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OPINION OF HON. C. D. COLDEN,* UPON THE CHARAC
TER AND TENDENCY OF FREEMASONRY.
A reply to the letter of Col. Richard Varick, Thomas Fessenden, Esq. and
Simuel St. John, Esq.; a Committee appointed at a meeting of citizens in
Gentlemen - I do not think I ought to object to communicate in this manner, the sentiments I have long held, and have frequently expressed, in relation to Freemasonry.
It is true that I have been a mason a great number of years, and that I have held very high masonic offices and honors. It is equally true that I have for a long time ceased to have any connexion with the institution, because, I have believed, and do now believe, it is productive of much more evil than good. It also true that I have on no fit occasion hesitated to express this sentiment.
I would not do any thing inconsistent with any obligation I may have, however inconsiderately, assumed. But I know nothing of masonry to render it so horrible as it would be in my estimation, if it obliged me to be silent when I thought its influences were pernicious. It would be detestable if it did not leave me at liberty to warn others from following my example in becoming a member of an institution, of which from its very nature, I must have been ignorant until I was initiated, and of which, a just estimate can only be formed from experience.
I shall disclose none of the secrets of masonry, (if it now has any secrets,) nor shall I say any thing inconsistent with what is due to the eminent living, and illustrious dead, whose names are recorded as members of the fraternity. I have had a just pride in being associated with many of these, and now feel that I make a sacrifice in pursuing a course which may separate me from men, for whose pure motives and righteous principles, I shall never cease to entertain the most profound respect.
Discussions and expositions of the principles of masonry, of its origin, its religion, its morals, and its science, have not been considered as betraying any obligation ; but on
* Mr. Colden was formerly Mayor of the city of New York, and also a member of Congress.
the contrary, have been sanctioned by the highest masonic authority. It is true that, till of late, masonry has always been a theme of panegyric; but if the advocates of the insitution are free to speak of its merits, it cannot be a violation of duty in those who hold different opinions, to express them with becoming respect and deference.
I desire that it should be understood, that the sentiments I now entertain on this subject, do not result from the alleged murder of Morgan. It is true this horrible event has induced me to think more, and more seriously, than I should otherwise have done, of the society; but I have long entertained my present opinion, that a man who would eschew all evil, should not be a Freemason. Perhaps I cannot give a stronger evidence that this is not an opinion recently formed than to mention that my son, by my advice, has never joined the fraternity.
I cannot mention the deplorable event to which I have referred, without exculpating, so far as any thing I can say will do it, the masonic fraternity from any participation in that outrage. For a long time I did not believe that Morgan had been put to death. But I find myself obliged to yield to the force of evidence. I yet entertain the most entire confidence that the fraternity did not participate in this crime. On the contrary, I do not doubt but that all the guilt of that transaction is confined to those infatuated men who assailed and slew him. The rest of the craft, I am entirely convinced, are as innocent of the blood of Morgan as I am. I fully believe that they hold the perpetrators in just abhorrence; they would rejoice if the guilty were discovered, and would aid in bringing the murderers to condign punishment.*
* We very much regret the mistake of Mr. Colden on this subject, for a mistake it certainly is, although easily accounted for. Mr. C. confesses frankly his dislike to the institution, and his disbelief for some time of the murder of Morgan. Had Mr. C. perused the public documents, he could immediately have had no doubt. The same cause,
it seems, has produced a similar effect-that is, a mistake on the part of Mr. C. touching the institution being not implicated in the gross outrages committed. We will however no farther contradict Mr. C. nor anticipate the public opinion. We ask candid men to examine the public trials; the convictions under them; to consider the perjuries committed by masons to screen the guilty ; to reflect upon the numbers indicted, suspected, and called as evidence,
I do not believe that those who committed this crime, bad any intention to take the man's life when they first assailed him. Under the influence of an enthusiasm which the forms and mysteries of masonry are so likely to excite in weak minds, they thought it would be meritorious to inflict some punishment for what they considered his delinquency. But they proceeded from step to step, until they found they had involved themselves in a responsibility that would be ruinous, if Morgan should be left to call them to account. A frantic interpretation of their masonic obligations, and their fears, assisted, probably, by corporal stimulants, led them to stain their hands with the blood of their victim.
If these conjectures be well founded, however little they will extenuate the crime of the murderers, the proof of such facts, would exonerate the great body of the craft from any participation in the guilt. But an institution, the forms, or obligations, or mysteries of which, can be so perverted, or so misunderstood, even by the weakest minds, as to induce a belief, that it may be meritorious to murder an apostate brother, no good man, on due consideratiou and reflection, can think deserving of his countenance and support. If it be asked, what are the advantages of masonry
? It seems to me the answer may be given in these very few words : It often, by its charity, relieves the distressed. But at what an enormous expense is this charity dispensed? When all the machinery of lodges, grand lodges, chapters, encampments, councils, visiters, &c. &c. is taken into consideration, it must be obvious, that the charitable contributions of masons are but trifles in compari
all masons, and all aiming at the acquittal of the party tried, and then say, if only a few were concerned, -or rather to say, if the in. stitution is not fairly implicated in the guilt of Morgan's abduction and murder ;--for if the crimes for which they were convicted had not been approved by the institution, how comes it that all those convicted and sentenced to imprisonment for their crimes, should not have been expelled from lodges ? that on the contrary, so far from being expelled, they have been exalted in the lodges, nourished, cherished, and rewarded, and even with money, as brethren suffering in a righteous masonic cause, although gross violators of the laws of their country? The suggestions we inake and subursit them to the judgment of an impartial public, as well as to Mr. Colden himself.
son with the sums devoted to these objects. It may be doubted, whether all that has ever been applied to the charitable funds of the institution, would equal a hundredth part, perhaps I might say a thousandth part, of what has been expended by masons, for their temples and their decorations, for personal trappings, for jewelry, for funerals, for processions, for festivals and in the conviviality so inseparable from the meetings of the fraternity.
Let it be admitted, however, that the institution does relieve the poor and distressed to the greatest extent. Are the secrecy and the ceremonies of masonry necessary for the exercise of any virtue ? Is it necessary that any set of men to be charitable, should do their deeds by night, in hidden places! That they should by lawful ceremonies, establish a relationship among themselves, which many of them believe imposes duties and obligations in reference to each other different from those by which they are bound to the rest of mankind ? Many of the fraternity feel themselves obliged, in whatever situation they may be placed, to suffer an appeal from a brother mason to have an influence.-Offenders have persuaded themselves they could claim an exemption from punishment as masons; and even at the bar of a court of justice, a criminal has thought he secured impunity by revealing to the jndge, who was about to pronounce his sentence, their masonic relationship.
If masonry separates the members of the craft from their fellow citizens; if masons are led to believe that their duty towards each other is different from what it is to the members of the community not connected with them; if a mason is bound to shield another from the general operation of the laws, or if he be subjected to any penalties beyond those denounced by the legislature; nay, if even a feeble minded man is made to believe that by becoming a Mason, he enlists in an isolated corps, the members of which may claim privileges through their brethren, and must perform duties which do not belong to other citizens, it cannot be a fit institution in our country, where no man in the discharge of his duties to the community, should act from fear, favor, or affection.
It is often alleged that masonry engenders and cherishes the social affections, by bringing men together with
kindly feelings towards each other. It is not to be doubted but that a well regulated social intercourse has a beneficial influence on the disposition and character of mankind. But again, it must be asked, why is the secrecy, the parade, and the obligations of masonry necessary, if their objects be so virtuous ? It is to be feared, however, that these meetings have not always a happy influence. Admitting that the utmost decorum and propriety are observed, while a lodge is open, yet the craft seldorn separate without refreshment; and it oftens happens that more is taken than is necessary to repair the exhaustion of their labors, and too frequently, more than is consistent with temperance.
Attendance upon lodges sometimes leads to habits which are inimical
the prosperity and happiness of the members and their families. Every meeting of a lodge is attended by visitors, and as there are generally, even in the country, several lodges within the compass of ten or twenty miles, opportunities for these visitations frequently occur. Often the habit of making them renders a man, who would otherwise have been content with his own fireside, impatient at home, and desirous to exchange for the excitement of a masonic banquet, those enjoyments of his domestic circle with which he would have been perfectly content had it not been for the seductions of the crast.
Did I know of any other advantage than these two, charity and the cultivation of social dispositions, which any rational man at this day, imputes to masonry, I would not fail to mention it.
But it is to be objected to masonry, not only that no good comes of it, but that it is productive of positive evils. To some of these I have already adverted, and will notice others which have presented themselves very forcibly to my mind, and I may say, to my conscience.
If masonry is arrogant and impious in her pretensions, and delusive in her promises, sorely she deserves to be discountenanced. If she claim to be coeval with the world, and to be of divine origin, when in truth she is but as of yesterday, and springs from the dust of the earth, what obligation can there be that should induce any man to hesitate to speak of her according to her de. merits?