Freemasons belong to one of the most secret societies in the world — one still shrouded in mystery. What is known is that 14 U.S. presidents were masons. Coincidence?
The Freemasons have long played a role in the U.S. government. In fact, 13 of the 39 men who signed the U.S. Constitution were Masons. Founding fathers George Washington, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and Paul Revere were in the fraternal order, according to History.com.
The Freemasons date back to the Middle Ages in Europe during a time when most craftsmen were organized into local guilds. The Freemasons were builders, most likely cathedral builders.
While Freemasonry is not a religion, members believe in a supreme being, or “Grand Architect of the Universe.” This, as well as Masonic temples and secret rituals, put them in direct conflict with the Catholic Church. The church first condemned the Freemasons in 1738, History.com reported.
The Freemasons still exist today. The Shriners, for example, are a subset of Freemasons known as “the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.” Membership is open to all males over the age of 21, and women can join an associated group known as “The Order of the Eastern Star.” Potential members have to be invited into the society.
Why were 14 U.S. presidents members of one of the most mysterious and powerful secret societies in history? Almost a third of the U.S. presidents have been Freemasons, Business Insider reported.
They are listed here, not in order of their presidency.
1. George Washington
The very first president of the U.S. also happened to be the nation’s first Masonic president. Washington joined the Order of the Freemasons as a young man, entering Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 at the age of 20, according to Mount Vernon‘s official website.
“Masonic influences came into play at Washington’s first inauguration. During the ceremony, he swore his oath on a Bible from St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1 in New York (the book, as Mental Floss reports, was randomly opened to Genesis 49:13: ‘Zebulun shall dwell at the haven of the sea; and he shall be for an haven of ships; and his border shall be to Zidon’),” Business Insider reported.
Washington has been quoted as saying, “The object of Freemasonry is to promote the happiness of the human race,” ThoughtCo.com reported.
2. James Monroe
Monroe, the fifth U.S. president, entered the Williamsburg Lodge No. 6 in 1776, according to Mason website The Masonic Trowe. He was a 17-year-old student at the College of William and Mary.
3. Andrew Jackson
Yes, slave owner and the seventh president of the U.S. was a longtime free mason. This was a major political issue during his presidency. The first-ever third political party in U.S. politics formed as part of a backlash against the Freemasons. It was called the Anti-Masonic Party.
“The Anti-Masonic Party found a natural foe in Jackson, who was not only a Mason, but a high-ranked one. Jackson served as the grand master of the grand lodge of Tennessee from 1822 to 1824,” Business Insider reported.
4. James K. Polk
According to the “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky,” at the age of 25, the 11th president was initiated in Columbia Lodge No. 31, Columbia, Tennessee.
5. James Buchanan
Buchanan was a member of Lodge No. 43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, according to “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry.”
6. Andrew Johnson
Historian Annette Gordon-Reed wrote in her biography on Johnson that the former president remained a “proud Mason” throughout his life and that “the local Masonic temple played a great role in the funeral proceedings.”
7. James Garfield
Garfield, who was assassinated, “was initiated in Magnolia Lodge No. 20, Columbus, Ohio, November 19, passed December 3, 1861,” according to the “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky.”
8. William McKinley
Like Garfield, McKinley was a Mason and was assassinated. “Roadside America features a post documenting the site where McKinley was first initiated as a Mason while fighting for the Union during the Civil War,” Business Insider reported. The lodge he once belonged to is also now named after him.
9. Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the U.S., often wrote about his Masonic activities, and the Theodore Roosevelt Center has digitized his letters.
President Roosevelt addressed the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1902 on the anniversary of Washington’s initiation. In his speech, he spoke about why he joined the Freemasons, Business Insider reported.
“One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man. When Brother George Washington went into a lodge of the fraternity, he went into the one place in the United States where he stood below or above his fellows according to their official position in the lodge. He went into the place where the idea of our government was realized as far as it is humanly possible for mankind to realize a lofty idea.”
10. William Taft
Taft joined the Masons in 1909, nearly a month prior to his inauguration as president.
The 1912 records book, “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York” said Taft was using Masonic principals to help him handle world affairs.
11. Warren Harding
Harding became a Mason in 1901, in Marion Lodge No. 70 in Marion, Ohio.
12. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Initiated as a Mason in 1911, Franklin Roosevelt became a grand master in 1934.
The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum’s official blog offers information on his Masonic activities, including one excerpt from a 1935 press conference about a Mason-related prank he pulled on then-Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Joseph Kennedy (the father of future president John Kennedy).
13. Harry Truman
Truman, the 33rd president of the U.S., helped found a Masonic Lodge in Belton, Missouri, in 1911 and was elected its first master, according to the Truman Library.
Eventually, he became a grandmaster mason and even while president, he remained a committed Mason.
The New York Times reported that Truman’s “only jewelry was a double-band gold Masonic ring on the little finger of his left hand.”
In 1945 Truman became the only president to receive the 33rd decree of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, according to the Truman Library.
14. Gerald Ford
Gerald Ford seems to be the last-known Masonic president. He was made an honorary grand master of the Order of DeMolay in 1975. That year, Ford presided over the unveiling of the Masonic memorial honoring George Washington.
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“When I took my obligation as a master mason — incidentally, with my three younger brothers — I recalled the value my own father attached to that Order,” Ford said at the unveiling. “But I had no idea that I would ever be added to the company of the Father of our country and 12 other members of the order who also served as Presidents of the United States. Masonic principles — internal, not external — and our order’s vision of duty to the country and acceptance of God as Supreme Being and guiding light have sustained me during my years of government service.”