difficulty, willing deliberately to give occasion to it.

It is confidently believed that in the materials of the present volume will be found a solemn warning, conveyed by a voice in the feebleness of age still powerful over the sympathy of American citizens, against the formation of secret obligations. As time rolls on in its swift career, and as the generation which nursed the infant Republic into strength disappears from the scene, the duty becomes stronger on those who succeed, to heed the counsels which its wisest and most experienced men leave behind them. The arguments of Mr. Adams, although directed against the particular Order of Freemasonry, will yet be found susceptible of broader application, and extending themselves over all societies of which the radical error is, that they shun the light of day. The pride of freemen,- living under a system of equal laws, with guarantees of the rights of each individual,-should be to sustain the junction of innocence with liberty, the union of an open, honest heart with an efficient and liberal hand. Such a state cannot co-exist with secret obligations. The person who lies under an engagement which he must not reveal, whatever may betide, can indeed be innocent and energetic, but he will not be perfectly frank nor just to all men alike. Occasions may arise in which his fidelity to his private pledges will come into conflict with his duty to society. Who is then to decide for him what he must do? On either side is moral difficulty and mental distress. If he betray his associates, he spots his heart with violated faith. If he desert his country, he fails in a duty of even higher obligation. The alternative is too painful to a conscientious spirit ever knowingly to be hazarded with propriety. That such an alternative is by no means impossible, who cart doubt after the cases of Eli Bruce, of De Witt Clinton, and of Edward Livingston, in the Masonic history of the murder of Morgan ? Much as he might regret it, what Freemason was there in 1826, who did not perceive at a glance that his pledge to his associates was to conceal the crime and to shelter the criminal; whilst his duty to the State and to Heaven, to disclose the guilt and to denounce the author, was written with a sunbeam on his heart? And how many were there, who, instead of judging rightly of the relative importance of the obligations, actually made themselves accessories after the fact, by supplying the means of escape from justice to their unworthy brethren? The damning evidence of this truth must remain in the minds of men as long as Masonry shall endure. It may indeed be that other associations will spring up which may be free from all the grossly objectionable engagements of that institution. But who shall be secure against the intrusion of evil when the portal stands invitingly open to its admission? Who shall be able to protect himself against the designs of those of his associates to whom he has given a secret control over his will? These are questions which every citizen must answer for himself. It is with the design that he may have at hand the means of acting understandingly, that the present volume is put forth. Young persons, who are especially liable to be carried away by the fascination that always attends mystery, are hereby furnished with an opportunity to weigh the arguments of a powerful remonstrant against any secret steps. May they read, weigh, and deeply ponder the words of wisdom, and may the effect of them be to preserve them in the paths of Liberty, of Friendship, and of Faith,*

  • Fidem, Libertatem, Amicitiam–the motto abbreviated from that selected by his father, who found it in Tacitus, in the charge of the Emperor Galba to Piso, on adopting him. The passage, as it stands in the original, applicable to the temptations by which great place is always surrounded, is as follows: “Fidem, liberatem, amicitiam, praecipua humani animi bona, tu quidem eadem constantia retinebis: sed alii per obsequium imminuent.”

early marked out by their adviser as the guides of his own career, unencumbered by obligations which they fear to disclose, unembarrassed by promises which they know not how conscientiously to perform !







  1. To a Reviewer of Shepard’s Defence of the Masonic Institution.
  2. To Edward Ingersoll, Esq., Philadelphia
  3. To the same
  4. To the same
  5. To the same
  6. To William Seward, Esq., Auburn, N.Y.
  7. To Richard Rush, Esq., York, Penn.
  8. To Hie Excellency Levi Lincoln, Governor of Massachusetts
  9. To William L. Stone, Esq., New York
  10. To the same
  11. To the same
  12. To the same
  13. To the same
  14. To the same
  15. To the same
  16. To the same
  17. To Hie Excellency Levi Lincoln, Governor of Massachusetts
  18. To Alexander H. Everett, Esq., Boston
  19. To Richard Rush, Esq., York, Penn.
  20. To Benjamin Cowell, Esq., York, Penn.
  21. To James Morehead, Esq., Mercer, Penn.
  22. To Edward Livingston, Esq.
  23. To the same
  24. To the same
  25. To the same
  26. To the same
  27. To the same
  28. To the same

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