Seeds of Dissent The Origins of Anti-Masonry - Part 4 – Post-Revolutionary Resurgence

by Midnight Freemason Emeritus Contributor
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

Once the American and French Revolutions were in the rear-view mirror, anti-Masonry again began creeping out into the open. Strong voices, including future president John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), John Robinson (1739-1805), and Reverend Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826), came on the scene to voice their opposition to the Freemasons. 

In 1798, Robinson published a scathing 240-page diatribe with the daunting title, Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret meetings of Freemasons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies. Morse picked up on the views expressed in Robinson's book, preaching sermons against the Freemasons and Illuminati, claiming they had incited the French Revolution. This prompted George Washington, clarifying the separation between Freemasonry, the Illuminati, and the still-active Jacobites to respond:1

It was not my intention to doubt that, the Doctrines of the Illuminati, and principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more truly satisfied of this fact than I am. The idea that I meant to convey, was, that I did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this Country had, as Societies, endeavored to propagate the diabolical tenets of the first, or pernicious principles of the latter (if they are susceptible of separation). That Individuals of them may have done it, or that the founder, or instrument employed to found, the Democratic Societies in the United States, may have had these objects; and actually had a separation of the People from their Government in view, is too evident to be questioned.

Still,  a growing segment of the population continued to be wary of the Freemasons. The mystique of the Craft's secret nature gave way, for some, to suspicions and rumors of brewing conspiracies, its gentry-based membership drew accusations of elitism, and objections by organized religion continued.

Within the Catholic Church, anti-Masonry became more intense. In 1739, Cardinal Firrao issued an edict imposing the death penalty for anyone disobeying In eminenti.2 In 1751, Pope Benedict XIV issued Providas Romanorum Pontificum which reaffirmed Clement's bull of 1738, condemning Freemasonry based on its demand for oaths, secrecy, religious ecumenism, and its perceived opposition to the Church and State. In 1821 Pope Pius VII issued Ecclesiam a Jesu Christo, reinforcing opposition to Freemasonry based on its oath-bound secrecy. Leo XII published Quo graviora mala in 1825 condemning Freemasonry as a secret oath-binding society.

The Catholic church has issued many condemnations of Freemasonry since that time. However, after Quo graviora mala in 1825 little additional condemnation was necessary to change public opinion about the Craft. The following year, a man named William Morgan came on the scene and superseded anything the church could have done to turn the tide against the Masons.

Morgan's threats to reveal Masonic secrets and the Freemasons' ill-advised response garnered an anti-Masonic wave that swept the country, led to the formation of the anti-Masonic political party, forced the closing of many lodges, prompted many men to leave and disavow Freemasonry, and changed American history.

1 George Washington to Washington, D.C., Commissioners, October 27, 1798

2 Many arrests were made in Florence, but no death sentences were known to be carried out.


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships is the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35-year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

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