To Oliver Johnson

25 April 1868


[MS in Finney Papers # 1853]


By 1868, the subject of Freemasonry was becoming a worrying problem in the churches and Finney began a series of articles on the subject in The Independent (New York). The articles started to appear weekly from 9 April 1868.


The managing editor of The Independent was Oliver Johnson (1803-1889), a man who had made a name for himself as a reformer and journalist (see The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 2 [New York: James T. White, 1893], p. 319). On April 23rd he wrote to Finney:


Independent Office,

New York, 23 April, 1868.

Dear Bro. Finney,

I am afraid you are going into the subject of Freemasonry far deeper and at much greater length than is compatible with the various and pressing demands upon our space. For a long time past we have insisted that every article going into the Independent should be complete in itself, without visible or ostensible relation to anything going before or to come afterwards. In your case, we and for the discussion of the subject of Freemasonry, we have suspended this rule; but I must still beg you to put your pen under some restraint; otherwise we may be compelled to stop before you get to the end, or to let you have space at great inconvenience to ourselves. Your method of writing is the exhaustive method, which is good where space is unlimited, but bad for a newspaper, the interest of which depends largely upon brevity and variety. It seems to me that if your thoughts had been carefully compressed into three or four numbers, instead of being run into so many details, they would have been far more effective. Then, when you are through, a spirit of candor and fairness will require us to give the other side a hearing; and you will see at once that the claim of that side on our space will be augmented by every line of yours that we print. We already have your 5th No. in hand, and you speak of "several more" already written, but you give no indication of the point at which you will finish. Now I must entreat you to finish as speedily as possible. The limitations of our space require me to say this with all possible earnestness.

Yours, truly,

Oliver Johnson.


What appears to be a copy of Finney's reply, in the handwriting of Mrs Rebecca Finney, is in the Finney Papers:


Oberlin Ohio

25th April 1868


Dear Brother Johnson,

Yours of the 23d is just rec'd.

When Brother Tilton assured me

that he would publish in the Indepen

-dent, whatever I would write over

my own signature on the subject

of Freemasonry, he understood that

it was to be a series of articles.

He did not allude to its being unusual

& contrary to his custom to publish a

series of articles upon the same subject, in

his paper. I had no idea of how many num-

bers would be required. I did not intend &

so I suppose Br. T. understood, to merely

snap a percussion cap on the subject. I think

I think Br. Tilton understood that I intended to

ventilate the subject so thoroughly as to check & if


possible cure so great & rapidly growing ^ evil.

From letters which I am daily receiving I learn

more & more of the deep & wide spread interest

in those articles. The future numbers will, if

[page 2]

you publish them, interest the people more &

more. They are already copied by the

political press, more extensively than I had

anticipated. Their publication in the

Independent gives them courage to do so.

Rely upon it, this is the next great question

of reform to which the Church & the nation

will of be forced to attend. It is the thoroughness

with which I am expected to discuss this subject

that creates so deep an interest in the discussion.

I have to day read a letter from a Church

publishing house#inquiring if, & upon what

conditions, they can be allowed to publish

these numbers in a book form after they

have passed through your paper. That

they will be demanded in book form

I have no doubt, if I do what I intend,

or rather what I have already nearly

done, ie. give the subject a thorough search-

ing. I have 15 numbers completed &

have supposed I should not need to

write much more. You have heretofore dared

to publish what needed to be said on


[along the right-hand margin is written]

# The United Presbyterian

[page 3]

any subject of reform, & you have had

great credit for it, & great success in

doing it. I do earnestly hope & pray

that you will not flinch, but put all

that, in my judgment I need to write

before your readers. As many of your

readers are masons the question will

try you as it does me. But God

plainly makes it my duty to speak.

Shall Masonry triumph & choke down

this discussion? Tell it not in Gath!

Had I expected you to fail to give me

room, I should not have begun. I

think it would be a grand mistake to

cut the discussion short.

Yours fraternally, C. G. Finney


P.S. Of course you understand your own business

& I will not assume to teach you your duty in

respect to this matter. If you decline to go

forward you will of course inform your readers

that it is because you cannot afford space for so

thorough a discussion of the subject as I propose to give.

[page 4]

Br. Tilton said he knew little about free-

masonry. Do you, Br. Johnson? If you do

not, I am sorry as you cannot appreciate

the absolute necessity of exposing it as

soon & as thoroughly as possible. It

is fast getting both Church & state under

its control & is the most dangerous enemy

with which either Church or state has

ever had to contend.with. If

your columns are to be closed to the

thorough discussion of this subject

will you not please to let me know imme-

diately? Those who feel the pressing ne-

cessity of this reform, are now satisfied

that your columns are available for this dis-

cussion. If this is a mistake, we wish to consider

what is to be done to get this subject before

the people, at our convention at Pittsburg

on the 5th of May. Please, therefore, my dear

Br. decide, & let me know immediately

2nd P.S. Are you not aware that it is a settled principle with

freemasons, never to discuss the subject, with anti-masons?

The reason is obvious. They cannot, without violating their oaths of

secrecy. Read J. C. Adams' letters to Livingston on the subject.

It will pay. Is Mr. Tilton at home? Have you consulted with him?

God bless you. C. G. F.



On 28th April Finney wrote to Lewis Tappan. In his reply, dated April 30th, Tappan wrote:


You ask if a certain person "is afraid of the Masons." I think he is more afraid of losing subscribers. It is, I am sorry to say, a money-making concern. I read your articles with interest.


Finney received the following reply from Johnson:


Independent Office

New York, 29 April, 1868

Dear Mr. Finney,

Your letter is just received. Don't imagine that there is to be any flinching on our part on account of any hostility shown by freemasons. Mr. Tilton is in Washington, so I cannot now consult him; but I am confident that he did not anticipate so extended a series of articles as you now propose, and that if he had done so, he would have felt himself constrained to put you under some limitations as to space. You can have no conception of the pressure upon our columns. My pigeon-holes are stuffed with grand articles from eminent writers, many of which have waited for weeks, and some for months. It is exceedingly inconvenient, therefore, for us to surrender a large amount of space, at any time, to any single topic, however important. We are in for it now, and must go through; but I must beg you not to go any further than is absolutely necessary, and not to make any article longer by a single line than you must.

I am an old anti-mason, having cast my first vote on that issue. I have never changed my mind on the subject since my boyhood, and agree with you perfectly as to the character and tendencies of Freemasonry. You are mistaken, however, in saying that Freemasons wont discuss the subject, for they are already beginning to send in their articles. We shall insist, however, that no one not qualified to speak with authority on that side, and not willing to stand forth in his own proper name, can be heard in the Independent.

Yours truly,

Oliver Johnson.


Finney received the following letter from Theodore Tilton:


The Independent,

New York,

May 2/1868

My dear & venerable Friend,

I have just returned from Washington, & find your letter on my desk.

First of all, write your full mind on the subject. Pour the hottest shot you can forge. Spare not. Free speech is a jewel.

In the second place, don't write so many articles that the people will get tired of reading them.

When I told you that I would print whatever you wished to say on Masonry, I meant, of course, that I would not shrink from any responsibility which your attacks on that system might bring down on my own head. I am in the habit of allowing important subjects to be discussed in The Independent by people of known ability & reputation, whether such persons express my own views or not.

As to Masonry I know nothing whatever on the subject. I have no sympathy for, and no prejudice against, the System.

But I told you that I would gladly & heartily give you a hearing on the subject.

If, when you get through, some prominent & able mason--a man whom the whole fraternity will recognize as having authority to represent their aims & purposes--shall ask to reply I shall give him ample opportunity.

Now it is evident that you are making a book on the subject. I have no room to print a book in The Independent.

I have now printed four articles: I will print six more: making ten in all. After that the ax must fall.

Affectionately yours,

Theodore Tilton


Finney also received the following from Oliver Johnson:


Independent Office,

New York, May 8, 1868

Dear Mr. Finney,

Your last two letters to Mr. Tilton, received in his absence, I have sent to him in Washington. Perhaps he may write you from thence. Meanwhile let me ask you to dismiss from your mind, once for all, all apprehension or suspicion that our disposition to limit you in the discussion of the question of Freemasonry springs from any desire to avoid the subject, or any fear of giving offence to readers. No such considerations weigh with us for a moment. The point is this: How much of our precious space can we, consistently with other claims upon it, and with due regard to the laws of proportion, and the obligations under which we are placed to numerous correspondents, allow you to use? Newspapers cannot do all the work of the world; something must be left to pamphlets and books; and each newspaper must work according to its own necessary laws and limitations. Now your method of writing is the one of all others least adapted to the newspaper. It is the exhaustive method, which can bear no limitation of space, and which therefore demands the pamphlet or the book. If Mr. Tilton had had the least idea of the amount of space you would require, he would at once have put you within much stricter limitations. He would have said, "Leave out details, and minor particulars, and put your most important thoughts into half-a-dozen articles of moderate length." He would have said this, not from any disposition to trim, but in deference to considerations of which you seem oblivious but which to us are of imperative force. You talk of making your numbers longer, as if that would be some relief to us. Now that is the one thing not to be thought of for a moment.

Yours truly,

Oliver Johnson


Finney wrote again to Lewis Tappan on the 13th May. In his reply dated May 15, Tappan wrote:


I do not believe any Publisher hereabouts would publish your letters against Freemasonry. They will not publish any work unless satisfied it will be both popular and lucrative.

A letter from John Marsh to Finney dated 16 May 1868, was written from Brooklyn:


Many friends whom I have met at the Anniversary meetings are very glad to hear so directly from you and all are rejoiced that you have taken Free Masonry by the throat, with the strength of an old lion & tearing it to pieces. Your articles I venture to say are more read than any others in the Independent. The Editor told me to day he was out of copy, so you must hurry up.


A further letter from Oliver Johnson reads:


Independent Office,

New York, May 18, 1868

Dear Mr. Finney,

Mr Tilton has been in Washington for two weeks, and only came home this morning. Your letter, presenting the alternative of either printing all your numbers or stopping with the 5th, was forwarded to him; but he was overwhelmed and absorbed with other matters, and unable to give an instant's attention to your letter, or to give me any directions. In the circumstances I could only go on printing, and your 7th number is therefore already stereotyped and now working on the press. Mr. Tilton now says: Tell Mr. Finney to go on and finish his pamphlet, and then send to the Independent the numbers which he deems most important, up to twelve numbers in all." Unless I hear from you to the contrary by Thursday morning, I shall assume that you assent to this, and put in the printer's hands the first of the three numbers received this morning. I am very sorry that, after what I have told you of the inexorable limitations of our space, you have made your Nos. 9 and 10, the one 12 and the other 14 foolscap pages in length! We cannot print articles of that length. Do try to understand that, important as the question of freemasonry is, there are other subjects demanding our attention - that we have obligations to fulfil to other writers as well as yourself, and that we cannot permit you, more than any one else, to break over those rules which necessity forces upon us in regard to the length of articles.

Yours truly,

Oliver Johnson.


And again:

Independent Office,

New York, 11 June, 1868.

Dear Mr. Finney,

Mr. Tilton is not here to-day, but I know he would not consent to print a line beyond the 12 numbers already agreed upon. And in this decision we are not influenced by so much as the weight of a hair by any consideration save the pressure upon our space. In your case we have suspended an almost inexorable rule forbidding the reception of serial articles, even when their subjects are various, much more when they relate to one topic. Your articles, when concluded, are likely to expose us to the necessity of printing column after column on the other side, thus occupying no small portion of our paper for months at a time when other writers and other subjects press for attention. You have no idea of the inconvenience to which we have been subjected by agreeing to print your articles. Then, you have made your articles longer by at least one-third than we stipulated for, and against my repeated remonstrances. Three of the four now returned are very objectionable on this account. Indeed the amount of matter already printed exceeds considerably the space we consented to allow for twelve numbers; so that we might justly stop where we are. I must warn you not to make the remaining two numbers more than 8 pages of manuscript each. It seems to us that your argument would have gained much in interest and power by condensation. Your method is singularly unfortunate for newspaper writing; and if our whole paper were written according to that method, it would need to be larger than ten bed-blankets.

Yours, truly,

Oliver Johnson.


The Independent published 12 of Finney's articles, the last appearing in the issue of the paper for July 2, 1868, p. 2. On page 4, the following editorial was published:


--Mr. Finney's papers, designed to expose the evils of Freemasonry, end with the number which appears in this issue. In justice to him, however, we should state that he was anxious to continue the discussion, in order to complete his argument; but the claims upon our space are so numerous and pressing that we are constrained to cut him off at this point. The whole series of articles, with such additions as he may choose to make, will probably ere long be published in pamphlet form, when those who wish to do so can follow him to the end. We opened our columns to Mr. Finney as the representative of the Christian Anti-Masons of the country, in compliance with the earnest solicitations of not a few noble men, who felt that an exposition of the alleged evils of Freemasonry was demanded in the interest of Christianity and republican institutions; but we did so reluctantly, not only because it was difficult for us to devote so much space to a single topic, however important, but because we were by no means sure that the discussion would do any good. We felt, however, that on such a point we might well yield something to the judgment and the wishes of enlightened and earnest men, deeply concerned for the purity of the church and the welfare of society. The arguments of Mr. Finney, consequently, are before our readers, who must decide for themselves as to their importance and value. Of course, it was not to be expected that such a series of papers would fail to provoke controversy; and, therefore, we have not been surprised by the receipt of a pigeon-hole full of articles from champions of Freemasonry, each one of whom desired a hearing. But we determined from the outset that we would print nothing on the other side until Mr. Finney's articles should be closed, and after that, nothing save from some eminent and authorized champion of Freemasonry. Mr. Finney is an eminent and venerable man, known and esteemed throughout the Christian world. He has assailed Freemasonry openly and manfully, under his own proper signature; and in doing so he has spoken as the representative of the great body of Christian Anti-masons in this country. We are willing now to print, not controversial and formal replies to Mr. Finney--for that would be contrary to our practice; but arguments in favor of Freemasonry, if any competent person, duly authorized to speak for the institution, shall offer them. To arguments from anonymous and unauthorized sources we cannot surrender our space. Mr. Finney has impeached the institution, not its individual members. The institution either does or does not wish to plead its cause before our readers. If it does, our columns are open to any competent champion whom it may appoint; if it does not, individuals have no claim to a hearing. A journal in the interest of Freemasonry lately said:

"As there is some little excitement at present, with a prospect of more at no distant day, in reference to Masonry, we feel like saying, Let the asses bray. ... It seems to us that our brethren of the Masonic press should pass by the attacks made on us in contemptuous silence. One of the principal charges to an initiate is this: 'You are not to allow your zeal for Masonry to lead you into argument with those who, through ignorance, may ridicule it.' If these words mean anything, they mean that all profitless discussion should be avoided. What, for instance, is to be gained by a long argument with such men as Bernard and Finney? The angel Gabriel could not convince such hidebound apostles of fanaticism; or, if they were convinced, they are not possessed of manliness enough to acknowledge it."


If this writer fairly represents the institution, it does not wish to enter into any argument with its opponents, and, such being the case, it would be folly in us to print the arguments of persons who are in no way authorized to speak in its behalf, and who, whatever they might say, would represent no one but themselves.


The action of the Independent in ceasing to publish Finney's articles brought forth a number of complaints and regrets in letters to Finney. Lewis Tappan wrote:


I regret that the Independent has cut you off in the publication of the Letters on Freemasonry & yet I did not like very well to see you using such a "religious paper" as a channel of communication to the public.


Nathan Brown, the editor of the American Baptist, who had been copying the articles in his paper, wanted Finney to send him the rest to publish. W. J. Shuey, of the United Brethren Printing House, the publisher of the Religious Telescope, and William Dillon, wanted them for that paper. J. A. Hart tried to get them for Cynosure, the new anti-masonic paper that had just been started at Wheaton College. Eventually the complete series was published by the Western Tract and Book Society in Cincinnati in 1869 under the title: The Character, Claims, and Practical Workings of Freemasonry.



Theodore Tilton was Editor of the Independent.

Over 20 of these letters received since the first of his series of articles appeared in The Independent on April 9, 1868, are preserved in the Finney Papers. He was to receive more than two hundred letters on the subject.

The letter reads:

U.P Pubn Rooms 93 3d St

Pittsbg. April 24 1868

Rev C. G. Finney Oberlin Ohio

Dear Sir

I address you to know whether and on what terms, we, in case we should desire it, could have the privilege of publishing in Book or Pamphlet form the Series of Letters now appearing in the Independent on the Subject of Freemasonry.

Very respy

Yours &c

Saml Collins

Asst. Supt.


The convention was organized by the National Christian Association, which had come into being the previous November to counteract secret societies. See the report in The Independent (New York), May 28, 1868, p. 6.

There appears to be an error in the initials of Adams. Finney is evidently referring to Letters of John Quincy Adams to Edward Livingston, Grand High Priest of the General Grand Royal Arch Chapter of the United States and late Secretary of State of the said States. Publication No. 3 (Boston: Young Men's Antimasonic Association for the Diffusion of Truth, 1833).

See, for example, the letters to Finney from James Vincent, Jonathan Blanchard, and Isaac J. Gilbert, all dated 4 July 1868; A Sanford, 18 July; and A. B. Green, 30 July 1868, in the Finney Papers.

Lewis Tappan to Finney, 12 July 1868, Finney Papers.

Nathan Browon to Finney, 3 July 1868, Finney Papers.

W. J. Shuey to Finney, 6 July 1868; and William Dillon to Finney, 4 July 1868, Finney Papers.

J. A. Hart to Finney, 14 November 1868.