The Morgan Affair

We are back from Grand Lodge, and hiding from the snow storm in our footie pj’s watching the Olympics. We had a blast, I am so glad that I went, and I can’t wait to attend again next year! Yesterday morning, I was lucky enough to attend the Masonic Education Breakfast. Once I heard about the topic, I knew that I had to attend, and shot an email to the Grand Lodge office to make sure that it was alright for me to attend. Luckily, there was no issue; I was, however, the only female in the room, not that bothers me any.

Time for some masonic education!

In the early 1820′s, there were two political parties, the federalists and the democratic-republicans. Neither parties really had any sort of political platform like we know today, it was mostly, “vote for this guy because we like this guy”.  At this time, masons were kind of big deal. In larger cities, like Rochester, New York, all (or at least most), of the cops, judges, and other government officials were masons. This made it very easy to get whomever they wanted elected, with great party slogans encouraging them to effectively, keep it between brethren. Things like this can get out of control very easily. Human beings are greedy, and even a small amount of power can show a man’s true colors.

During this time, a man showed up in Rochester, by the name of William Morgan. He came to a lodge, stating that he had been initiated at a lodge in Canada, but could not produce a dues card. As I think many men would still now, someone agreed to vouch for him. He began attending lodge on a regular basis, and being fairly proficient at ritual work, he traveled from lodge to lodge performing rituals where requested. He was paid for his work, although he mostly relied on brethren to house him during his travels. At this point he has still not produced a dues card, or an alternate confirmation that he was, in fact, a mason. He received a Royal Arch degree (considered one of the most sacred secret works at the time), the only degree that can be confirmed that he did receive.

After receiving the Royal Arch degree, he wanted to charter a petition for a Royal Arch Chapter in Batavia, he was denied. He did sign the petition. At this time, other masons were starting to question his regularity (whether or not he was actually a mason), and they took his name off of the petition. Understandably, he was pretty upset about this, and threatened to write a book exposing all of the masonic secrets. This was a much bigger deal back then, since one could not just google a large portion of the masons secret works. He went as far as obtaining a copyright for the book, and did begin writing a manuscript.He entered a contract with three men, David Miller, John Davids, and Russel Dyer to publish the book.

Morgan was kind of drunk. As you know from experience, drunk people don’t keep their mouth shut very well. He began boasting around town about how awesome his book was going to be, and how he was going to show all of the masons that shut him out. The local masons quickly heard word about his “expose”, and the more that he bragged about it, the more worried they became. In September of 1826, William Morgan was arrested for stealing a shirt and tie. He was acquitted, but re-arrested for failing to pay his $3 debt, and thrown in jail. Someone paid his debt, but he did not leave jail alone.

He was, in fact, kidnapped by three masons, Chesebro, Lawson and Sawyer. What happened after they left gets a little fuzzy. One story states that they took him to Niagara Falls, gave him $500, told him to return to Canada and never come back to the United States. Another, that a body was found, and identified as Morgan by his widow, in Niagara River about a month later. Interestingly, this man was clean-shaven, while Morgan kept a beard, and had a full head of hair, while Morgan was bald. A Canadian woman, claimed this body to be her husband, Timothy Monroe. Years later, more “confessions” of his murder surfaced, none of which were consistent with the facts. It is possible that he escaped, although perhaps more likely, he was killed by overzealous masons who felt that they were just in protecting their secrets.

After all of this, Miller published Morgan’s manuscript, and it was an instant best seller. The public were made very uneasy by the masons after this expose. Morgan was made a symbol of free press and free speech. Protests and riots occurred in New York. Masonic officials denied that masons had any connection to Morgan’s disappearance, but the damage was done. A man by the name of Thurlow Weed created the Anti-Masonic party, the United States’ first third-party.

Could something like this happen again? Perhaps. I think that if masonry once again has a golden age, where everyone you know is a mason, that level of zealotry and arrogance could arise again. The internet changes things, yes, but not as much as we might like to believe. I think that it is a reminder to keep ourselves in check, and the importance of stepping back from a situation and taking a second look at it before making a major decision. It is also a reminder of how we are all only human, and emotions can get the better of us, especially when someone threatens people or ideas that we hold close.  Another interesting, similar situation happened in the 1970′s, called P2, but that is for another day.