FreemasonryToday, apart from their occasional appearance in a Monty Python sketch, or the popular theory that Jack the Ripper was one, Masons pass unnoticed by the general public. But this wasn't always so.
In 1827, the United States witnessed the birth of a third political party. This had never happened before. The new party offered America its first alternative to the two dominant political groups. Like so many third parties to come, this one had a rather narrowly-focused platform. It was dedicated to countering the malevolent and subversive influence of the international cabal known to the world as Freemasonry. It was named the Anti-Masonic Party, and the Anti-Masons were well aware that theirs was an uphill battle.
America's first President, George Washington, had been a Mason. So were many other Founding Fathers, including Ethan Allen, John Paul Jones, Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Benjamin Franklin. Eight of the 56 signatures on the Declaration of Independence belonged to avowed Masons, as well as nine on the Constitution.
In 1832, the Anti-Masonic Party managed to elect Millard Fillmore to Congress, but their candidate for President received only seven votes in the Electoral College. He was crushed by Andrew Jackson... who was a Mason.
Freemasons claim that their group dates back to the stonemason guilds of the Middle Ages, some even say it reaches back to the building of King Solomon's Temple in 850 B.C. No one really believes that. It was actually founded in 1717 by a bunch of affluent Englishmen with too much time on their hands. The organization flourished and spread rapidly throughout the British empire; Masonic lodges appeared in the American colonies as early as the 1730s. A separate strain later popped up in France and swept across Europe.
It was a fraternity of sorts, attracting the community's best and brightest. They would gather together for strange and secret rituals, swearing oaths of allegiance to the brotherhood and each other. Naturally, it became a place for negotiating business deals and the exchange of gossip. The fraternity was soon a major power center in any large city, and the international network of lodges constituted an immense, wealthy, and well-connected supragovernmental organization.
As such, it took almost no time at all for the the backlash to begin. The Roman Catholic church was officially opposed to the group ever since 1738, when Pope Clement XII condemned Freemasonry and banned it from his faith. Catholics were forbidden from joining, under pain of excommunication. In 1825, Leo XII reiterated the ban and declared it to be permanent and everlasting. In 1884, Leo XIII called on each member of the clergy to get the word out and help defeat this insidious foe:
We pray and beseech you, venerable brethren, to join your efforts with Ours, and earnestly to strive for the extirpation of this foul plague, which is creeping through the veins of the body politic. [...] We wish it to be your rule first of all to tear away the mask from Freemasonry, and to let it be seen as it really is; and by sermons and pastoral letters to instruct the people as to the artifices used by societies of this kind in seducing men and enticing them into their ranks, and as to the depravity of their opinions and the wickedness of their acts.
In his encyclical, Leo pointed out that the Masons were in cahoots with the Socialists and Communists. Quizzically, he omitted the Jews. Perhaps it escaped his mind. Leo also referred to the fact that Masons believed in such demonic notions as democracy, free elections, the rule of law, and the separation of church and state.
This opposition to Freemasonry persisted into the 20th century. Pope Pius XII hated them.
Freemasons suffered harshly in Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler firmly believed that they had been completely subverted by the Jews, as described in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. As he explained in his bestselling autobiography Mein Kampf, the Masons had been subverted to provide a mask of legitimacy for the diabolical Jew:
[I]n Freemasonry, which has succumbed to him completely, he has an excellent instrument with which to fight for his aims and put them across. The governing circles and the higher strata of the political and economic bourgeoisie are brought into his nets by the strings of Freemasonry, and never need to suspect what is happening.
Accordingly, the Nazis made it one of their top priorities to uproot the organization. The government seized Masonic temples, jailed their membership, and otherwise made life very difficult for anybody attached to the group. In fact, it was Adolf Eichmann's first assignment in the SS to track the activities of suspected Masons.
When a new member joins, his initial ranks in the organization are referred to the Blue Lodge. This culminates in the designation of "Master Mason." At which point, the newly-minted Mason faces a choice: pursue either the Scottish Rite or the York Rite. Men who choose the York Rite eventually have the option of joining the Knights Templar.
Why They Are Hated And FearedBut why do the Masons have so many enemies? Historically, the group has been attacked for a variety of reasons.
Contributing to the sinister reputation are all of their freaky ceremonies. The Masons are very proud of their rituals, which have been copied innumerable times.
One longstanding sore point for the Masons has been the plagiarization of Masonic ceremonies and symbology by Joseph Smith for his religious cult known as the Mormon Church. Smith was inducted into the brotherhood in March 1842. In May he produced the Endowment ceremony, which borrowed whole sections of dialogue from the Masonic ritual. This pissed off a lot of Freemasons, to say the least. Like every Mason, Smith had been required to swear an oath never to reveal the secrets of Freemasonry to non-members, under pain of death. Oh well. Evidently tired of taking crap from the Masons, the Mormons finally excised the offending elements from their ceremony in 1990.
One prominent 19th century Mason was Albert Pike. He was an officer in the Confederate army during the Civil War, who later went on to become a big deal in Freemasonry. He wrote seminal books which are still read today by the Freemasons.
He was also evidently a big fat racist, writing editorials in his newspaper inveighing against the Negroes and so forth. It is widely-believed but poorly documented that Pike might have been one of the original founders of the Ku Klux Klan. The Masons vehemently deny this, of course.