Ohio History Journal

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Assistant Dean, Columbia College, Columbia University


Mention antimasonry and the historian and scholar think

immediately of the famous Morgan affair of 1826. The story of

the abduction of William Morgan, a bricklayer of Batavia, New

York, after he had published a book revealing the secrets of

Freemasonry is a familiar one in American history. The result-

ant wave of ill-feeling against Masons which culminated in the

rise of a national political party strong enough to poll 128,000

votes in 1830 is too well known to need retelling here.1 Few,

however, are aware that a similar campaign was launched on a

lesser scale and with less serious results shortly after the Civil

War under the leadership of that colorful evangelist Charles

Grandison Finney.

Charles Finney (1792-1876) played a varied and active role

in early nineteenth century American history. Noted principally

for his extensive work in conducting religious revivals throughout

the country from 1826 until the Civil War, Finney also threw

himself into the antislavery and temperance movements as well

as other reform activities of the day. He became interested in

the cause of education in the West, joined the faculty of Oberlin

in 1835, and later became its president. Highly individualistic

and something of a rebel at heart, Finney stirred up a number of

religious issues among his fellow Presbyterians and Congrega-

tionalists, aided in the Free Church movement in New York City,


1 The best short account of the early antimasonic campaign is found in Alice

F. Tyler, Freedom's Ferment (Minneapolis, 1944), 351-358. For a contemporary view,

see Henry Brown, A Narrative of the Anti-Masonick Excitement, in the Western

Part of New York, During the Years 1826, '7, '8, and a Part of 1829 (Batavia, N. Y.,

1829). Also useful are Charles McCarthy, The Antimasonic Party: A Study of

Political Antimasonry in the United States, 1827-1840 (American Historical Associa-

tion Annual Report, 1902, I, Washington, 1903, pp. 365-574), and Milton W. Hamilton,

"Anti-Masonic Newspapers, 1826-1834," Papers of the Bibliographical Society of

America, XXXII (1938), 71-97.