Masons are committed to making good men better, and are expected to uphold high standards of moral character. The Lodge is primarily known for its charitable work, and between hospitals, scholarships, public works such as litter control campaigns and other good deeds, millions of lives have been improved by our efforts. Still, like any large and longstanding organization, there have been some controversies associated with the Lodge over the years. Most of these are overblown, and the worst of them have no association with Masons in this country today. Here’s a look at some of the more notable controversies associated with the Masonic Lodge.
The Morgan Affair
In 1826 a Batavia, New York bricklayer named William Morgan announced that he would be publishing a book detailing the secrets of Freemasonry. Morgan had been rejected for admission to the local Lodge, most likely because he was known to be a heavy drinker and gambler, violations of the Masonic standards for character. Morgan had also, it seems, lied about his military service. Morgan had trouble keeping up with his debts, and after several stints in debtor’s prison in Batavia, he was released on a bond paid by an unknown gentleman. Morgan left with the man in a carriage and was never seen again.
Despite the fact that Morgan had a number of enemies, and that he likely knew few if any Masonic secrets, a nation-wide moral panic followed Morgan’s disappearance. Public attacks on the Lodge followed, as many believed Morgan was killed for threatening to reveal Masonic secrets. This led to the formation of an Anti-Masonic Party, which fielded candidates for president in 1828 and 1832. The party was further inspired by opposition to then-President Andrew Jackson, who was a Mason. Much of the anti-Masonic sentiment that lingers to this day was born from the Morgan Affair, but nobody was ever charged with Morgan’s disappearance, and local Masons vehemently denied this charge. There are even those who believe Morgan faked the incident as a publicity stunt for his book, which became a bestseller.
In 1982 a secret Lodge was found to be operating in Turin, Italy, boasting some of the most prominent citizens of the Republic among its members. The group—called Propaganda Due, or P2—was associated with numerous criminal activities including the collapse of the Banco Ambrosiano due to fraud, far-right terrorist attacks and plots to take over Italy in a right wing coup. Leaders of the Lodge were killed in mysterious circumstances, and Mafia ties were also established.
What should be known first is that P2 had originally been founded under the Grand Orient of Italy, which is NOT recognized by the Grand Lodges most common in English-speaking countries. Latin countries are often organized under the Grand Orient system, which is not in amity with the Grand Lodge, as the Orient will allow atheists among its members. Not only would P2 members have never been welcome in American Lodges, they had also been expelled by the Grand Orient of Italy. P2 was a criminal enterprise, and they were anathema to Masons long before their crimes rose to the level they did.
The French Revolution
This is one of the easiest controversies to dispense with. Almost since the beginning of the French Revolution, defenders of the ancien regime have accused Freemasons of having orchestrated the whole process. The fact that thousands of Masons were killed in the Reign of Terror should be proof enough of the Lodge’s innocence here. The idea of a single group being able to control something as large and chaotic as a social revolution is absurd.