William Wirt, first Anti-Masonic Presidential Candidate
Yesterday's online edition of The Daily Beast featured a very decent article by Gil Troy on the first political convention in the United States, which was held by the new Anti-Masonic Party in Baltimore in 1831 to choose a presidential candidate. Interestingly, the party nominated William Wirt, a former Mason who was at odds with the philosophy of his own party and had no desire to become president. He famously remarked, "I have not the nerve to bear the vulgar abuse which is the politician’s standing dish.” In contrast to his own nominating party, he “continually regarded Masonry as nothing more than a social and charitable club.”
The proceedings of the Anti-Masonic Party Convention make interesting reading.
Nevertheless, the other two political parties of the time responded by organizing these new style of conventions of their own. The National Republicans went on to nominate Henry Clay, and the recently formed Democratic Party (which had developed out of Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans) nominated Freemason Andrew Jackson. Interestingly, Jackson would quickly purge the party of his detractors, and Clay would go on to eventually form the Whig party a few years later, made up in large part of anti-Jacksonian Democrats.
Jackson and Clay were both Past Grand Masters (Clay of Kentucky, Jackson of Tennessee), and Wirt had been a Mason as well. So, the Anti-Masonic crowd had a lot of fodder for their campaign. Nevertheless, the Anti-Masons received just 7% of the national vote in 1832, and Wirt ultimately carried only tiny Vermont in the election. Andrew Jackson would prevail and became the first President who had also served as a Grand Master.