Benjamin Franklin’s Masonic Connection and Jacobin Reign of Terror

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Real History of Secret Societies

No one better represented the public and clandestine links between the American and French Revolutions than Benjamin Franklin. Popular culture had turned him into an eccentric grandfather. But who was he in reality?

Oil painting by Everett Historical, has Benjamin Franklin with family, returning from France and back in Philadelphia in 1785.
Benjamin Franklin with masonic connections raised money for American Revolution between 1776 to 1785 in France. (Image: Everett Historical/Shutterstock)

The Real Benjamin Franklin

The real Franklin was a philosopher, scientist, statesman, conspirator, and lifelong secret-society adept. Franklin was active in France from 1776 to 1785, raising money for the American Revolution. He recruited the Masonic military experts’ Lafayette and von Steuben. While Franklin’s Masonic connections did not explain all his success, they undoubtedly helped. When he was initiated into the important Nine Sisters Lodge in Paris, he also participated in the Nine Sisters initiation of his friend, the church hating philosopher and the future Jacobins, Voltaire.

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Jacobin Reign of Terror

Portrait of Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin by an Unidentified painter. Dr Joseph was the inventor of the guillotine.
Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, a Freemason was also a Jacobin which had its roots in Brittany. (Image: Unidentified painter/Public domain)

The Jacobin Reign of Terror symbolized the French Revolution in the minds of many. The inventor of the guillotine, Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, was a Freemason, and a member of the Nine Sisters Lodge, and a Jacobin.

The Jacobin had their roots in a secret association of politicians from Brittany. Those men shared membership and, ideology with other quasi-secret societies that sprouted like mushrooms in the revolutionary ferment, including the so-called Society of Thirty, which counted Lafayette as a member, and the ultra-radical Club des Cordeliers to which Camille Desmoulins belonged.

Recognition of Jacobins

The Jacobins finally got their name when they set up shop in an old Dominican monastery in Paris. The Dominican monks had called Jacobins because they were associated with the Church of St. Jacques. The name Jacques also belonged to the last Grand Master of the infamous Knights Templar, Jacques de Molay. De Molay was put to death through a conspiracy of the French crown and the Catholic Church in the 14th century. Later, De Molay and the Knights Templars were adopted as martyrs by many Freemasons. Some suspected that the Jacobins’ hostility to king and church were part of a long-cherished secret plan of revenge. One of those was publisher Nicolas Bonneville, who was himself a Jacobin. Radical Jacobins were obsessed with de-Christianizing French society, and replacing the Catholic Church with a Cult of Reason, or Cult of the Supreme Being.

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Jacobins aka Freemasons

Many Jacobins were Freemasons; the Duke of Orleans, Desmoulins, Count Mirabeau, and Jean-Paul Marat to name a few. The bloodiest of the lot, Maximilien Robespierre, a champion of the Cult of the Supreme Being who presided over the terror was perhaps a Masonic brother. Jacobins were split by bitter ideological and personal rivalries. The two main factions were the relatively moderate Girondins, and the more radical Montagnards. Their relationship was similar to that of the Russian Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. Robespierre was a Montagnard, a radical. When he and his faction took control in 1793, they launched a purge of the Girondins. Louis-Philippe, Duke of Orleans, the would-be Masonic monarch lost his head. So, did rabble-rouser Desmoulins, along with many others.

Books About Masonic Conspiracy

Two books appeared, alleging that the French Revolution was nothing less than a Masonic conspiracy. But behind that, lurked a more insidious secret society, the Bavarian Illuminati. The first book was written by a refugee French priest, a Jesuit, the Abbé Augustin Barruel. In his Memoir Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Barruel argued that the French Revolution was the end result of ‘subterranean warfare’ waged by secret societies to destroy the church and the monarchy. Barruel blamed Masonic philosophe Voltaire for fomenting hatred of Christianity, and Illuminati founder Adam Weishaupt for encouraging atheism.

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Proofs of a Conspiracy

Scottish scientist, John Robison produced the second work, titled, ‘Proofs of a Conspiracy’, which alleged that the Illuminati laid the groundwork for the French Revolution by infiltrating, and manipulating, Masonic lodges and reading societies.

Robison and Barruel arrived separately at their conclusions. However, Robison got much of his information from a Catholic monk and British secret agent named Alexander Horn. That led some to conjecture that both books were part of a Vatican-inspired plot to discredit the French Revolution. Others saw the hidden hand of the British government, then at war with revolutionary France.

Count Alessandro Cagliostro

In 1785 an Italian adventurer, Count Alessandro Cagliostro appeared in Paris. The count earned a reputation as an esoteric Freemason and wonderworker who was expelled from England and Russia for fraud. Cagliostro visited Germany in 1777, right after the founding of the Illuminati.

Cagliostro met Weishaupt, and like Weishaupt was initiated into something called the Strict Observance Masonic Rite. At his later trial in Rome, Cagliostro claimed to be an Illuminati and a Knight Templar. In Paris, Cagliostro created a new Masonic rite, the Egyptian, which he touted to be ‘true’ Freemasonry. It later became the Rite of Memphis-Misraim which attracted radical and non-conformists across Europe. Cagliostro and his Egyptian rite became all the rage and even admitted women. He also became friends with the Duke of Orleans and other prominent Freemasons.

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A preface to the French Revolution

Portrait by Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun of Queen Marie Antoinette of France who was falsely targeted in a con game of the Diamond necklace called a preface to the French Revolution.
Italian adventurer, Count Alessandro Cagliostro earned a reputation as a Freemason but was implicated unjustly in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, called ‘a preface to the French Revolution.’ (Image: Élisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun/Public domain)

Cagliostro made enemies, as well. He became implicated, unjustly in the Affair of the Diamond Necklace, called ‘a preface to the French Revolution’, which was a con game that targeted French Queen Marie Antoinette. She was innocent of any wrongdoing, but the scandal generated bad press for the already shaky monarchy.

In 1786, Cagliostro ended up jailed in the Bastille. Demonstrations organized by his Masonic supporters eventually secured his release. Cagliostro later wrote an open letter to the French people, urging them to mount a ‘peaceful revolution’ and destroy the Bastille. Duke of Orleans and Desmoulins were following Cagliostro’s instruction when they targeted the old fortress in 1789. Cagliostro’s fatal mistake was in returning to Italy and trying to set-up a Masonic lodge in Rome. The Vatican caught him and he lived out his last years in prison.

Other Illuminati Links

In 1787, two years before the revolution exploded, Weishaupt’s nominal replacement as the head of the Bavarian Illuminati, Johann Bode, made two trips to Paris. In Paris, Bode forged a close relationship with the radical publisher and future Jacobin, Nicolas Bonneville who wrote an ‘Illuminati manifesto on world revolution.’ Bonneville was a Freemason and friends with both the Duke of Orleans and revolutionary firebrand Camille Desmoulins. Bonneville and Desmoulins belonged to yet another secret organization, the ‘Society of the Friends of Truth’. It was described as a combination of a political club, Masonic lodge, and salon.

Illuminati Influence on America

In 1798, the minister G. W. Snyder asked George Washington, if Illuminati influence was there in America. In his reply, Washington didn’t doubt that the “doctrines of Illuminism and the principles of Jacobinism” had found their way to America. But Washington said he “did not believe that the Lodges of Free Masons in this country, had, as societies, endeavored” to propagate such ideas. But he feared that some individual Masons were guilty of doing so, and he singled out the so-called democratic-republican societies. Washington also regarded radical pamphleteer, Tom Paine as one of those pernicious individuals.

Common Questions about Secret Societies

Q: Who is Benjamin Franklin and why is he important?

Benjamin Franklin was a philosopher, scientist, statesman, conspirator, and a secret-society adept. He was active in France from 1776 to 1785, raising money for the American Revolution.

Q: What do you mean by Jacobins?

Jacobins, a member of a radical society, had its roots in a secret association of politicians from Brittany. Those men shared membership and, ideology with other quasi-secret societies that sprouted like mushrooms in the revolutionary ferment.

Q: What was the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution?

The Jacobin Reign of Terror symbolized the French Revolution. Radical Jacobins were obsessed with de-Christianizing French society, and replacing the Catholic Church with a Cult of Reason, or Cult of the Supreme Being.

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