Despite lots of talk about brotherhood and equality, why was American Freemasonry not egalitarian as lodges attracted the upwardly mobile and well-to-do members?
The membership for American Freemasonry was pricey. Masons were far more literate and well-educated than small farmers and working men. Thus, lodges were filled with men who already occupied positions of influence, and saw themselves as hereditary, or natural, leaders.
Masons’ Loyalty to King George
Freemasonry first took off in the colonies in the 1730s which coincided with a bitter schism in the Mother English Grand Lodge. The split pitted the free-thinking and political faction known as the Moderns against the more traditional and religious ancients. All American Masons swore allegiance to King George but patriot Masons violated their oath when they turned rebel. While King George III wasn’t a Mason, both his father and his heir, George IV, were, along with every male British sovereign.
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Signees of Declaration of Independence
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, nine were Masons. The actual number was 15, and some put it as high as 21. That was equivalent to anywhere from 16 to almost 40 percent of the declaration’s signatories. Among 39 signers of the Constitution, 13 were confirmed Masons, including another 15, which was 33 to 70 percent. Among the Generals of Washington’s Continental Army, 33 of 74 were confirmed Masons including the future president which was 45 to 55 percent. So, none of those groups was exclusively Freemason. Lodge members were the most prominent names among the new Republic’s leadership, including Washington, Franklin, Paul Revere, John Paul Jones, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and John Hancock.
Secret Masonic Agenda
As evidence of a secret Masonic agenda in the American Revolution was, the great seal of the United States. Special significance was attributed to its reverse side, featuring an incomplete pyramid topped by a radiant all-seeing eye, commonly interpreted as the Eye of God, or Providence. Some claimed it was the ancient Egyptian Eye of Horus. Masonic and occult scholar, Manly P. Hall argued that the eye was, ‘the symbol of the esoteric orders’ and that the pyramid represented “imperfect and incomplete” human society. Those symbols were brought to America by secret societies 150 years before the revolution in the early 1600s.
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Recommendation by Freemason, Wallace
Between 1934 and 1935, another Freemason, American Secretary of Agriculture, Henry Wallace, convinced President Franklin Roosevelt, also a Freemason to put the great seal on the dollar bill. To Wallace, the eye symbolized the Masonic Great Architect of the Universe, its position at the apex of the pyramid represented the destiny of the United States to ‘assume leadership among the nations in inaugurating the New Order of the Ages.’ The reverse seal’s Latin motto was Novus Ordo Seclorum, Annuit Coeptis. The first part translated as ‘New Order of the Ages’, equated with the new world order. Annuit Coeptis was rendered as ‘May God Favor Our Endeavor.’
Designing the Great Seal
The great seal was designed or inspired by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Along with John Adams, they formed the first committee tasked with designing a seal. Of these three men, only Franklin was a Freemason.
However, none of their proposals ended up in the final version of the seal, instead, its creation took six years and three committees. Consultants did most of the design work, the most influential was Francis Hopkinson, a Freemason, well-acquainted with the unfinished pyramid motif, he already put one on a $50 bill issued in 1778.
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Interpretation of All-Seeing Eye
The All-Seeing Eye on the seal inspired its use in Masonic imagery, not the other way round, never appearing among American Masons until 1797, 15 years after the creation of the seal.
It was believed that the eye symbol was used by a Boston lodge as early as 1772, also found on George Washington’s Masonic apron, gifted by Lafayette in 1784.
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Masonic influence also cropped-up in the layout of the new capital, Washington, DC. One Masonic publication hailed it as, ‘the world’s foremost Masonic City’. The man tasked with the job, Pierre L’Enfant, was a Freemason, so was his chief surveyor, Andrew Ellicott. L’Enfant was a French officer who, like brother mason Lafayette, came to fight for American freedom and laid out DC streets in a diamond pattern that formed triangles and pentagrams. A more blatant example of Masonic influence was the laying of the Capitol cornerstone in 1793. George Washington officiated, decked out in full Masonic regalia, surrounded by fellow Freemasons. The first proposal for Washington’s monument was a pyramid.
The masonic influence didn’t end with the revolution, as 14 presidents, 37 supreme court justices, and countless senators, congressmen, diplomats, bureaucrats, and soldiers were lodge brothers. Public concern about Masonic influence sparked a national backlash in the 1820s, starting with the disappearance and presumed murder of a dissident mason in New York. The Morgan Affair named after the victim, Capt. William Morgan, of Batavia, New York, gave rise to a national Anti-Masonic Party. It declined after the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson, a Freemason. Freemasonry also exerted influence on the religious leader Joseph Smith, of New York. He not only joined the brotherhood but incorporated Masonic symbols and rituals into his new Mormon faith.
After the creation of the republic, some of the Sons of Liberty morphed into dissident ‘democratic’ or ‘democratic-republican’ societies, believed to have harbored dangerous elements. Dissident Sons helped to ignite one abortive uprising, the 1794 Whiskey Rebellion. The heavily Masonic Continental army officers created their own exclusive, hereditary organization, the Society of the Cincinnati. Washington was a member of that, too.
Common Questions about Secret Societies
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, nine were Masons and included many of the most prominent names like Washington, Franklin, Paul Revere, John Paul Jones, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and John Hancock.
The great seal of the United States was designed or inspired by Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. Along with John Adams, they formed the first committee tasked with designing a seal. However, none of their proposals ended up in the final version of the seal.
Capt. William Morgan, of Batavia, New York, is famous because he gave rise to a national Anti-Masonic Party. However, it declined after the 1828 election of Andrew Jackson, a Freemason.