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Information in this article comes from The Guide to Dan Brown's The Solomon Key, which explores many of the topics in Dan Brown's next book (since renamed from The Solomon Key to The Lost Symbol) - including Francis Bacon, the Invisible College, and how Masonic thinking may have contributed to the founding of the United States of America.
An updated version of the book is also available for Kindle, for just $5.99: See The Guide to Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol in Amazon's Kindle store.
On the 18th September, 1793, the first President of the United States took part in a Masonic ceremony to officially mark the beginning of the construction of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. Wearing his own Masonic apron, George Washington marched to the site with members of a number of local Freemasonry lodges, and then descended into the construction pit which housed the cornerstone of the building. Washington placed a silver plate upon the cornerstone, and then made the standard Masonic ‘offerings’ of corn, wine and oil. The Masonic tools carried by Washington on this momentous day are still held at a lodge in the District of Columbia.
To many of us today, it seems strange that such an important day in the history of the United States of America would have such an overtly Masonic theme. However, this may well be a topic that will soon leap into the public consciousness, as it is likely that best-selling author Dan Brown will explore the topic in his next book, The Lost Symbol. Brown is on record as saying the upcoming Robert Langdon novel is on the topic of Freemasonry and “explores the hidden history of our nation’s capital.” No doubt a large part of this 'hidden history' will consist of the Hermetic blend of Masonic, Rosicrucian, and Utopian thinking which was prevalent throughout the European intelligentsia during the 17th and 18th centuries, and which appears to have found its way to the shores of America and played a crucial role in the founding of the United States of America.
The idea that the United States may have been founded as a ‘Masonic Republic’ based on Utopian ideals is not a new one. In 1897, an American army officer named Charles Totten wrote “there are mysteries connected with the birth of this Republic”. Totten had been investigating the strange iconography of the Great Seal of the United States, and through his research became convinced that the birth of the American nation could be related to the Utopian vision of the Englishman Sir Francis Bacon, which he described in 1626 in his allegorical novel The New Atlantis. The esoteric author Manly P. Hall also claimed in his book The Secret Destiny of America that Bacon himself had decided that the Utopian dream could be realized in North America.
Historian Ron Heisler suggests another link between Utopian visions in Europe and the new colony in America. Heisler discovered that the German occultist – and staunch Rosicrucian – Michael Maier was in close contact with a number of individuals connected with the Virginia Company. This group of wealthy individuals had been granted a royal charter by James I in 1606, giving them virtually unlimited power of government in the New World colony. This charter had been drafted by none other than Sir Francis Bacon. Heisler believes that Maier’s well-known alchemical tract Atalanta Fugiens “may have been deeply inspired by the Utopian vision of America.”
American scholar Donald R. Dickson provides yet another link between the Utopian dreamers and the Virginian settlement in his book The Tessera of Antilia. Dickson’s investigations uncovered the existence of a Utopian fraternity known as ‘Antilia’, which counted Valentin Andreae – the author of the original Rosicrucian documents – among its participants. Inspired by both the Rosicrucian tracts as well as the writings of Sir Francis Bacon, this brotherhood at one point contemplated emigrating en masse to Virginia in order to found their Utopian society.
Why were these groups so set on a ‘fresh start’ in the New World? The answer lies in the two dominant powers which dominated Europe at the time – the Church and the monarchies. Renaissance thinking, secret societies, and the printing press all posed new and growing threats to those in power. New scientific discoveries, such as Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the Solar System and Newton’s physics, were challenging not only the authority of the Church but also God’s place in the cosmos. Secret societies – even semi-mythical ones such as the Rosicrucians – bravely raised new ideas and challenged the status quo. Scientism gave birth to Deism, which stood in sharp contrast to Christianity with its view that reason, rather than revelation, should be the basis of any belief in God, and that God would not intervene in his creation. As the Enlightenment dawned, many intellectuals found themselves as virtual heretics when compared with the religions, philosophies and governments which controlled European society.
Such was the breeding ground for ideas of a Utopian nation where freedom of religious thought and personal philosophy would be tolerated, and where government would be democratic and for the good of the people. Many Utopians, such as the great educator Comenius, dreamt of a society where men of opposing philosophies could still work together in the greatest quest of all – the search for knowledge. This pan-sophist philosophy had been enunciated very early on in Bacon’s The New Atlantis, where a group known as the ‘House of Solomon’ was comprised of philosopher-priests united in this very goal. In Bacon’s Utopian allegory, we find evidence of many of the philosophies persecuted in Europe: Rosicrucianism, Freemasonry, Utopian thinking and scientism. We find a similar combination in the life of one of America’s Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin.
The first documented evidence referring to Freemasonry in America was printed in The Pennsylvania Gazette in 1730, a journal produced by Benjamin Franklin. He was gifted with an enormous array of talents – besides being a journalist and author, Franklin is also remembered as an influential scientist and political statesman. To complement his reputation as one of the great scientists of the 18th Century, he invented two common devices still used today – the lightning rod and bifocal spectacles. He is also the only Founding Father who is a signatory to the three foundation documents of the United States: the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Paris and the United States Constitution.
Benjamin Franklin was also a Freemason and a Deist. He was initiated as a Freemason in February 1731, and rose to the rank of Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania by 1734. As a publisher, he was in a unique position to aid the cause of Freemasonry in the New World. He published Anderson’s Book of Constitutions, the authoritative Masonic document, in 1734. In 1756 he was inducted into the Royal Society in England, which we have seen was heavily Masonic and perhaps Rosicrucian in nature. And in 1778, while in France, he was initiated into the highly influential Neuf Soeurs (‘ Nine Sisters’) lodge in Paris, which would boast Voltaire, Lafayette, Court de Gebelin and numerous instigators of the French Revolution as members.
Manly P. Hall, in The Secret Destiny of America, claims that Benjamin Franklin was part of the ‘ Order of the Quest’, the secret movement to construct a Utopian democracy in the New World:
Men bound by a secret oath to labor in the cause of world democracy decided that in the American colonies they would plant the roots of a new way of life…Benjamin Franklin exercised an enormous psychological influence in Colonial politics as the appointed spokesman of the unknown philosophers; he did not make laws, but his words became law.
Franklin had been a Freemason for almost fifty years by the time he signed the Declaration of Independence. He was not, however, the only Freemason involved in the Founding of the United States. As we have already noted above, George Washington was most definitely a Freemason. The commander-in-chief of the colonial armies during the American Revolutionary War was initiated into the lodge at Fredericksburg on the 4th of November 1752. He was ‘raised’ as a Master Mason only a year later. In 1777 he was offered the position of Grand Master of the planned Grand Lodge of the United States, but he declined (quite ironically) on the basis that he was not qualified for such a high office.
There is little doubt that Washington would have been more than capable of filling this position – his refusal to accept was based more on a genuine modesty which remained in evidence throughout his life. He refused to be paid for his military service, and left the room when John Adams recommended him for the position of commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. Despite accepting the post, Washington told the Continental Congress that he was unworthy of the honor. He was also reluctant to be seen using his power as President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson wrote of him:
The moderation and virtue of a single character probably prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish.
In 1788, the year before becoming the first President of the United States, Washington did become Master of the Alexandria lodge in Washington, D.C., today known as the Alexandria Washington Lodge No. 22. The lodge became the site of the George Washington Masonic Memorial in 1932, a huge Masonic landmark modeled on the ancient Lighthouse of Alexandria in Egypt, the ‘Pharos’.
Despite attending church services with his wife, Washington held philosophical and religious views which suggest that he, like Franklin, was a Deist. He would regularly leave services before communion, a habit which moved Reverend Dr. James Abercrombie to compose a sermon scolding those in high positions for setting a bad example with their church attendance. Washington responded by ceasing to turn up at all. When Rev. Abercrombie was asked about Washington’s religious views later in life, he simply replied: “Sir, Washington was a Deist.”
Deism links not only Franklin and Washington, but also Thomas Jefferson as well – although the available evidence suggests that he was not a Freemason. Jefferson created his own personal Bible from the New Testament, by omitting the supernatural sections and leaving only the philosophical teachings intact. This unique compilation became known as the ‘Jefferson Bible’ – in the early 1900s approximately 2,500 copies were printed for the United States Congress.
While historians point out that there is no evidence to tie Thomas Jefferson officially to any Masonic organization, it is a matter of fact that he had great sympathy for the cause. In a letter to Bishop James Madison in 1800, Jefferson relayed his thoughts on Adam Weishaupt and his much-maligned Illuminati group. In what amounts to a defense of both Masonry and Weishaupt’s Illuminati, against the conspiracy charges laid by the writers Barruel and Robison, Jefferson’s allegiances clearly lie with the Utopian and Masonic ideals rather than Church and monarchies:
[Weishaupt] is among those…who believe in the indefinite perfectibility of man. He thinks he may in time be rendered so perfect that he will be able to govern himself in every circumstance so as to injure none, to do all the good he can, to leave government no occasion to exercise their powers over him… Weishaupt believes that to promote this perfection of the human character was the object of Jesus Christ. That his intention was simply to reinstate natural religion, and by diffusing the light of his morality, to teach us to govern ourselves. His precepts are the love of god & love of our neighbor. And by teaching innocence of conduct, he expected to place men in their natural state of liberty and equality. He says, no one ever laid a surer foundation for liberty than our grand master, Jesus of Nazareth. He believes the Free Masons were originally possessed of the true principles and objects of Christianity, and have still preserved some of them by tradition, but much disfigured.
…As Weishaupt lived under the tyranny of a despot and priests, he knew that caution was necessary even in spreading information, and the principles of pure morality. He proposed therefore to lead the Free masons to adopt this object and to make the objects of their institution the diffusion of science & virtue…This has given an air of mystery to his views, was the foundation of his banishment, the subversion of the Masonic order, and is the color for the ravings against him of Robison, Barruel and Morse, whose real fears are that the craft would be endangered by the spreading of information, reason and natural morality among men…if Weishaupt had written here, where no secrecy is necessary in our endeavors to render men wise and virtuous, he would not have thought of any secret machinery for that purpose.
Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, and as well as being the third President of the United States also served at various times as Vice-President, Secretary of State and ambassador to France. During his travels to France he accompanied his good friend Benjamin Franklin to the ‘Nine Sisters’ Masonic lodge. Many of his closest associates and confidantes were Freemasons.
Thomas Paine is yet another Founding Father who held strong Deist views. Born and bred in England, Paine didn’t move to the colonies until his late thirties, only a matter of years before the Declaration of Independence. He emigrated on the advice of Benjamin Franklin, whom he had met in London. Barely a year after arriving, he published the massively influential Common Sense on January 10th 1776, which is said to have sold more than 600,000 copies in a population of only three million. His words inspired George Washington to seek the route of independence from Great Britain, and Thomas Jefferson partly based the Declaration of Independence upon Paine’s statements. Paine also has the honor of being the person to suggest the name of the United States of America.
This revolutionary thinker was sentenced in absentia in Great Britain for sedition, and despite his support for the French Revolution in his Rights of Man, was imprisoned and sentenced to death by the revolutionaries for arguing against the execution of Louis XVI. Miraculously, his life was spared when the executioner marked his door incorrectly. Many Americans would be surprised to know that the man who coined the name of the United States, and had such a profound impact upon its independence, had strong feelings against Christianity. In his Age of Reason he wrote:
The opinions I have advanced…are the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God, and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation by that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion is Deism, by which I then meant, and mean now, the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character, or the practice of what are called moral virtues.
There is no direct evidence that Paine was a Freemason. However, after his death an essay was published, said to be a chapter from Part III of Age of Reason, titled “The Origins of Freemasonry”. Whatever his official status was, Paine certainly had access to information about the Craft:
The Entered Apprentice knows but little more of Masonry than the use of signs and tokens, and certain steps and words by which Masons can recognize each other without being discovered by a person who is not a Mason. The Fellow Craft is not much better instructed in Masonry, than the Entered Apprentice. It is only in the Master Mason’s Lodge, that whatever knowledge remains of the origin of Masonry is preserved and concealed.
Paine believed that Masonry had a different origin than is stated in the myths of the Craft. He promoted his own view that Freemasonry was derived from the remnants of the Druidic religion, which was the most recent culture to bear a line of mystical knowledge which also passed through the hands of the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and Chaldeans. And ultimately, according to Paine, Masonry was based on the worship of the heavens, and in particular, the Sun.
Paine claimed that the veil of secrecy which Masons worked under was in order to avoid persecution by the religion which took over the worship of the Sun – Christianity:
The natural source of secrecy is fear. When any new religion over-runs a former religion, the professors of the new become the persecutors of the old. We see this in all instances that history brings before us…when the Christian religion over-ran the religion of the Druids in Italy, ancient Gaul, Britain, and Ireland, the Druids became the subject of persecution. This would naturally and necessarily oblige such of them as remained attached to their original religion to meet in secret, and under the strongest injunctions of secrecy…from the remains of the religion of the Druids, thus preserved, arose the institution which, to avoid the name of Druid, took that of Mason, and practiced under this new name the rites and ceremonies of Druids.
Paine’s enmity against Christianity has meant that to a large extent, his role in the independence of the United States has been swept under the proverbial carpet. Theodore Roosevelt inaccurately called Paine “a dirty little atheist” (being a Deist, Paine actually did believe in a supreme being), and in 1925 Thomas Edison conceded that “if Paine had ceased his writings with The Rights of Man he would have been hailed today as one of the two or three outstanding figures of the Revolution…The Age of Reason cost him glory at the hands of his countrymen.”
We have seen that a number of the Founding Fathers of the United States were ambivalent, if not downright hostile, towards Christianity. A strong thread of Deism runs through the ranks of the influential personalities involved in America’s independence. But stronger still is the presence of Freemasonry. Not only were many of the Founding Fathers initiates of the Craft, but also numerous generals in the Continental Army, as well as other individuals who loom large in the drive for independence, such as the Frenchman Gilbert Lafayette.
This young idealistic French aristocrat took the position of Major-General in the Continental Army, with the request that he not be paid for his service, at the grand age of 19. His exemplary service for the fledgling United States earned him the respect of George Washington, whom he thereafter held as a life-long friend. Lafayette also spent time with Benjamin Franklin in Paris, where they were both members of the ‘ Nine Sisters’ Masonic lodge – in fact, each supported an arm of the aged Voltaire as he was inducted into the influential organization. Lafayette’s prominence in the Revolutionary War has led to approximately four hundred public places and streets in the United States being named after him. It is said that when American troops liberated Paris in the First World War, Colonel C. E. Stanton – on behalf of the U.S. General John Perching, a 33rd Degree Freemason – stood before Lafayette’s tomb on the 4th of July 1917, proclaiming “Lafayette, we are here!”
One of the legendary moments in the move towards independence was the ‘ Boston Tea Party’. On the night of the 16th of December 1773, a group of Boston locals protesting the importation of duty-free tea from the East India Tea Company, boarded the merchant ship Dartmouth and dumped its entire cargo of tea into the harbor. While devoid of bloodshed, this incident marked the beginning of the Revolution, as it ignited colonial passions against the strictures and impositions of the parliament of Great Britain. What is unknown to many is that at least twelve members of the local Masonic lodge were involved in the Boston Tea Party – including the patriot Paul Revere – and at least another twelve of the participants subsequently joined it.
Manly Hall’s The Secret Destiny of America claims that the creation of the United States was the prime goal of the ‘Order of the Quest’, a secret society composed of intellectuals and philosophers which had survived from ancient times. Hall says that the creation of the United States was a step towards the ultimate aim of a worldwide democracy:
All these groups [Knights of the Holy Grail, Christian and Jewish Cabalists, Rosicrucians, the Illuminati] belong to what is called The Order of the Quest. All were searching for one and the same thing under a variety of rituals and symbols. That one thing was a perfected social order, Plato’s commonwealth, the government of the philosopher-king.
It is difficult to reconcile this history with the modern mythology spread by American politicians and evangelists that the United States is a ‘chosen land’ for Christianity. In truth, its founders were largely non-Christian, indeed even anti-Christian, who took more from Freemasonry and Rosicrucian thinking than any other philosophy. At the heart of the founding of the United States was the deep and abiding desire to create a new land where the tyrannies of religion and government – such as the intolerance of opposing views – were largely kept in check. One wonders at how the Founding Fathers would evaulate their "grand project" at the beginning of the 21st century.