• PA Abolitionist, Anti-Masonic Gov. Ritner Assesses Political Landscape Involving Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay

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    JOSEPH RITNER (March 25, 1780 – October 16, 1869) was the eighth Governor of Pennsylvania, elected as a member of the Anti-Masonic Party.  He was elected Governor in 1835 and served to 1839. Controversy surrounding his 1838 electoral defeat led to the Buckshot War. During the War of 1812, Ritner served first as commander of a Washington County militia company, the Rifle Rangers. Ritner became involved in the Anti-Masonic movement in the late 1820s.  As an opponent of slavery, Ritner was the inspiration for a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, entitled ‘Ritner,’ in which Whittier praised the anti-slavery sentiment of Ritner’s annual message to the state legislature. When the Anti-Masonic Party ended, Ritner supported the Whigs.  In the mid-1850s, Ritner joined the Republican Party and was a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention.

     

    In this 7 ¾ x 9 ¾, 2 ½ pp, ALS, Washington County, PA, August 21, 1832, Ritner writes to William Ayres, attorney at law, Harrisburg, PA with superb content about the Anti-Masonic Party, the election between Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay.  “The days of masonry are numbered in Penna...Honest, intelligent and pious men will make good anti-masons...”

     

    “I received several letters from you...I have not the leisure to refer to all of them. The last is dated the 4th inst. It informs me of what I predicted to Mr. Lawrence...I told him that the rank and file of what was claimed by the Clay convention in May as the national Republican Party were with us from principle before that convention met – that all the negotiations, bargaining and settling of a few masonic would be leaders could not give them to Wolf and that these leaders would either have to go alone to Wolf or follow the rank and file who had long since left the leaders because they (the leaders) had taken the wrong course. I also told him (Lawrence) that the same leaders would give up their electoral ticket – for this simple reason – because they could not rally more than about a fourth part of their ticket of the national who are honestly opposed to the re-election of the roaring Lyon – every man of sense knows that in Penna the contest was between [William] Wirt & Jackson—that if they persisted in keeping the Clay ticket before the public their numbers would appear quite contemptible after the election – the result would be, the complete annihilation of the Clay party in Penn. In this county, the result will not materially vary from what it would have been should the Clay ticket have remained as it is – Judge Baird and those he can control, it is presumed, will vote the Jackson ticket and also for Wolf – Right or wrong – and so will Shaler, a thorough going Clay mason in Allegheny County. The late Burking of the Jacksonites in Pittsburgh will materially benefit our cause in Allegheny County.

     

    “I regretted exceedingly at the time when Mark Richards wrote to me that he thought proper to address in the manner he did. I am now about inclined to believe that the occurrence was Providential – All the leading Clay masons in Phila have seen my letter to Mr. Richards – if they support our state nomination with a knowledge of that letter not matter from what motive, their support is given, we may fairly claim it as support on anti-masonic principles. I hope their support is sincere and if so, the days of masonry are numbered in Penna.

     

    “You allude to the scrap my friend Stewart has been drawn into by Grayson.  All Stewart has said in his publication is true – that case is even stranger than he presented...The anxiety of our friends to put some who were opposed to us in 1829 on the township committees is the reason why Howe & Buffington were put on. Here we have more proof that none but honest, intelligent and pious men will make good anti-masons, especially when private interests can be reached by the ‘Handmaids.’ J. Stewart was always a zealous Jackson man but an equal zealous Ritner man. He is unfortunately too fond of a dream this failing enabled Grayson & the ‘brothers’ to entrap him into signing the paper which he afterwards took from Grayson. The certificate of Morris McDonald is a beautiful illustration of that part of the royal arch oath, which regains the extrication of a brother from difficulty, right or wrong.

     

    “These scrapes will favor our cause. The people are a good deal excited. We anticipate a pretty general turnout on the second Tuesday of October. Wolf whole support here would exceed 2000 votes. The county can poll 6000 upwards...Joseph Ritner”

     

    Seal tear doesn’t affect writing. Integral address leaf with manuscript postage. Very readable and a great piece of history dealing with Pennsylvania, Anti-Masonic sentiment, Andrew Jackson and Henry Clay.

     

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