"Morgan committees" that originally set out to establish the truth about the crime soon became the spearhead of a statewide movement and then a national Anti-Masonic Party dedicated to driving the Masons out of existence. Pennsylvania and Vermont elected Anti-Masonic governors, and former U.S. Attorney General William Wirt ran for president on the party's ticket in 1832, winning Vermont's electoral votes and about 8 percent of the national popular vote.
The party soon disappeared as the Democratic and new Whig parties stepped up their organizational efforts to dominate the national political scene. But in addition to providing a model for future American single-issue movements, from abolitionism and temperance to today's Green Party, the anti-Masonic movement nearly drove the fraternity out of existence. New York State was home to about 500 local lodges in the mid-1820s, but only 26 lodges could muster representatives to attend the statewide grand lodge meeting in 1837. Almost two thirds of Indiana's lodges had shut down by the same year. By the end of the 1830s, Masonry was making a slow comeback, but, as Bullock writes, "it would never again recover the exalted position that had once seemed Masonry's just due."
How Masonry had come to such an exalted position in American public life, briefly to lose it before regaining a lesser mantle of respectability, is a story that begins in Scotland and England. Descended from medieval stonemason guilds, the lodges of 17th-century Britain were still dominated by actual (or "operative") masons who gradually welcomed into their ranks, often as patrons, selected gentlemen, as long as they pledged loyalty to the crown and faithfulness to God. These "accepted" members were drawn as much by the sociable character of the fraternities (which typically met in inns or taverns) as by private rituals and signs that had once helped the artisans protect secrets of their craft. Masonry's ties to ancient architecture, geometry, and other rational arts and sciences heightened its allure to men who participated in or closely followed the development of modern experimental science.
Wisdom seekers. As accepted members came to dominate the assorted lodges, many of whom were also members of Britain's scientific Royal Society, the focus of the fraternal life shifted to philosophical (or "speculative" ) considerations and the exploration of connections between newly discovered laws of nature and the wisdom of ancient civilizations. "They studied Greek and Roman architecture and King Solomon's Temple," writes Tabbert, "in search of keys to unlock the lost truths of ancient civilizations." Indeed, the highly mythologized genealogies of Masonry often give the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem in 967 B.C. a prominent place in the Masonic tradition. The various architectural features of the temple, and the story of its alleged master builder, Hiram Abiff, would become central to the symbolic lore and initiatory rituals of the fraternity.
In America, Freemasonry was eagerly embraced both by the gentlemanly establishment and by members of the artisan and commercial class who aspired to that establishment. Indeed, Freemasonry encouraged social movement and a more inclusive elite through education, the cultivation of politeness and honor, mutual assistance, networking, and tolerance for differences in the delicate matter of religion. (Brothers were expected to honor "that religion in which all men agree [that is, belief in a "beneficent God"], leaving their particular opinions to themselves," wrote Scotsman James Anderson, a Presbyterian minister who in 1723 published Constitutions of the Free-Masons, the first official record of the Grand Lodge.)
Social climbers. Right up to the Revolution, men of character, talent, and ambition used Freemasonry to rise on the social ladder. Before his famous ride, Paul Revere was known as a prominent silversmith and Freemason. A fellow Bostonian, a free African-American and leather-shop owner named Prince Hall, shrewdly assessed the benefits of the fraternity. In 1775, he and 14 other African-Americans underwent initiation in a British military lodge. Hall and several brothers founded their own lodge during the Revolution. Prince Hall Freemasonry, as it was named after the death of Hall in 1807, spread to Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere to become a powerful crucible of African-American leadership, even while providing charity and other support to the black community. Although African-Americans can join any lodge, Prince Hall Freemasonry remains a vital--and still separate--part of American Masonic tradition.