Harry S. Truman — Mason
C. Warren Ohrvall, Mps
May 8, 1984, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of the 33rd President of the United States, Harry S Truman. We, as Masons, also celebrate the year 1984 because March 18, 1984 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of our Brother Truman's being raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason. Many of the Masonic and Masonic related bodies throughout the Nation are planning some recognition of Truman during this year. Thus we felt that it was fitting that we publish an article on Truman as a Mason.
Although born in Lamar, Missouri, Truman is primarily connected with Jackson County, named for his hero and the other President to have been the Grand Master of his Grand Lodge, Andrew Jackson. (Contrary to popular belief President George Washington did not serve as a Grand Master. He refused the offer of the Grand Lodge of Virginia during the War because he had not been master of his Lodge. He was elected as the Master of his Lodge in the fall of 1788 and was its Master when he was sworn into the office of the Presidency in March, 1789. In February, 1941, the Columbia Broadcasting Company carried a broadcast on "Washington the Mason by Truman, then the Senator from Missouri and the Grand Master of Missouri. The Missouri Grand Lodge reprinted the message and suggested that it be read in each Lodge in the Jurisdiction, "not only because of its patriotic message, but because of its treatment of Washington's Masonic connections.)
In Volume I of his Memoirs, published in 1955, President Truman told of his entry into the Masonic order.
"One day in late 1908, a cousin of my mother came to the farm to look at some stock. I noticed a Masonic pin on his coat, and told him I had always wanted to be a member. A few days later he brought me an application for membership in Belton Lodge No. 450 at Belton, Missouri."
"On February 9, 1909, I received my first degree."
Truman continued by describing how he became "letter perfect in [the ritual of] all three degrees." As an indication of his interest in masonry, he. qualified and was elected the junior Warden of the Lodge in 1910. The next year, he was instrumental in organizing the Lodge at Grandview, Missouri, and served as its Master under dispensation. He then became its first Master when it became a chartered Lodge.
In the recently opened correspondence between "Harry and Bessie" is a letter of June 16, 1911. Mr. Truman tells Bessie that "A new Masonic Lodge is being organized at our town, and they have given me the principal office. I have the big head terribly. The Deputy Grand Master was Out to see us Wednesday night and handed me an awful lot of hot air, haven't quite recovered from the effects yet- "
On July 29, 1911, he wrote that he had been working like "Sam Hill" at the Lodge. He reported that they had "had their first degree work last night, and I conferred the first one that was put on." He continued rather prophetically, "You see some time in the far distant future I'll be bragging about having performed that ceremony." Both of Mr. Truman's grandfathers were members of the Fraternity, but his father was not a member. His father did not always appreciate Truman's interest in his Masonic work. In a letter to Bess on July 1, 1912, he wrote that his "papa says he supposes if some of the family were dying and they'd send for me to put on a degree I'd go." Truman's brother Vivian, belonged to Grandview Lodge as did several of his nephews. His sister, Mary Jane, was very active in the Order of the Eastern Star in Grandview and in Missouri, serving as the Worthy Grand Matron of the State in 1950. President Truman was an honored guest at her installation
Although Mrs. Truman's father, David Wallace, was very active in Missouri Masonic organizations, none of his three sons joined the order, nor did Mrs. Truman or Margaret join the Eastern Star. Mrs. Truman apparently approved of Harry's activities in the order because he often referred to his Masonic work in his letters to her. As he wrote, he often explained some of the philosophy of Masonry to her.
Mr. Truman continued to be active in the Grandview Lodge and served as Secretary and again as the Master in 1917, just prior to entering the Army. While in the Army he occasionally attended Masonic functions. He had entered the Scottish Rite Lodge of Perfection and Chapter Rose Croix in Kansas City in 1912 and completed the Scottish Rite Degrees in 1917 before going on active duty. While at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, his Commanding Officer apparently gave permission for the Masons under his command to attend a Scottish Rite initiation at Guthrie, the closest consistory to the Fort.
He wrote to Bess from Oklahoma City on February 4, 1917. He said that he was "like a parrot without his cage" because he was away from camp. He told her that the General had first allowed a four-day pass to Guthrie and then had revoked the authorization, but he had gotten his pass and left before it had been revoked. He admitted that he had first intended to go to Kansas City to see her but reconsidered and thought he had "better not risk it. They (the Regular Officers) are always hunting for some good excuse to rim a N.G. (National Guard) officer, and if they should suddenly take a fool notion to call me at Guthrie, and I not be there it would be all up but the signing. 11 After returning from military service he continued his work in Masonry. He was appointed District Deputy Grand Master and Lecturer for the newly formed 59th Masonic District in 1925, serving until 1930. Shortly after this, he entered the Missouri Grand Lodge line and served the state as Grand Master in 1940-41. He was only the second Masonic President to serve as a Grand Master. His idol, Andrew Jackson, had served as the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee. It was during Mr. Truman's term that the Missouri Lodge of Research was reorganized. He served as Master of that Lodge in 1950, while he was President. President Truman was always proud of his membership in the Masonic fraternity. In a letter found in the President's Personal File # 13, Masonic Matters, he wrote to a friend on the occasion of his fortieth anniversary of being made a Mason:
"The exalted teaching of Masonry and the honors which the Fraternity has conferred upon me through two score years have been a source of increasing satisfaction."
In 1960, gentlemen wrote to President Truman and asked if he were an active Mason" during the time he was President. The main question he asked was "whether or not a President while in office could attend any meetings, or be a member of any organizations?" In his response Brother Truman wrote:
"I have been a member of the Masonic Fraternity since 1909, and I have had every honor that is connected with that organization, including the highest one that a man can have and that is Grand Master of the Great State of Missouri.
I never found it necessary to discontinue my connection with the organization, or difficult to carry on the necessary programs in connection with the honors which that organization has conferred upon me."
His brothers had a high opinion of Mr. Truman as a Mason. In 1946, Frank S. Land, the founder of the Order of DeMolay and a good friend of Truman wrote to him:
"Your great prominence in Masonry and being President has done something for American Masonry that cannot be measured by ordinary standards. You have put new life and prestige into the. order that it tremendously, heartening to the ordinary Mason and Masonic leader... Men everywhere, because of your leadership, are letting it be known as never before that they take pride in being members of the Order... Your connection with the Fraternity has reached down into grass roots of the Craft.... You have captured their devotion and interest. You have become the ahead and front of Masonic endeavor in this Nation, something that has never happened before in our National history."
Although President Truman's primary Masonic interest was the Blue Lodge, he did belong to most appendent bodies. In the Scottish Rite, he was honored by being coroneted as a 33° Honorary, in October, 1945. This was for his service to this country and to Freemasonry. He was the, only President to that time to be accorded this honor. He was awarded the Gourgas Medal by the Northern Jurisdiction of the Scottish Rite for "notably distinguished service in the cause of Freemasonry, humanity or country."
In the York Rite, President Truman received the Chapter and Council degrees in Kansas City in 1919, and the Order of the Commandery, in Palestine Commandery, Independence, in 1923. He was also honored as a Knight Companion of the Red Cross of Constantine in Mary Conclave, Kansas City.
President Truman was created a Noble of the Mystic Shrine in Araret Temple, Kansas City in 1917. He served as Orator of the Temple in 1933 and Second Ceremonial Master in 1934. Upon his election to the United States Senate that year, he resigned from the divan line due to official and Grand Lodge duties.
As a result of his military service, President Truman was a member of the National Sojourners, an organization of Masons who were officers in one of the armed forces of the United States or the Public Health Service. Truman was invited to attend the national convention of the Sojourners in 1948. In regretfully declining, he wrote the Secretary.
"Fraternal bonds, always strong, are further strengthened by the close association incident to a common peril. The responsibilities which you were called upon to discharge during hostilities were exacting and heavy. In war and in peace, the ideals and teachings which we hold as brother Masons should be an inspiration to lofty patriotism and faithful service."
It is interesting to note that his Sojourner mail was always addressed to "Col. Truman, White House." In 1930, Truman was made a Royal Jester in Kansas City, and in 1943, he was initiated in Kallipolis Grotto, -Mystic Order, Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm. As a close friend of the founder of the Order, Frank S. Land, and because of his interest in the youth of America, Brother Truman accepted membership on the Grand Council of the Order of DeMolay, and was its Houma Grand Master.
The President was the recipient of many honorary memberships in Masonic bodies throughout the world. He was appointed Honorary Deputy First Grand Principal of the Supreme Grand Lodge of Royal Arch Freemasons of Scotland. He was also honored as Honorary Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Israel, and awarded its Medal for Merit.
At the funeral of President Truman, Most Worshipful Brother W. Hugh McLaughlin, Grand Master of Missouri Masons, gave the Masonic eulogy. In it, he praised Mr. Truman as a man, as a politician, and as a Mason.