There is no country of the civilized world where Freemasonry has existed, in which opposition to it has not, from time to time, exhibited itself ; although it has always been overcome by the purity and innocence of the Institution. The Roman Catholic religion has always been anti Masonic, and hence edicts have constantly been promulgated by popes and sovereigns in Roman Catholic countries against the Order. The most important of these edicts is the Bull of Pope Clement XII, which was issued on the 24th of April, 1738, the authority of which Bull is still in existence, and forbids any pious Catholic from uniting with a Masonic Lodge, under the severest penalties of ecclesiastical excommunication.
In the United States, where there are neither popes to issue Bulls nor kings to promulgate edicts, the opposition to Freemasonry had to take the form of a political party. Such a party was organized in the United States in the year 1826, soon after the disappearance of one William Morgan. The object of this party was professedly to put down the Masonic Institution as subversive of good government, but really for the political aggrandizement of its leaders, who used the opposition to Freemasonry merely as a stepping-stone to their own advancement to office.
But the public virtue of the masses of the American people repudiated a party which was based on such corrupt and mercenary views, and its ephemeral existence was followed by a total annihilation.
When the above attempt to destroy Freemasonry had spent its force and vanished, there came in its wake another enemy born of a conference held in October, 1867, at Aurora, Illinois. As a result of this meeting a convention of opponents to secret societies of all sorts assembled at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in May, 1868, when the National Association of Christians Opposed to Secret Societies was organized.
This body was incorporated under an Illinois charter in 1874 as the National Christian Association and has maintained headquarters in Chicago where a magazine, Christian Cynosure, founded in 1868, has been published. The organization has erected a monument to William Morgan in Batavia, New York, and "holds that the Lodge system denies Christ and worships Satan."
A society which has been deemed of so much importance as to be the victim of many persecutions, must needs have had its enemies in the press. It was too good an Institution not to be abused. Accordingly, Freemasonry had no sooner taken its commanding position as one of the teachers of the world, than a host of adversaries sprang up to malign its character and to misrepresent its objects. Hence, in the catalogue of a Masonic library, the anti-Masonic books will form no small part of the collection.
Anti-Masonic works may very properly be divided into two classes:
1. Those written simply for the purposes of abuse, in which the character and objects of the Institution are misrepresented.
2. Those written for the avowed purpose of revealings its ritual and esoteric doctrines. The former of these c1asses is always instigated by malignity, the latter by mean cupidity. The former class alone comes strictly within the category of anti Masonic books, although the two classes are often confounded; the attack on the principles of Freemasonry being sometimes accompanied with a pretended revelation of its mysteries, and, on the other hand, the pseudo-revelations are not unfrequently enriched by the most liberal abuse of the Institution.
The earliest authentic work which contains anything in opposition to Freemasonry is The Natural History of Staffordshire, by Robert Plot, which was printed at Oxford in the year 1686. It is only in one particular part of the work that Doctor Plot makes any invidious remarks against the Institution. We should freely forgive him for what he has said against it, when we know that his recognition of the existence, in the seventeenth century, of a society which was already of so much importance that he was compelled to acknowledge that he had "found persons of the most eminent quality that did not disdain to be of this fellowship," gives the most ample refutation of those writers who assert that no traces of the Masonic Institution are to be found before the beginning of the eighteenth century. A triumphant reply to the attack of Doctor Plot is to be found in the third volume of Oliver's Golden Remains of the Early Masonic Writers.
A still more virulent attack on the Order was made in 1730, by Samuel Prichard, which he entitled Masonry dissected, being an universal and genuine description of all its branches from the original to the present time. Toward the end of the year a reply was issued entitled A Defense of Masonry, occasioned by a pamphlet called Masonry Dissected. This was published anonymously, but the fact has recently been established that its author was Martin Clare, A. M., F. R.S., a schoolmaster of London, who was a prominent Freemason from 1734 to 1749 (see Ars Quatuor Coronatorum iv, pages 33--il). No copy of this Defense is known to exist, but it was reproduced in the Free Masons Pocket Companion for 1738, and in the second edition of the Book of Constitutions, which was published in the same year.
The above work is a learned production, well worth perusal for the information that it gives in reference to the sacred rites of the ancients, independent of its polemic character. About this time the English press was inundated by pretended revelations of the Masonic mysteries, published under the queerest titles, such as Jachin and Boaz; An authentic key to the door of Freemasonry, both Ancient and Modern published in 1762, Hiram, or the Grand Master Key to both Ancient and Modern Freemasonry, which appeared in 1764. The Three Distinct Knocks, published in 1760, and a host of others of a similar character, which were, however, rather intended, by ministering to a morbid and unlawful curiosity, to put money into the purses of their compilers, than to gratify any vindictive feelings against the Institution.
Some, however, of these works were amiable neither in their inception nor in their execution, and appear to have been dictated by a spirit that may be characterized as being anything else except Christian. Thus, in the year 1768, a sermon was preached, we may suppose, but certainly published, at London, with the following ominous title : Masonry the Way to Hell; a Sermon wherein is clearly proved, both from Reason and Scripture, that all who profess the Mysteries are in a State of Damnation. This sermon appears to have been a favorite with the ascetics, for in less than two years it was translated into French and German.
But, on the other hand, it gave offense to the liberal minded, and many replies to it were written and published, among which was one entitled Masonry the Turnpike-Road to Happiness in this Life, and Eternal Happiness Hereafter, which also found its translation into German.
In 1797 appeared the notorious work of John Robinson, entitled Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. Robinson was a gentleman and a scholar of some repute, a professor of natural philosophy, and Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
Hence, although his theory is based on false premise and his reasoning fallacious and illogical, his language is more decorous and his sentiments less malignant than generally characterize the writers of anti-Masonic books.
A contemporary critic in the Monthly Review (volume xxv, page 315) thus correctly estimates the value of Robinson's work: "On the present occasion," says the reviewer, "we acknowledge that we have felt something like regret that a lecturer in natural philosophy, of whom his country is so justly proud, should produce any work of literature by which his high character for knowledge and for judgment is liable to be at all depreciated." Robinson's book owes its preservation at this day from the destruction of time only to the permanency and importance of the Institution which it sought to destroy. Freemasonry, which it vilified, has alone saved it from the tomb of the Capulets.
This work closed the labors of the anti-Masonic press in England. No work of any importance abusive of the Institution has appeared in that country since the attack of Robinson. The manuals of Richard Carlile and the theologico-astronomical sermons of the Rev. Robert Taylor are the productions of men who do not profess to be the enemies of the Order, but who have sought, by their peculiar views, to give to Freemasonry an origin, a design, and an interpretation different from that which is received as the general sense of the Fraternity. The works of these writers, although erroneous, are not hurtful.
The French press was prolific in the production of anti-Masonic publications. Commencing with La Grande Lumare or The Great Light, which was published at Paris, in 1734, soon after the modern introduction of Freemasonry into France, but brief intervals elap8ed without the appearance of some work adverse to the Masonic Institution. But the most important of these was certainly the ponderous escort of the Abbé Barruel, published in four volumes, in 1797, under the title of Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire du Jacobinisme, or Memorials to serve for a history of Jacobinism.
The French Revolution was at the time an accomplished fact. The Bourbons had passed away, and Barruel, as a priest and a royalist, was indignant at the change, and, in the bitterness of his rage, he charged the whole inception and success of the political movement to the machinations of the Freemasons, whose Lodges, he asserted, were only Jacobinical clubs.
The general scope of his argument was the same as that which was pursued by Professor Robinson ; but while both were false in their facts and fallacious in their reasoning, the Scotchman was calm and dispassionate, while the Frenchman was vehement and abusive. No work, perhaps, was ever printed which contains so many deliberate mis-statements as disgrace the pages of Barruel. Unfortunately, the work was, soon after its appearance, translated into English. It is still to be found on the shelves of Masonic students and curious work collectors, as a singular specimen of the extent of folly and falsehood to which one may be led by the influences of bitter party prejudices.
The anti-Masonic writings of Italy and Spain have, with the exception of a few translations from French and English authors, consisted only of bulls issued by popes and edicts pronounced by the Inquisition. The anti-Freemasons of those countries had it all their own way, and, scarcely descending to argument or even to abuse, contented themselves with practical persecution. In Germany, the attacks on Freemasonry were less frequent than in England or France. Still there were a some, and among them may be mentioned one whose very title would leave no room to doubt of its anti-Masonic character.
It is entitled Beweiss dass die Freimaurer-Gesellschaft in allen Staaten, u, s. w., that is, Proofs that the Society of Freemasons is in every country not only useless, but, if not restricted, dangerous, and ought to be interdicted. This work was published at Dantzic, in 1764, and was intended as a defense of the decree of the Council of Dantzic against the Order.
The Germans, however, have produced no such ponderous works in behalf of anti-Masonry as the capacious volumes of Barruel and Robinson. The attacks on the Order in that country have principally been by pamphleteers.
In the United States anti-Masonic writings were scarcely known until they sprung out of the Morgan excitement in 1826. The disappearance and alleged abduction of this individual gave birth to a bitterly spiteful opposition to Freemasonry, and the country was soon flooded with anti-Masonic works. Most of these were, however, merely pamphlets, which had a only a brief existence and have long since been consigned to the service of the trunk-makers or suffered a literary change in the paper-mill.
Two only are worthy, from their size (their only qualification), for a place in a Masonic catalogue. The first of these is entitled Letters on Masonry and Anti-Masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams. The author was William L. Stone. This work, which was published at New York in 1832, is a large octavo of 556 pages.
The work of Stone, it must be acknowledged, is not abusive. If his arguments are illogical, they are at least conducted without malignity. If his statements are false, his language is decorous. He was himself a member of the Craft, and he has been compelled, by the force of truth, to make many admissions which are favorable to the Order. The book was evidently Written for a political purpose, and to advance the interests of the anti-Masonic party. It presents, therefore, nothing but partisan views, and those, too, almost entirely of a local character, having reference a only to the conduct of the Institution as exhibited in what is called the Morgan affair.
Freemasonry, according to Stone, should be suppressed because a few of its members are supposed to have violated the laws in a village of the State of New York. As well might the vices of the Christians of Corinth have suggested to a contemporary of St. Paul the propriety of suppressing Christianity.
The next anti-Masonic work of any prominence published in the United States is also in the epistolary style, and is entitled Letters on the Masonic Institution.
These letters were written by John Quincy Adams.
The book is an octavo of 284 pages, and was published at Boston in 1847. Adams, whose eminent public services have made his life a part of the history of his country, has very properly been described as "a man of strong points and weak ones, of vast reading and wonderful memory, of great credulity and strong prejudice."
In the latter years of his life, Adams became notorious for his virulent opposition to Freemasonry. Deceived and excited by the misrepresentations of the anti-Freemasons, he united himself with that party, and threw all his vast energies and abilities into the political contests then waging. The result was this series of letters, abusive of the Masonic Institution, which he directed to leading politicians of the country, and which were published in the public journals from 1831 to 1833. These letters, which are utterly unworthy of the genius, learning, and eloquence of the author, display a most egregious ignorance of the whole design and character of the Masonic Institution. The "oath'' and "the murder of Morgan" are the two bugbears which seem continually to float before the excited vision of the writer, and on these alone he dwells from the first page to the last.
Except the letters of Stone and Adams, there is hardly another anti-Masonic book published in America that can go beyond the literary dignity of a respectably sized pamphlet.
A compilation of anti-Masonic documents was published at Boston, in 1830, by James C. Odiorne, who has thus in part preserved for future reference the best of a bad class of writings.
In 1831 Henry Gassett, of Boston, a most virulent anti-Freemason, distributed, at his own expense, a great number of anti-Masonic books, which had been published during the Morgan excitement, to the principal libraries of the United States, on whose shelves they are probably now lying covered with dust. That the memory of his deed might not altogether be lost, he published a catalogue of these donations in 1852, to which he has prefixed an attack on Freemasonry.
The Encyclopedia Masonica exists to preserve the wealth of information that has been generated over the centuries by numerous Masonic authors. As Freemasonry is now Speculative and not Operative, the work of a Mason is now conducted in the quarries of symbolism, literature, history and scholasticism. Freemasonry encourages intellectual exploration and academic achievement in its members and many Masons over the years have taken up this calling. The result has been that an incredible amount of philosophy, symbolic speculation and academic insights have been created. However, as Freemasonry teaches, human knowledge is frail and fragile. It is easily lost in the turnings of the ages and unforeseen catastrophes can result in great setbacks to human knowledge.
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