The anti-Masonic movement was a product not merely of natural enthusiasm but also of the vicissitudes of party politics. The July issue of the John Birch Society Bulletin . It was held to be particularly liable to treason—for example, Aaron Burr’s famous conspiracy was alleged to have been conducted by Masons.
It was joined and used by a great many men who did not fully share its original anti-Masonic feelings. Masonry was accused of constituting a separate system of loyalty, a separate imperium within the framework of federal and state governments, which was inconsistent with loyalty to them.
merican politics has often been an arena for angry minds. Illuminism and Masonry I begin with a particularly revealing episode—the panic that broke out in some quarters at the end of the eighteenth century over the allegedly subversive activities of the Bavarian Illuminati.
In recent years we have seen angry minds at work mainly among extreme right-wingers, who have now demonstrated in the Goldwater movement how much political leverage can be got out of the animosities and passions of a small minority. These minions of the Pope are boldly insulting our Senators; reprimanding our Statesmen; propagating the adulterous union of Church and State; abusing with foul calumny all governments but Catholic, and spewing out the bitterest execrations on all Protestantism. This panic was a part of the general reaction to the French Revolution.
In fact, the idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. Every device of treachery, every resource of statecraft, and every artifice known to the secret cabals of the international gold ring are being used to deal a blow to the prosperity of the people and the financial and commercial independence of the country. Its humanitarian rationalism appears to have acquired a fairly wide influence in Masonic lodges.
It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant. Americans first learned of Illuminism in 1797, from a volume published in Edinburgh (later reprinted in New York) under the title, .
Two books which appeared in 1835 described the new danger to the American way of life and may be taken as expressions of the anti-Catholic mentality. , in which he considered the possibility that the Christian millennium might come in the American states. Whereas the anti-Masons had envisaged drinking bouts and had entertained themselves with sado-masochistic fantasies about the actual enforcement of grisly Masonic oaths, the anti-Catholics invented an immense lore about libertine priests, the confessional as an opportunity for seduction, licentious convents and monasteries.
One, , was from the hand of the celebrated painter and inventor of the telegraph, S. Everything depended, in his judgment, upon what influences dominated the great West, where the future of the country lay. Probably the most widely read contemporary book in the United States before , which appeared in 1836.
The anti-Masonic movement of the late 1820s and the 1830s took up and extended the obsession with conspiracy.
At first, this movement may seem to be no more than an extension or repetition of the anti-Masonic theme sounded in the outcry against the Bavarian Illuminati.