10 Presidents You Didn't Know Were Shaped by the Freemasons
10 Presidents You Didn’t Know Were Shaped by the Freemasons

10 Presidents You Didn’t Know Were Shaped by the Freemasons

Larry Holzwarth - January 1, 2018

10 Presidents You Didn’t Know Were Shaped by the Freemasons
The funeral of Freemason and President William McKinley. McKinley was inspired to join the Freemasons during the Civil War. Wikimedia

William McKinley

William McKinley was serving in the Union Army during the Civil War when he noticed a doctor handing out money to some Confederate prisoners taken following the Battle of Winchester. Curious, he asked the doctor why he was distributing money to the enemy troops and was informed that it was a loan, to fellow Freemasons, who would one day pay it back if and when they could. It was at that point that McKinley decided to become a Freemason.

McKinley entered Freemasonry in Winchester, Virginia just as the Civil War was ending and attributed the mixed nature of the Lodge – mixed in the sense that the members were from both North and South – as a contributing factor to the healing which began as the war drew to an end. McKinley was raised a Master Mason at the Hiram Lodge #21 in Winchester.

McKinley remained active in Freemasonry for the rest of his eventful life, which included a long career in the House of Representatives, a term as Governor of Ohio, and election to the Presidency in 1896. His presidency was and remains somewhat controversial for his economic policies and for his territorial acquisitions resulting from the Spanish-American War.

As President, McKinley oversaw the acquisition by the United States of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, all seized from Spain. During his Presidency the United States also annexed the Hawaiian Islands, until then an independent Republic, and designated it as a United States territory.

McKinley was highly regarded for his personal integrity, and his campaign for the Presidency was conducted from his home rather than by political barnstorming. He defeated the highly popular William Jennings Bryan for the Presidency by promising fiscal responsibility and prosperity while the country was in the midst of a recession. In 1900 he ran for re-election and won, again over Bryan, but he too was assassinated just a few months into his second term. His Vice-President and fellow Freemason Theodore Roosevelt followed him into the Presidency.

10 Presidents You Didn’t Know Were Shaped by the Freemasons
Theodore Roosevelt in Masonic regalia in 1905 in Spokane, Washington. Wikimedia

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt was President of the United States when he returned to his home Lodge (so the story goes) to find that his gardener had been elevated to Grand Master of the Lodge. Teddy humbly gave all obeisance and respect to his gardener in the latter’s role as Grand Master, without further comment, content in the belief that within the Lodge that was as it should be.

Theodore Roosevelt did not join the Freemasons until he was already 42 years of age, in 1901, the same year he became President of the United States following the death of William McKinley. Roosevelt was a native of New York City, Harvard educated, a writer of history including a definitive work on the Naval War of 1812, a noted outdoorsman and hunter, an adventurer-soldier during the Spanish-American War, and a former Governor of New York.

As President he would win the Nobel Prize for helping to broker a peace ending the Russo-Japanese War. He established the United States Navy as the dominant military force in the Pacific and made it into a modern service. He was completely devoted to Masonry, for reasons he expressed when completing his application to join in 1901.

“One of the things which attracted me so greatly to Masonry that I hailed the chance of becoming a Mason,” he wrote, “was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to – namely, to treat each man on his merits as a man.” According to Roosevelt, the practice of Masonry teaches “…the qualities that make a man fit to stand by himself…”

Although Roosevelt came to Masonry later in his life after a lifetime of achievement, it did little to dampen his enthusiasm for its concepts and teachings. Late in his life Roosevelt reiterated his reasons for joining Freemasonry and for his enthusiastic embracing of it, telling McLure’s Magazine that Freemasonry represented a place where all men are equal and share a common interest. After joining, Roosevelt made a point of visiting Lodges on all of his travels across the globe for the rest of his life.

10 Presidents You Didn’t Know Were Shaped by the Freemasons
FDR and staff in 1941. National Park Service

Franklin D. Roosevelt

FDR did not leave enthused descriptions of his thoughts on Masonry or his motives for joining, at least not as enthused as his famous cousin Theodore. But FDR was a dedicated and longtime Mason and the fact that he raised his sons Franklin and James into Masonry indicates the level of his own involvement. FDR was initiated and passed in the fall of 1911 in Holland Lodge # 8 in New York City. In 1929 he petitioned the Accepted Scottish Rite, receiving his 32 degree and the following year he became a Shriner.

He received an honorary membership in the Architect Lodge #519 in New York, it was there where he raised his sons in 1935. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, holds a trove of papers related to his membership and activities in Freemasonry.

Ten years before FDR entered into Freemasonry, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean a young Englishman named Winston Churchill was initiated into Studholme Lodge #1591. Churchill and FDR would have a long and fruitful relationship in mid-century, as the vanguard against the spread of Nazism.

Shortly after the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the British declaration of war, Churchill received a note from FDR. “What I want you and the Prime Minister to know is that I shall at all times welcome it if you will keep me in touch personally with anything you want me to know about,” FDR wrote to the then First Lord of the Admiralty Churchill. Thus Masonic brother FDR, well aware that the nation he led was thoroughly opposed to US involvement in European affairs, let Masonic brother Churchill know that he was ready to help.

Many, if not all, of Roosevelt’s programs to combat the Great Depression and modernize American society can be found to be rooted in Masonic ideals and goals. Many of these are decried by opponents as socialist and examples of liberalism which clearly links Masonic ideals with the destruction of American values and the establishment of the so-called New World Order.

10 Presidents You Didn’t Know Were Shaped by the Freemasons
President Harry Truman wearing his Masonic apron. Truman’s funeral featured Masonic rites. National Archives

Harry Truman

Belton Lodge #450 of Belton Missouri was the site for the initiation of Harry S Truman into Freemasonry in the winter of 1909. Two years later some members of the Belton Lodge established Grandview Lodge #618, with Truman serving as its Master. In 1940, then Senator Truman, known nationwide by then as the head of the Truman Committee (which investigated waste among defense contractors), was elected to be Grand Master of Masons in Missouri.

Later, while in office as President of the United States, Truman commented, “The greatest honor that has ever come to me, and that can ever come to me in my life, is to be the Grand Master of Masons in Missouri.” Truman received many additional honorary titles in Masonry while serving as President, including Honorary Grand Master of the International Supreme Council.

Truman was active and supportive of Masonry before, during, and following his Presidency. While campaigning, first for the Senate and later for the Presidency, Truman attended Lodges around the country. Throughout his career as a Missouri judge and later as a United States Senator he concerned himself over the condition of roads and highways, and frequently drove himself on long trips, visiting Masonic Lodges along the way.

As Roosevelt’s Vice President in early 1945, he found the exhausted and clearly dying President to be too busy to return his calls to the White House, but at a luncheon found they had a common bond in Masonic ideals. As President, Truman was forced to turn to those whom he personally trusted, many of whom were friends and fellow Masons from Missouri.

When Truman died in 1972, of complications from pneumonia, he was buried on the grounds of the Truman Library following a televised funeral which included Masonic rites and remarks from the Grand Master of Masons in Missouri W. Hugh McLaughlin. “He was our brother by adoption,” said Mr. McLaughlin. “He was our companion by choice.”