Harry S Truman - Mason


Harry S Truman - Mason
by 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 19 10. 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 (die
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. "  I

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.