For the People: American Populist Movements from the Revolution to the 1850s

By Ronald P. Formisano | Go to book overview

Chapter 6
Anti-Masonry: Progressive and Reactionary

The men who erect the public press to bear upon the fortresses of Freemasonry,
are the sons of those, who opened the batteries of freedom upon the strong holds
of British tyranny; they do honor to their Fathers. Faneuil Hall rings again with
the voice of struggling independence.

—Henry Dana Ward, Antimasonic Review (1828)

Persevere, then, and achieve for your country a Second Independence.

—Timothy Fuller, An Oration, Delivered at Faneuil Hall,
Boston, July 11, 1831 (1831)

Anti-Masonry as populist movement and political party, as New York’s example indicated, exhibited both progressive and reactionary tendencies.1 Some of the latter long preoccupied historians, with the result that recognition of Anti-Masonry’s egalitarian attitudes tended to be brushed aside. Anti-Masonry fits the profile of populist movements of mixed character discussed in the introduction. An unequivocal reading of the movement as predominantly progressive or predominantly reactionary is inappropriate, and all the more inaccurate because of regional and state variations. In addition, much more is known about Anti-Masonry in some places than others, and, except for the kind of research Kathleen Smith Kutolowski has done, there is insufficient information regarding Anti-Masonry as it operated in localities, churches, social networks, and families before any political organization. This absence of detail from the grass roots impinges particularly on a dimension of the movement with progressive implications, namely, its potential relationship to the rise of women’s rights consciousness and activism.

The organizational spread of Anti-Masonry is recorded in its newspapers, conventions of inquiry, nominations of candidates, publications of meetings and conventions, and other activities carried out by men. Ironically, a major vehicle for the conversion of multitudes of families to Anti-Masonry has proved resistant to any but the most rudimentary historical discovery: women. Kutolowski refers to the wives of Anti-Masonic men as “a largely

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