True Secrets of Freemasonry

Those who become Freemasons only for the sake of finding out the secret of the order, run a very great risk of growing old under the trowel without ever realizing their purpose. Yet there is a secret, but it is so inviolable that it has never been confided or whispered to anyone. Those who stop at the outward crust of things imagine that the secret consists in words, in signs, or that the main point of it is to be found only in reaching the highest degree. This is a mistaken view: the man who guesses the secret of Freemasonry, and to know it you must guess it, reaches that point only through long attendance in the lodges, through deep thinking, comparison, and deduction.

He would not trust that secret to his best friend in Freemasonry, because he is aware that if his friend has not found it out, he could not make any use of it after it had been whispered in his ear. No, he keeps his peace, and the secret remains a secret.

Giovanni Giacomo Casanova, Memoirs, Volume 2a, Paris, p. 33

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Were Early Freemasons Deists?

Deism: a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.

A brother recently claimed, to support his activities in the now 5 day old "Grand Orient of the United States of America" in that modern "Freemasonry has lost track of its origins". Expanding on that, he went on to claim that Masonic Lodges should have a blank book
representing the volume of Sacred Law because the "majority of early Freemasons were Deists".

He used Benjamin Franklin, PGM Pennsylvania, Paul Revere, John Hancock and Voltaire as exemplars to support his conclusions. Its not possible at this time to determine the number of men who were Freemasons worldwide in the late 1700's. However, it does not seem unreasonable, given the number of Lodges in the world to put that number in the hundreds of thousands. Even if the numbers were only 100,000, four exemplars is hardly representative of... even a single lodge.

Moreover, research indicates that while Benjamin Franklin did, in fact, have deist leanings, he was a (infrequently) practicing Episcopalian(1), Paul Revere was a Congregationalist(2), John Hancock was Congregationalist(3), and on his deathbed, Voltaire declared himself a Catholic(4). Research shows the claim to be without foundation, though intellectual honesty requires the notation that SOME masons, were, in fact, deists.

As a means of getting a larger sampling, I used the known 9 masons who signed the Declaration of Independence, the six men who Signed the Articles of Confederation, and the 13 men who
signed the U.S. Constitution (there is some overlap in these lists) to see what the religions were of these men.(5)

Signers of the Declaration of Independence

William Ellery, RI Congregationalist
Benjamin Franklin, PA Episcopalian (Deist)
John Hancock, MA Congregationalist
Joseph Hewes, NC Quaker/Episcopalian
William Hooper, NC Episcopalian
Robert Treat Paine, MA Congregationalist/Episcopalian
Richard Stockton, NJ Presbyterian
George Walton, GA Episcopalian
William Whipple, NH Congregationalist

Signers of the Articles of Confederation

Daniel Carroll Catholic
Henry Laurens Huguenot
John Harvie Protestant
Cornelius Harnett Episcopalian(Deist)
Jonathan Bayard Smith Protestant
John Dickison Quaker/Episcopalian
John Hancock, MA Congregationalist
Daniel Roberdeau Protestant

Signers of the Constitution

George Washington Episcopalian
Gunning Bedford Jr. Presbyterian
Benjamin Franklin, PA Episcopalian (Deist)
John Blair Presbyterian/Episcopalian
David Brearley Episcopalian
Rufus King Episcopalian/Congregationalist
John Dickinson Quaker/Episcopalian
Jacob Broom Lutheran
Daniel Carroll Catholic
Jonathan Dayton Presbyterian/Episcopalian
Nicholas Gilman Congregationalist
James McHenry Presbyterian

As can be seen from the list, only two men were identified as Deists, and most documents I have been able to find regarding the religion of the early colonies indicate there were VERY few deists. That written, I wish to refer back to my blog entry A Peculiar System of Morality, Taught by Allegory to note that the Peculiar System of Morality taught by masonry is most likely the FREEDOM to choose one's religious affiliation.

Of course, to the established religion, the most vile accusation they could make is that Freemasons were evil and devil worshipers, and the second worst is that we were all deists, since the essence of Deism is the denial of a personal caring g-d. Freemasonry is a system of morality, not a religion, and its lessons are acceptable to men of all faiths, Christian, Hebrew, Muslim, Buddhist, and yes, Deist.
May the blessing of heaven rest upon us and all regular masons. May brotherly love prevail, and every moral and social virtue, cement us.



giovanni lombardo said...

We have to do a distinction between USA/UK and Continental Europe.

In France, in Italy and in The Netherlands there were surely more deists than theists, if not atheists (La Mettrie, D'Holbach).

Man can easily understand this phenomenon if man thinks about the political stance of the Vatican towards freedom to think and to investigate the truth. It was a reaction against clerical obscurantism.

Anonymous said...

Is it not true that Geo. Washington was a Deist??

Anonymous said...

Is it not true that Geo. Washington was a Deist???

Theron Dunn said...

No, I am sorry, it is not true. George Washington was an Episcopalian.

Anonymous said...

Yes, Brother Washington was a prominant Deist. Theron has a hard time understanding that people change throughout thier lives. Just because he was raised something else and may have been on the "books" under a demnomination does not mean that later in life things changed. This happens all of the time. I was rasied Orthodox Jewish. I coverted to Lutheran Christian when I was 16. Now I am a Gnostic/Deist witha a heavyily Jewish idenity. :)

More on Brother Washington.

On Brother George Washington the Diest.

George Washington and Deism

"Deists have a great example of toleration, perseverance, and integrity in the person of fellow Deist George Washington.

Christian preachers who ardently wanted Washington to be portrayed as one of them have made up many stories of George Washington's strong Christian beliefs. One of the primary purveyors of these propaganda pieces was Mason Locke Weems, a Christian preacher who came up with the fable of George Washington and the cherry tree. He also feverishly promoted the myth of George Washington and Christianity.

Washington, like many people in colonial America, belonged to the Anglican church and was a vestryman in it. But in early America, particularly in pre-revolutionary America, you had to belong to the dominant church if you wanted to have influence in society, as is illustrated by the following taken from Old Chruches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, by Bishop William Meade, I, p 191. "Even Mr. Jefferson, and George Wythe, who did not conceal their disbelief in Christianity, took their parts in the duties of vestrymen, the one at Williamsburg, the other at Albermarle; for they wished to be men of influence."

In the book Washington and Religion by Paul F. Boller, Jr., we read on page 92, "Washington was no infidel, if by infidel is meant unbeliever. Washington had an unquestioning faith in Providence and, as we have seen, he voiced this faith publicly on numerous occasions. That this was no mere rhetorical flourish on his part, designed for public consumption, is apparent from his constant allusions to Providence in his personal letters. There is every reason to believe, from a careful analysis of religious references in his private correspondence, that Washington’s reliance upon a Grand Designer along Deist lines was as deep-seated and meaningful for his life as, say, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s serene confidence in a Universal Spirit permeating the ever shifting appearances of the everyday world."

On page 82 of the same book, Boller includes a quote from a Presbyterian minister, Arthur B. Bradford, who was an associate of Ashbel Green another Presbyterian minister who had known George Washington personally. Bradford wrote that Green, "often said in my hearing, though very sorrowfully, of course, that while Washington was very deferential to religion and its ceremonies, like nearly all the founders of the Republic, he was not a Christian, but a Deist."

Like truly intelligent people in all times and places, Washington realized how very little we know about life and the workings of the universe. He wrote that the ways of Providence were "inscrutable." Yet he DID the very best he could in all aspects of his life. When things were dark and it looked like the Revolution would be lost, he never gave up. Even when people in his own ranks were turning on him and trying to sink him he persevered because of his deep heartfelt Deistic belief in Providence.

George Washington coupled his genuine belief in Providence with action. After the American defeat at Germantown in 1777 he said, "We must endeavor to deserve better of Providence, and, I am persuaded, she will smile on us." He also wrote that we should take care to do our very best in everything we do so that our, "reason and our own conscience approve."

Washington's toleration for differing religions was made evident by his order to the Continental Army to halt the observance of Pope's Day. Pope's Day was the American equivalent of Guy Fawkes' Day in England. A key part of Pope's Day was the burning of the effigy of the Pope. In his order, Washington described the tradition as, "ridiculous and childish" and that there was no room for this type of behavior in the Continental Army.

The altruism and integrity that Washington possessed is made evident by his restraint in his personal gains. At the successful conclusion of the American Revolution he could have made himself dictator for life. Or he could have allowed others to make him king. Yet, like the Roman General Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus before him, Washington refused to do either.

Preacher Weems has written that on Washington's death bed, "Washington folded his arms decently on his breast, then breathing out 'Father of mercies, take me to thyself,' - he fell asleep." Like almost all of what the Christian fundamentalists have written about Washington, this is not true.

Tobias Lear, Washington's secretary, was with him when he died. The following is his account of Washington's death.

"About ten o'clk he made several attempts to speak to me before he could effect it, at length he said, -'I am just going. Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead.' I bowed assent, for I could not speak. He then looked at me again and said, 'Do you understand me?' I replied, 'Yes.' 'Tis well,' said he.

"About ten minutes before he expired (which was between ten and eleven o'clk) his breathing became easier; he lay quietly; - he withdrew his hand from mine, and felt his own pulse. I saw his countenance change. I spoke to Dr. Craik who sat by the fire; - he came to the bed side. The General's hand fell from his wrist - I took it in mine and put it into my bosom. Dr. Craik put his hands over his eyes and he expired without a struggle or a sigh!"

Like other Deists such as Paine, Jefferson, Voltaire, Franklin, and Allen, Washington did not fear death but looked at it as just another part of nature. Though he didn't speculate much on an after-life, he was comfortable to look at his own death as part of God's design.

George Washington offers us a tremendous example of altruism and positive action. His actions tell us stronger than any words could possibly do to persevere in the face of all obstacles. To never give up and to always combine our sincerely held beliefs with action."

BC 2006

Theron Dunn said...

Br. Cofield;

You can CLAIM that Br. Washington was a deist until you are blue in the face, but the FACTS show he was active in his church, and often received his minister as he reached the end of his days.

Brash claims, in the face of facts are kind of silly, especially when you are using them to defend a claim to the side of this issue.

If you really really really think there should be a blank book as the Volume of Sacred Law in a lodge, then say so and try to defend it, without making up "facts". FACT is, George Washington was NOT a deist, he was an Episcopalian Freemason.

Anonymous said...

George Washington was born to the Anglican church. Later his parents coverted to Episcopalian and it was a devout home. Brother Washington himself was a Deist, he never took communion in the Episcopalian church as documented by the churches own record.

He also refused to participate in any Masonic lodge after the Atient takeover of the GL of Penn and the ouster of fellow Diest Brother Franklin.

BC 2006

Theron Dunn said...

You, of course, have proof to support that statement there, Brad? Because in his life, he was active in his church, and was buried with Masonic rites and Episcopalian services.

Making bald statements based on what you WANT to be true is not the same as being true.

Anonymous said...

You would say the sky was green if I told you it was blue. You would then say that someone told me the sky is blue that is why I believe it is blue. Then you would tell someone else that I told you the sky was orange. Then you would post in your blog that I said the sky was orange and how I am an idiot for thinking that way. They you would through in a mocking dig at the Grand Orient and call it a house of crap or cards or something of the like. After that you would state for the millionth time that you are a "regular" Mason. Then you would state that you are not personally attacking me.

There you go. In the end believe what you want. I could really care less at this point. I am pretty sure this is my last post on this blog.

Have a good life.

Brad (BC 2006)

Greg Stewart said...

I wonder though what the conception of the divine was then, rather than how we conceive it today. With the evangelical movement, I think our idea of GOD has changed, away from a colder more removed idea the GOD head to the more personal, daily influenced one.

Also, I wonder if the deistic tendancies or "divine providence" was a reaction to the previous Puritan ideals of the country.

I don't know if I agree that the 2nd most foul accusation of a Freemason is to be callde a deist. Really, what's wrong with that? I think if the established religion needs to adjudge us on that way, that they need to look to their own VSL as to what happens to those who make judgements.

Theron Dunn said...

Br. Cofield;

I did not "just disagree with you", I offered proof of my posiition. You have done nothing but offer your opinion about what you THOUGHT Br. Washington's religion was...

This is a discussion. I offer an opinion and offer supporting citations to support my argument. Now, you have offered an opinion, now please offer citations to support YOUR opinion, or it is JUST an opinion offered in a vacuum.

I thought enough of your opinion to go and research it... as I recalled, he was an Episcopalian, and a very devout Christian at that, offering his prayers for g-d's support. That is not the action of a deist, by definition of what a deist IS.

Pray give ME the courtesy of offering support for your opinion instead of just making blanket statements. And quit, for the sake of g-d, just tossing up your hands when you are shown to be wrong and cowboy up and admit you made a mistake.

Masonic Traveler: Good points. I think I meant the second most foul accusation to a Christian fundamentalist is that someone is a deist.

Sorry about that.

Anonymous said...

To the questions
" Were Early Freemasons Deists? " maybe the answer is that they were Theists, Deists, Pantheist and Libertines.
It is easy to find men in all those categories.


Unknown said...

I would like to see Br. Cofields sources. On a visit I just had to Mt. Vernon, and what I have read, suggests that not only was Washington an Episcopalian, but was called upon by an Episcopalian late in his life. I would also like to see the source between Franklin and Washington. Again, I don't think this is factual. Washington was not an active Freemason, having visited lodges less than a dozen times in his entire life. I have seen nothing to say that Franklin and Washington were more than fellow politicians. I'd like to see the sources from both. The first quote from Brad was cut and pasted from somewhere on the web. I'd like to see the entire thing in context.

Anonymous said...

It appears as if Brad quoted this website for his post:


Anonymous said...

I am not a Mason but I think I would like to become one if possible. I have a question though. Can a Deist become a Mason? I was raised a Christian but I have started believing more like a Deist. This keeps me from trying to become a Mason as I know that you have to believe in a Creator/God that watches over us. As a deist I am not sure I can truthfully say that. Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask this question but I would really like some guidance.

Theron Dunn said...

Freemasonry does not ask your religion, only that you can state that you have a faith in god, however you define him for yourself, that you are a man, freeborn, of good moral character, and under the tongue of good report.

If you are seriously interested in the craft, pick up the white pages in your area and look under freemason, or, use Yahoo Yellow pages. Enter your city, and then enter Masonic.

There is a lodge in darn near every good sized city in the United States and Canada. If you need help, please contact me at theron(at)

Ian M. O'Connor said...

Yea! Ian O'Connor is an Episcopalian! INRI!

Ian M. O'Connor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian M. O'Connor said...

Deism and atheism is forbidden by antient lodges. And the belief is in a supreme being in an antient lodge, per the ahiman rezon, which is the makeup of most lodges in America.

David Green said...

How about comparing the ACTUAL WRITERS of the Deceleration of Independence to Freemasons, Theist, and Diests? It seems that there were
Of the Committee of Five set up to draft the Declaration of Independence
*2 (Franklin and were certainly Freemasons
* There is not good evidence that Thomas Jefferson, who actually wrote the Declaration of Independence, was a Freemason. He was most certainly a strong Deist, as the "author of the Jeffersonian Bible" and although some circumstantial evidence does point at least to Masonic connections.
*John Adams was not one either, although he is recorded as having spoken favorably of Freemasonry. John Adams is thought to be a strong Deist, as evidenced by his quote: "My Adoration of the Author of the Universe is too profound and too sincere for one religion. The Love of God and his Creation; delight, Joy, Tryumph, Exaltation in my own existence, tho' but an Atom, a molecule Organique, in the Universe, are my religion."
*Sherman was a congregationalist, now mostly that has evolved into "Church of Christ" - one of the most Liberal Churches in America - supporting civil rights, civil unions in the Church for homosexuals, and many progressive rights of man.
*Livingston was a professional politician with no known religious affiliation, and a leader in the "Democratic-Republican Party". He was recalled by his state before the Declaration was finished.

Of the 5 writers,
*2 Masons
*2 Deists
*1 Professional Politician with NO known religious affiliation


David Green said...

Concerning Masonry, Christian Religion and US Founding Fathers:
The most straightforward factual information that we have is that many of the US Founding Fathers were not "traditional Christians" in the modern sense, but were Theists, Deists, from EXTREMELY liberal churches by today's USA standards (Church of Christ, Episcopalians)and the following were from the brotherhood of free thinkers know as Freemasons:

1. George Washington was a Freemason
2. Benjamin Franklin was a Freemason
3. James Monroe was a Freemason
4. John Jay was a Freemason
5. John Hancock was a Freemason
7. Paul Revere was a Freemason
8. John Paul Jones was a Freemason
9. James Otis was a Freemason
10. Between 9-13 signers of the Constitution were Freemasons depending on one's source
11. At least nine signers of the Declaration of Independence were Freemasons
12. At least 33 (of 74) generals in the Colonial Army were Freemasons

Summary: 15 of 56 Signers were Freemasons or probable Freemasons. Many more were Theists and Deists - many were Christian.

It's true that more than a 1/3 of the total signers and the majority of the authors who laid out the plan for the democracy are often refered to as "free thinkers"

At the end.. Are you a patriotic American? Do you believe in the REAL principles of this country, or are you trying to bend them to fit your religious views? Do you still believe that America is a place to "bring me your poor, your tired and huddled masses".. Is the USA still a place of opportunity for people who had ambition, dreams, and intellect to work, build, and come together to in order to make a shining beacon exemplary of mankind, the way our founding fathers envisioned?

Unknown said...

Deists or not what would it matter. They beleived in a God and I'm petty sure that was the only question they would have been asked. Deism
the acknowledgment of the existence of a god upon the testimony of reason and of nature and its laws, and the rejection of the possibility of supernatural intervention in human affairs and of special revelation.

Robert said...

I realize this thread is more than a decade old, but since it still pops up in Google searches for Washington and Freemasonry, I wanted to add some info about Washington's religious beliefs. Much has been written about the subject over the centuries, and much of it has been inaccurate, biased or based upon bad information or mythology. Parson Weems' "Life of Washington" was the source of much of this mythology, but it's been added to by people and organizations that wanted to claim Washington as one of their own.

It's important to bear in mind that Washington keenly understood the importance of one's public image, and he promoted the image of himself as an exemplar of morality and piety. But that was frequently at odds with his personal life and private correspondence.

What *is* known is that Washington had been a "vestryman" in his local church as a young man, which may sound like a religious position, but in fact a man was required to be such, in order to hold public office at that time.

Washington's diaries show that more often than not, when at home at Mt. Vernon, he did not attend church on Sundays, but would spend the day in correspondence, fox-hunting, or engage in some other "worldly" activity. On the times that he did accompany Martha to their local church, he would leave before communion was served, a practice that earned the disapproval of the minister. After being chided for this, Washington stopped attending his local church altogether. He would frequently attend church if he happened to be traveling on Sunday, and it was convenient. Of course church attendance does not prove or disprove religious beliefs, but it suggests that he did not think church attendance to be necessary.

In his personal and public writings, historians have counted Washington's use the word "God" 146 times, but many of these were figures of speech or exclamations, such as "my God!" or "thank God". He was conspicuously silent on Jesus, whose name he never wrote in any document in his adult life. Promoters of Washington as a theist frequently point out his use of the term "Providence" as examples of him invoking God, but the fact is that he just as frequently personified "Providence" as female, as male.

Finally, on his deathbed, Washington not only didn't ask for a clergyman to be present, but when one was offered, he declined. This was contrary to the practice of the time for a Christian of his social status.

Taken as a whole, Washington's words and actions seem to be more consistent with the beliefs of a deist than a Christian, albeit a deist who valued the influence of Christianity upon society.

--Robert H., San Francisco

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