Illustrations of Masonry
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Pages (PDF): 136
Publication Date: 1827
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Fully illustrated, this is one of the first published accounts of US Freemasonry in the early 19th century. This book has a controversial backstory which is part of the mythology of anti-Freemasonry. 'Captain' William Morgan, the author, was a disappointed Freemason in Batavia, New York. Rejected by the local lodge, he announced that he was going to publish a work exposing Masonic rituals and secrets. Shortly before publication in 1826, he disappeared, and three Masons were later convicted of kidnapping him. Although claims were made that Morgan had been murdered, some say that he was forced to leave the US. Either way, it was good publicity for this book, which was published in 1827, but bad for the Masons. The incident led to widespread protests against Freemasons in the US, and eventually an anti-Masonic Party, which at its height in 1832 got seven electoral votes for William Wirt for President.
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In the absence of the author, or rather compiler of the following work, who was kidnapped and carried away from the village of Batavia, on the 11th day of September, 1826, by a number of Freemasons, it devolves upon the publisher to attempt to set forth some of the leading views that governed those who embarked in the undertaking.
To contend with prejudice, and to struggle against customs and opinions, which superstition, time, and ignorance have hallowed, requires time, patience, and magnanimity. When we begin to pull down the strongholds of error, the batteries we level against them, though strong, and powerful; and victorious at last, arc at first received with violence; and when in our conquering career we meet with scoffs and revilings from the beseiged partisans of untenable positions, it the more forcibly impresses us we are but men; and that in every work of reformation and renovation we must encounter various difficulties. For a full confirmation of our statement we might refer to the history of the world. It is not our intention, however, to give a full detail of the whims and caprices man to bring forth the historic records of other years as roof of the windings and shiftings of the various characters who have "Strutted their brief hour on life's stage" in order to convince that customs, associations, and institutions are like the lives of the authors and abettors, fleeting and fragile. Many of them rise up as bubbles on the ocean, and die away. Circumstances give them existence, and when these causes cease to exist, they go into the same gulf of oblivion as countless exploded opinions and tenets have gone before them. The mind that formed and planned them, goes on in its dazzling flight, bounding over barrier after barrier, till it has arrived at the ultimate goal of consummation.
The daily occurrences before us bring forth the full conviction that the emanation from the God of light is gradually ascending to regions of greater intellectual brilliancy. When we view man, in the infancy of society, as in the childhood of his existence, he is weak, powerless and defenceless; but in his manhood and riper years, he has grown to his full stature, and stands forth in commanding attitude, the favored and acknowledged lord of the world. For his comfort and well-being as a member of society, rules and regulations are necessary. In the various stages of his progress, these systematic improvements undergo various changes, according to circumstances and situations. What is proper and necessary in one grade of society, is wholly useless, and may be alarming in another. Opinions and usages that go down in tradition, and interfere not with our improvements in social concerns, adhere to us more closely and become entwined in all our feelings. It is to this we owe our bigoted attachment to antiquity—it is this that demands from us a superstitious reverence for the opinions and practices of men of former times, and closes the ear against truth, and blinds the eyes to the glare of new lights and new accessions of knowledge through which medium only can they break in upon the mind.
We have within ourselves the knowledge; and everywhere around us the proofs that we are beings destined not to stand still. In our present state of advancement, we lock with pity on the small progress of our fathers in arts and sciences, and social institutions; and when compared with our elevated rank, we have just cause of pride and of grateful feelings. They did well for the times in which they lived, but to the ultimatum of perfectability we are nearer, and in the monuments we have before us of the skill and genius of our times and age we have only fulfilled these destinies for which we were created; and we object to every obstacle that opposes or attempts to oppose the will of heaven. In the present enlightened state to which society has advanced, we contend that the opinions and tenets and pretended secrecies of "olden times," handed down to us, should be fully, fairly and freely canvassed; that from the mist and darkness which have hung over them, they should come out before the open light of day, and be subject to the rigid test of candid investigation. These preliminary remarks lead as to the main object of our introduction.
We come to lay before the world the claims of an institution which has been sanctioned by ages, venerated for wisdom, exalted for "light;" but, an institution whose benefits have always been overrated, and whose continuance is not in the slightest degree, necessary. We meet it with its high requirements, its "time honored customs," its swelling titles, and shall show it in its nakedness and simplicity. Strip it of its "borrowed trappings" and it is a mere nothing, a toy not now worthy the notice of a child to sport with.
We look back to it as, at one period, a "cement of society and bond of union"—we view it as, at one time, a venerable fort—but now in ruins—which contained within its walls many things that dignified and adorned human nature. We give it due credit for the services it has done; but at present when light has gone abroad into the utmost recesses and corners of the world—when information is scattered wide around us, and knowledge is not closeted in cloisters and cells but "stalks abroad with her beams of light, and her honors and rewards," we may now, when our minority has expired, act up to our character and look no longer to Masonry as our guide and conductor; it has nothing in it now valuable that is not known to every inquiring mind. It contains, wrapped up in its supposed mysteries, no useful truth, no necessary knowledge that has not gone forth to the world through. other channels and by other means. If we would have a knowledge of sacred history—of the religion and practices of the Jews, and the terms and technicalities of the Mosaic institutions, we can have recourse to the Bible. If we wish further communications from heaven, we have open to our view the pages of the New Testament. If we would "climb the high ascent of human science, and trace the mighty progress of human genius in every gigantic effort of mind in logic, geometry, mathematics, chemistry, and every other branch of knowledge," we ridicule the idea that Masonry, in her retirements, contains the arts and sciences.
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