When the words ‘secret society’ are mentioned, the term invokes ideas of some ominous, malevolent group of men, usually white and usually rich, cloaked in dark robes with mysterious rituals and secret handshakes, manipulating and molding the world to meet their most nefarious of intentions. This has long been the contention of many, from the general public to the internet ‘researcher’ who somehow has discovered their dark secrets and evil intentions from their one bedroom condo in a suburb of Ohio.
And the suspicious nature of this particular society is not without merit, although some would argue they’re just a glorified social club, charitable organization, and business network. John F Kennedy’s April 27, 1961 address to the American Newspaper Publishers Association famously confirmed and questioned their existence and intentions in a so-called democratic America, when he said;
“The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.”
What lends credence to the idea that people of influence are somehow working in the shadows to undermine the very people who voted them into office is the fact that out of the 45 men that have held the top job, a bewildering 20 of them have been affiliated to organizations that could arguably have the prefix ‘secret’ attached to it.
So, let’s have a look at the early days of our country and discover which of the first presidents hitched their wagon to the Freemasons and what influence that may have had, if any, on the landscape of American politics.
The exact origins of Freemasonry remains lost to the pages of history but some scholars believe that it was introduced into England as early as 674AD. What we do know is that it emerged from the guilds of stonemasons and cathedral builders of Europe in the Middle Ages. These master craftsmen, due to their special knowledge and skills, were afforded the right to travel freely throughout Europe and the secret orders and lodges they created were a way of protecting their craft.
These fraternal orders, although not a christian organization, do have many elements that most would recognize as a religion. First and foremost they believe in the existence of a Supreme Being (the Great Architect in the sky) and in the immortality of the soul. They have adopted the rites and trappings of ancient religious orders and of chivalric brotherhoods and today it is estimated their membership is anywhere from 2 to 6 millions members.
Our first president and founding father, George Washington was indeed a member of this order and it was something he took very seriously. He joined the Masonic lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1752 at the age of just twenty. Even while the War for Independence was raging on, he continued to take part in Masonic celebrations and religious observances in many states.
So devoted was he to his order, that when he was inaugurated as president and took his oath of office, his hand rested on a bible from St. John’s Lodge in New York. In the two terms he served as president, he would often visit lodges in North and South Carolina, and when the Capitol began construction in 1793, it was Washington, along with the Grand Master of Maryland Joseph Clark, who presided over the cornerstone laying ceremony, a very Masonic ritual.
Even in retirement he would continue his devotion to the order and was named charter Master of the newly chartered Alexandria Lodge № 22. and even sat for a portrait in his full Masonic regalia. When he died, aged 67, on December 14, 1799, he was buried in the old Washington family vault at Mount Vernon with full Masonic honors.
Washington may have been the first U.S. president and the first to the leader of our nation and a brother of the Freemason, but he would most certainly not be the last. Fellow Founding Father, James Monroe, was also a brother that, like Washington, had a long history with the Masons when he joined the Williamsburg Lodge No. 6 in 1776 aged just 17. He would go on to have an illustrious career, serving as the governor of Virginia, a member of the Senate, Washington’s ambassador to France and Britain, the seventh Secretary of State, and the eighth Secretary of War, eventually becoming the fifth president of the United States.
The seventh president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, holds the distinction of being the first U.S. president to have served as Grand Master of a state’s Grand Lodge and this would be the first time that a president’s masonic connections would cause controversy and have the public question the true nature of this most secret of societies. Three years before Jackson would take office as president, the abduction of Capt. William Morgan from his home in the town of Batavia New York was attributed to (yet still not proven to this day) the Masons, as it was alleged that the former Mason Morgan threatened to reveal their secret rites. Something the society could not allow to happen at any cost, or so the story goes.
This event, and the fact that Morgan was never seen alive again, would spark one of the first episodes of political hysteria in our county’s history. As the apparent details of this obscure crime became more known to the wider public, a conspiracy theory started to coalesce around it with many believing that there was a Masonic plot to overthrow American society from the very people who were elected to serve them. Such was the fervor around this so-called plot that it would birth the first ever third political party, the Anti-Masonic Party.
Soon citizens would begin to talk openly about withholding their vote from any man associated with any Masonic fraternity and the Anti-Masonic Party would begin to garner support as their suggestions that the Mason’s were a group of secretive, sinister, elitist, and anti-democatic men who had only their own agenda and not that of the nation as a whole. The Anti-Masonic Party would find support by the end of 1827 as they would sweep the New York, electing 15 memebers to the New York Legislature. By the time the 1832 presidential election rolled around, they would challenge Jackson’s affiliation with this brotherhood.
However, the man they chose as presidential candidate to oppose this bastion of Freemasonry, would be the stern and religiously devote Virginian politician and former attorney general, William Wirt. This decision would eventually spell the end for the party as Wirt had himself once been a Mason and had not denounced the fraternity or his previous involvement. This hypocrisy would not be lost on the average voter, and although Wirt would receive support from Vermont and a spattering of Anti-Masonic counties across the country, his candidacy would fail.
Although Wirt’s defeat would consign the Anti-Masonic Party to the trash can of history, the entire debacle would actually have a lasting effect on American society some 188 years later. With the emergence of the internet and the rise of conspiratorial thinking as a whole, the idea that the Freemasons have some sinister agenda to rule the world persists. Along with the other great bogeyman of the information highway, the Illuminati, the Freemasons have been accused of everything from trying to create a one world government, decrease the population to just 500 million people, they are shape shifting reptiles or they are in league with Satan. The list of their nefarious intentions is quite literally endless.
However, as JFK alluded to, the idea that in the 20th and now 21st century a group of powerful (mostly) white men hold secret meetings to discuss whatever they discuss, does leave the average citizen scratching their heads about what exactly goes on behind those closed doors. Are they just a glorified social club? A charitable organization? Or a group of like minded men networking to build stronger business connections? Unless you are a member it’s hard to say, but one question that we should all be asking ourselves, if they are the so-called behemoth they are made out to be in popular culture, the media and in online forums, they’ve done a pretty useless job of taking over the world to this point.