Vol. XXV No. 5 — May 1947

The Truth Is Enough!

Our slang word bunk and its derivative debunking are supposed to be short for Buncombe, the name of a county in North Carolina. According to the legend; a congressman, defending a speech filled with boastful statements, stated: “I am talking only for Buncombe.”

Ever since, enthusiastic proponents of many causes have “talked Buncombe” in, often, an honest belief that they were serving their cause.

It has been one of Masonry’s curses that its early histories were largely “bunk” — fanciful tales with little or no basis in fact. Devoted Freemasons told themselves stories until they believed them, then wrote them for a credulous and uncritical world.

Even today, many of the stories and assertions of an earlier day are repeated and believed by many brethren, to the scorn of the enemies and the amusement of the well-informed friends of the Ancient Craft.

In this our country Freemasonry has always been strong. It has an inspiring story. Many of the makers of the America we know and love were Freemasons, proud to be Freemasons, carrying their Freemasonry into their councils and their deliberations. The part which Freemasons played in the formation of American ideas and ideals has been so great that it belittles, not adds to its glory, to tell and retell some of the “tall tales” of Masonic participation in American historical events.

The Masonic Chronicler, of Chicago, some time ago published the following much-to the-point editorial:

Masons That Made America

Of the committee appointed to draft the Declaration of Independence, every one of its members were Masons. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 50 were Masons. All but four of the members of the Constitutional Convention sitting at Philadelphia in 1787 were Masons, and the committee appointed to draft the constitution was exclusively Masonic. With the exception of one, all of Washingtons brigadier generals were Masons, and at the time of Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States, each and every one of the governors of the thirteen states was a Mason.

The above clipping was sent to the editor by a good brother, with the comment that he believed this was important enough to deserve publication. There was no information as to the source of the article, which is immaterial, for similar statements have gone the rounds for many years and have been fervently declaimed by inspired orators on innumerable occasions.

We agree that it would be important — if true. It is doubtful if a single statement made in the paragraph is true, or could be verified in any reasonable degree. The very caption is false, for Masons did not make America. America was made by the patriots of the Revolutionary period. Among the outstanding patriots were many Masons, but they were patriots first and Masons incidentally. The proportion of Masons engaged in the establishment of our country unquestionably was large in comparison with the meager Masonic population of the period, but there were plenty of patriots who fought valiantly and loyally and who contributed materially to the success of the colonies who were not members of the Craft.

Masonry has just cause for being proud of the part that its members took in the struggle for independence, but those who circulate unsubstantiated claims in this connection are doing a poor service to the Fraternity.

As a majority of good brethren do not have easy access to the facts — the facts which are so much more inspiring than the false and flamboyant claims too often made — a few of them are herewith set down as evidence that the truth is far more impressive than falsehood.

“A majority of the Presidents of the United States have been Freemasons.”

The statement is not true. Thirteen certainly and two more probably have been Freemasons. The certainties are Buchanan, Garfield, Harding, Jackson, Johnson, McKinley, Monroe, Polk, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Taft, Truman, and Washington.

Jefferson and Madison were possibly — even probably — Freemasons, but the evidence is circumstantial, not direct. [Subsequent research has found no evidence that Thomas Jefferson or James Madison were Masons.]

Some of these were interested, ardent, working Freemasons. Jackson and Truman were grand masters, the only Presidents ever to become so.

Buchanan was Master of his lodge (lodge 43, Lancaster, Pennsylvania — the lodge has no name). He was appointed and served as district deputy grand master for three counties in his state.

Andrew Johnson was sufficiently interested in the Craft to become the first President to receive the degrees in the Scottish Rite. He participated in five Masonic cornerstone layings; as President, he gave leave to all Master Masons in government service in Washington, D.C. to attend the laying of the Masonic Temple cornerstone in 1868, and himself marched on foot in the Masonic parade. In Baltimore, laying the cornerstone of its Temple, he refused an offered chair saying, “we all meet upon the level.”

Garfield was chaplain of his lodge in Ohio for two years and a charter member of Pentalpha Lodge No. 23, of Washington, D.C. and became a Knight Templar.

Harding was the first President to be elected to receive the Thirty-Third and Last Degree of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite. He died before that honor was conferred upon him. Truman is the first President to receive the Thirty-third degree, having it conferred on him at the House of the Temple, A.A.S.R., S.J. in Washington, D.C., October 1945.

The following “firsts” are taken from the late William L. Boyden’s book, Masonic Presidents (with facts about President Truman added.)

Masonic Presidential Firsts

George Washington —

  1. First Masonic president.
  2. First president to be master of a lodge.
  3. First president to be made an honorary member of another lodge.
  4. First president to march in a Masonic procession.
  5. First president to lay a cornerstone of a public building Masonically.
  6. First and only president to be a member of two lodges at same time.
  7. First president to be buried Masonically.

James Knox Polk —

  1. First president to be made a Royal Arch Mason.

Warren Gamaliel Harding —

  1. First president to be elected to receive the degrees of Royal & Select Master.
  2. First president to be elected to receive the 33rd Degree.
  3. First president to be made a member of the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine.
  4. First president to be made a member of a Grotto of the Mystic Order Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm.
  5. First president to be made a member of a Forest of the Tall Cedars of Lebanon.
  6. First president to be made a member of a chapter of the Sojourners Club.
  7. First president to be presented with a gold card of honorary membership.

Andrew Johnson —

  1. First president to be made a Knight Templar.
  2. First president to receive the degrees of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite.
  3. First president to be buried by the Knight Templar service.

William Howard Taft —

  1. First president to be made a Mason “at sight”.

Andrew Jackson —

  1. First president to be made a grand master of Masons.
  2. First president to act as deputy general grand high priest.

James Buchanan —

  1. First president to be appointed a district deputy grand master.

James Abram Garfield —

  1. First president to be made chaplain of a lodge.
  2. First Masonic president to be assassinated.
  3. First Masonic president to die while in office.

Harry S. Truman —

  1. First president to receive the 33rd Degree and the first brother to receive the Gourgas Medal of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, N.M.J.

The following presidents have been:

  1. Master of lodges: Buchanan, Washington, Truman.
  2. Grand masters of grand lodges: Jackson, Truman.
  3. Royal Arch Chapter Masons: Buchanan, Garfield, Harding, Jackson, Johnson, McKinley, Truman.
  4. Knights Templar: Garfield, Harding, Johnson, McKinley, Truman.
  5. Scottish Rite Masons: Garfield, Harding, Johnson, Truman.
  6. Master of a lodge while President: Washington.
  7. Buried Masonically: Buchanan, Johnson, Polk, Washington.

A nonsensical statement is often heard: “All (or a great majority) of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons.” Boyden lists fifteen of the signers as Masons. The Masonic Service Committee of the Grand Lodge of Iowa (where is one of the greatest Masonic libraries in the world, supported and conducted by the grand lodge) lists twenty-nine. The truth is probably somewhere between the two; Iowa lists Samuel Adams of Massachusetts and Thomas Jefferson; the majority of authorities deny any proof that either was a Mason.

Another statement too often heard is that most if not all the framers of the Constitution were Masons. The facts are impressive enough without resorting to fancy: thirty certainly and thirty-one, if Madison be conceded, of those who framed the Constitution were Freemasons.

It is a fact that a majority of the governors of the forty-eight states are Masons; so is a majority of both houses of the national legislature. It is not a fact, and has never been a fact, that “all” legislators or “all” governors of the several states were Masons.

Moreover, thinking Freemasons do not desire that all members of any government which is supposed to represent all the people of this nation should be Freemasons. The United States is a federation of minorities; every state is a minority, every religion, every race, every organization within the United States is a minority. To have any minority control the government which administers the affairs of the majority — the whole people — would be unfortunate from the standpoint of national welfare, whether that controlling minority was any particular religion, any labor union, any race, or any fraternity.

Early Masonic “historians” concocted fanciful chronicles of Freemasonry’s origin, antiquity, growth. For a great many years uncritical hearers believed that Freemasonry originated with Adam, or Noah, or King Solomon. Indeed, multiple thousands of non-reading Freemasons today, who take the Masonic ritual at its literal, not its symbolic, value, believe that King Solomon who built the Temple invented Freemasonry and was its first grand master.

In later years, however, notably during the last hundred, critical scholarship has uncovered the real romance behind the “romantic” stories told as history, and finds strange and interesting germs of truth hidden in the fanciful tales of Anderson, Oliver and their compeers, and the compilers and writers of many of the precious "manuscript constitutions” of the Craft.

Organized Freemasonry, as we know it, began in 1717. Unorganized Freemasonry, with no central government (grand lodges) existed at least several centuries before. A building craft or guild, with some but less cohesiveness than modern lodges, doubtless existed for a thousand years before that. From the Essenes, from the Ancient Mysteries, from Egypt, from India, Freemasonry gathered both her truths and her symbols. But to say that Freemasonry originated in Egypt because a carving exists showing a priest raising a man from a dead level to a living perpendicular in the presence of a lion with an outstretched paw, is as fanciful as to say Freemasonry began in India because we use the point within a circle as a symbol — the same being very ancient in India.

Freemasonry is the oldest fraternal order in the world. It is older than any government now reigning over any people. It is probably not older than Christianity. It has played a mighty part in the thoughts, aspirations, the performance of duties, the consciences and the virtues of a large number of great men. But Masons, as Masons, have not formed a government, produced a bill of rights, fought and won a war, ever, in the history of mankind. Men who were Masons have done these things; many men who were devoted Masons have been intimately, greatly concerned with the making of this our America; many more, as outstanding as patriots, were not Masons.

America was born out of a demand for liberty of thought, person, speech and worship. It was won from a wilderness by men imbued with courage, resource, daring, and vision. That many of them were Freemasons is their glory and our heritage; to credit Freemasonry with the accomplishments of manhood and patriotism may be flattering to the vanity, but is unjust to country, to patriots and to the order many so well loved.

Freemasonry’s great objectives; to build character and hold ideals before men’s eyes have worked miracles in men; it is the men, not the order, who have worked the miracle which is America.

All honor to all patriots, soldiers, statesmen who built our nation; to those who were Freemasons, a Masonic salute.

They would want — we should want — no more.

The Masonic Service Association of North America