Conspiracy Theory

You'd Be Surprised at How Many Historical Figures Were Freemasons

There's a conspiracy theory that never quite goes away — sort of the ur–conspiracy theory — that the world is secretly controlled by a society of ingenious influencers like the Illuminati, the Lizard People, or the Freemasons. The thing about the last suspect on that list? There's a really good chance you're only a couple miles from a Freemason's lodge as we speak. So what is their purpose, really?

High(-ly Secretive) Society

The origins of the Freemasons lie with, well, masons. As in stonemasons — skilled craftspeople who mastered not only the art of sculpting stone but also the principles of complex engineering and geometry. They weren't just builders; they were scholars and architects. For a time, their guild set fair rates and terms of employment for any master of the craft — they were a union, essentially. But sometime in the early 1600s, the guild's dwindling coffers meant they needed to attempt a new strategy to stay afloat: Instead of celebrating only the master stonecutters and architects, they would open their doors to intellectual men of good quality (provided they could pay the membership dues). Actual mason members would be tasked with the work of erecting buildings and walls, while gentlemen members were given the task of practicing "secrecy, morality, and good fellowship."

Even before taking on this new purpose with its professions of a loftier purpose, the Freemasons' guild had already devised an elaborate (and wholly made-up) history tying their origins back to the pyramid builders of ancient Egypt. After masonry ceased to be a requirement of membership, this obsession with ritual and (semi-demi-true) history only grew. Slowly, the focus of the organization shifted toward more philosophical and political pursuits. In particular, Freemasons on both sides of the Atlantic grew more and more opposed to monarchies around the world. When you see the list of history's most famous Masons, that obsession with defeating the kings and queens of the world might start making more sense. (On the other hand, the inclusion of some literal kings might have you scratching your head).

Related Video: Visit the Masons' "House of the Temple" in Washington D.C.

History's First Influencers

You will recognize these names — most of them, anyway. With its emphasis on equality and uplifting the world, we suppose that the Freemasons could be a lot worse. Still, it's a little disturbing to see how many of the most influential people in history have been members. How much influence do the Masons really have? Here's a brief, incomplete list of history's most powerful members.

  • Political leaders around the world: Besides the frankly astonishing number of Masons among the leading members of the American Revolution, Masons have been spotted in the upper ranks of many national cabinets. Winston Churchill was a lifelong supporter of the Studholme Mason Lodge, and Simon Bolivar's multi-national war of independence may well have been influenced by his Masonic beliefs. Then there are the monarchs — no fewer than five kings of England were Masons, starting with George IV in 1790 and ending with George VI in 1937.

You may have noticed that this list includes no women and only two non-white people. Like most powerful organizations founded in the last four centuries, it kept its doors closed to society's marginalized members for much of that time, and it still bears the marks of that history. Thankfully, those restrictions are changing in some lodges. However, you might still be astonished to see a group that includes such opposing forces as George Washington and the son of the king he defeated. It might just be a testament to the Masons' belief in the merit of every man — even if he had the misfortune to be born a king.

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Of course, there's no shortage of secret societies (and there are even more rumors of secret societies than there are societies themselves). Get the skinny on all the secrecy in John Lawrence Reynolds' "Secret Societies" (free with your trial membership to Audible). We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Reuben Westmaas August 3, 2018

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