Beverley Byer has been writing professionally for a number of years. Her work has been published in magazines and newspapers.
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Freemasons harken back to the stonemason guilds of the Middle Ages, maybe even beyond. By the 18th century, they had morphed into a fraternal network of cult-like sub-organizations, which spread throughout Europe like a roaring fire.
The first Grand Lodge (governing body) was established in England in 1717. The society eventually reached the Americas and established their first United States Grand Lodge in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1730.
Freemasons are known for their secrecy, but they’re also known for loyalty, rituals, degrees, ranks, philanthropic works, education, business networking, and social activities. These attributes may be what attracted the presidents who sought membership into this exclusive entity.
1. Gerald R (Rudolph) Ford
Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., 38th President of the United States from 1974 to 1977, was initiated Entered Apprentice (first degree) at the Malta Lodge No. 465 in Grand Rapids, Michigan on September 30, 1949. He received the Fellowcraft and Master Mason (highest degree) from the Columbia Lodge No. 3 in Washington, D.C. in 1951. Other degrees and posts bestowed upon him include Sovereign Grand Inspector General, 33rd degree and Honorary member, Supreme Council A. A. S. R. Northern Jurisdiction in 1962; Active Member and Honorary Grand Master of the International Supreme Council Order of the DeMolay from 1975 to 1977; and Past Honorary Grand Master in 1978.
Gerald Ford, whose birth name was Leslie Lynch King Jr., became president of the U. S. following President Richard Nixon’s resignation in 1974. A football star at the University of Michigan, Ford opted to study law at Yale rather than accept offers to play professionally for the Detroit Lions and the Green Bay Packers.
2. Harry S. Truman
Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the U. S. from 1945 to 1953, was initiated Entered Apprentice at the Belton Lodge No. 450 in Grandview, Missouri on February 9, 1909. Conferred Master Mason later that year, Truman continued to be very active in the fraternity, even during his presidency. He was also a Ritualist, district lecturer, deputy Grand Master, and like President Ford, the Honorary Grand Master of the International Supreme Council, Order of DeMolay. In 1945, he received the 33rd degree Sovereign Grand Inspector General and Honorary Member Supreme Council, accepting the Scottish Rite Mason Southern Jurisdiction in Washington, D.C.
Unable to decide which of his grandfathers he should be named after, President Truman’s parents gave him the middle name letter ‘S.’ He was raised on a farm and once owned an unsuccessful hat shop. He’s credited with dropping the atomic bomb on Japan, starting the Cold War with Soviet Union/ Russia, involving the U.S. in the Korean War, and banning racism in the Federal Government. President Truman was buried with Masonic rites.
3. Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the U. S. from 1933 to 1945, was initiated Entered Apprentice on October 11, 1911, in the Holland Lodge No. 8 in New York City. A staunch member, Roosevelt was conferred a number of degrees and positions over the years, including the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in Albany Consistory in 1929; Shriner in the Ancient Arabic Order Nobles of the Mystic Shrine in 1930; Prophet at Sight in Tri-Po-Bed Grotto; Mystic Order Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm in Poughkeepsie, New York in 1931; Honorary Grand Master of Georgia; and the Honorary Grand Master of the Order of DeMolay in 1934.
FDR, as he was often called, was the only child of a wealthy family. He was educated by tutors until age 14 then attended a Massachusetts prep school for boys. A Harvard University alumnus, FDR was a member of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity and graduated in three years. In 1921, he developed polio which kept him in a wheelchair except when he faced the public. Then he relied on braces. Roosevelt also belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, another secret society.
4. Warren G (Gamaliel) Harding
Warren G (Gamaliel) Harding, the 29th President of the U. S. from 1921 to 1923, was initiated Entered Apprentice on June 28, 1901, in Marion Lodge No. 70, Marion, Ohio. Harding didn’t receive additional degrees until years later.
Some say it was due to rumors of him having African American ancestry, which would’ve prohibited him from being a lodge member. Others believe it had to do with his political ambition. Nonetheless, Harding received the Fellowcraft and Master Mason degrees in 1920. The next year he received the Royal Arch Chapter in Marion Chapter No. 62; Knight Templar in Marion Commandery No. 36; and the Scottish Rite and Shrine.
Harding was elected president on his birthday and served three years before dying of a heart attack. The son of doctors, he attended Ohio Central College at age 14. After graduating, he taught school, sold insurance, and co-owned the Marion Daily Star newspaper. Encumbered by yet another rumor, this one was that he and his wife violated the Prohibition Law by serving alcohol at their garden parties. President Harding belonged to two additional secret fraternities: The Independent Order of Odd Fellows and the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.
5. Theodore Roosevelt
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the U. S. from 1901 to 1909, received his Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason degrees in the Matinecock Lodge No. 806, Oyster Bay, New York in the first year of his presidency. He was quite active and supportive of the Brotherhood, always making time to visit area lodges in his travels.
Nicknamed Teddy, President Roosevelt was homeschooled because of sickness but graduated magna cum laude from Harvard College in 1880. He went on to study at Columbia Law School before switching to politics. When his mother and wife died on the same day, Roosevelt moved to the Dakotas and became a cowboy and a cattle rancher. He returned to New York and politics two years later.
The youngest person ever to become a U.S. president (so far), he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906 for negotiating the treaty to the end of the Russo (Russian)-Japanese War. Roosevelt was the first president to entertain an African American, Booker T. Washington, at the White House. He too was a member of the International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.
6. William McKinley
William McKinley, the 25th President of the U.S. from 1897 to 1901, was initiated into freemasonry during the Civil War. He was conferred the Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason degrees in 1865 in Hiram Lodge No. 21in Winchester, Virginia, not Lodge No. 10 in West Virginia as is sometimes noted. He was also associated with the Canton Lodge No. 6 and Eagle Lodge No. 431 in Canton, Ohio. The latter lodge was renamed for him. McKinley received several degrees, including most Sublime Degree of Royal Arch Mason in 1883; Illustrious Order of Red Cross in 1884; Knight Templar and Knight of Malta in in 1884 in Canton Commandery.
McKinley attended Allegheny College in Pennsylvania then became a county schoolteacher. Public sympathy for the death of his mother, his two daughters, and caring for his sick wife won him a seat in the House of Representatives in 1876. In 1896, he won the presidency. A year later, he was assassinated while attending a Pan American Exposition. President McKinley was also a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
7. James Abram Garfield
James Abram Garfield, the 20th President of the U.S. from March 4, 1881 to September 19, 1881, was initiated Entered Apprentice and Fellowcraft in the Magnolia Lodge No. 20 and Master Mason in Columbus Lodge No. 30 in Columbus, Ohio in 1864. He was also affiliated with Garrettsville Lodge No. 246. In 1866, he was exalted Columbus Royal Arch Chapter and Knight Templar. He was a charter member of Pentalpha Lodge No. 23 in Washington, D.C. in 1869 and bestowed the 14th Degree Scottish Rite in 1872.
Garfield was one of seven U.S. presidents born in a log cabin. Raised on a poor Ohio farm, he had a knack for languages. He attended Western Reserve Eclectic Institute/ Hiram College, then Williams College.
After graduating, he returned to the former to teach and was promoted college president. He later studied law. Garfield used his expertise in languages to campaign for presidency before various audiences. He was assassinated within a few months of assuming the office. He was also a supporter of Civil Rights reform.
8. Andrew Johnson
Andrew Johnson, the 17th President of the U.S. from 1808 to 1869, was initiated Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, and Master Mason at Greenville Lodge No. 3 (No. 119 at the time) in Greenville, Tennessee in 1851. He might have also been a member of Greenville Chapter No. 82 Royal Arch Masons because he joined the Nashville York Rite Commandery of Knights Templar No. 1 in 1859. He was conferred the Scottish Rite degrees at the White House in 1867 and was the first president to be received in this rite.
Another of the seven presidents born in a log cabin, Johnson grew up poor. He lost his birth father at the age of three and as a teen, his stepdad apprenticed him and his brother to tailoring. Disliking the profession, they ran away but later returned and moved with the family to Tennessee.
Surprisingly, Johnson became a successful tailor whose shop may have been the catalyst for his entry into politics. It was a hub for political discussions. He supported the new state constitution, which included the “disenfranchisement” of free blacks after the 1831 Nat Turner Rebellion. When Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, Johnson then vice president, assumed the presidency.
9. James Buchanan
James Buchanan, the 15th President of the U.S. from 1857 to 1861, was initiated Entered Apprentice at Lancaster Lodge No. 43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1816, and Fellowcraft and Master Mason in 1817. He was also Junior Warden from 1821 to 1822 and the Worshipful Master in 1825. Buchanan was later exalted in the Royal Arch Chapter No. 43 and became the Deputy Grand Master of Pennsylvania’s Grand Lodge in 1826.
Buchanan, whose parents were wealthy, studied at Old Stone Academy and Dickenson College. Though almost suspended for misbehaving, he managed to graduate in 1809 and was admitted to the bar in 1812. He enlisted to participate in the War that same year.
Two years later he entered politics and was elected to state House of Representatives as a Federalist Party member. James Buchanan believed that slave ownership should be decided by individual states and territories and not by the Federal government. The only bachelor president in U.S. history, his niece served as First Lady.
10. James Knox Polk
James Knox Polk, the 11th President of the U.S. from 1845 to 1849, was initiated Entered Apprentice in Columbia Lodge No. 31 in Columbia, Tennessee in 1820. He was licensed to practice law in the same year. In 1825, Polk was exalted Royal Arch Mason in La Fayette Chapter No. 4 at Columbia.
Polk grew up in a wealthy family on a Tennessee farm. Though sickly, he managed to attend school and graduate with honors from the University of North Carolina in 1818. He was admitted to the Tennessee bar in 1820. To please his wife, he entered politics and became Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1835 to 1839.
As president, Polk helped lay the cornerstone for the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., acquired quite a lot of land in the Southwest and along the Pacific coast: Texas, New Mexico, California, Oregon, U.S.-Canadian border.
This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.
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Beverley Byer (author) from United States of America on April 08, 2019:
Thanks for enjoying & learning!
Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 07, 2019:
Thanks for sharing this historical information. Didn't realize that the presidents were so involved. Thanks for mention the good that each one did.