Masonic Monday – Cocked Hats, Cows, & Other Oddities: Presidents Who Were Freemasons – Part 1

Masonic Monday is a series that discusses a bit of Freemasonry each week, from famous members to strange rituals.

How many U.S. presidents have been Freemasons? Many people have heard about “all” of the presidents being members of the fraternity, but how many were there really? This week and next, we’ll find out.

Here are the first 8 U.S. presidents who were also Freemasons:

1. George Washington, the 1st president: I posted some fun facts about him previously. Washington was initiated as an Entered Apprentice Freemason at Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia on November 4, 1752 at age 20. He was raised a Master Mason on August 4, 1753. Washington later served at least 2 terms as Master of the Lodge, and he remained a Freemason in good standing his entire life.
Some of his Masonic paraphernalia may be seen at the museum in Washington Monument and at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. One of his two known Masonic aprons is on display at the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania museum.

2. “Last Cocked Hat,” James Monroe, the 5th president. Because cocked hats were the style during the Revolutionary War, one nickname for the Founding Fathers is “cocked hats;” and since Monroe was the last of the presidents who was a Founding Father, he is called “The Last Cocked Hat.” Monroe served in the Continental Army, attaining the rank of Major. Later, he was Secretary of War and Secretary of State (at the same time!) during the War of 1812. His political philosophy was, “The best form of government is that which is most likely to prevent the greatest sum of evil.”
Monroe was initiated as a Freemason on November 9, 1775 in Williamsburg Lodge No. 6 in Williamsburg, Virginia, while a student at the College of William and Mary. It is believed that his further degrees were taken in St. John’s Regimental Lodge in the Continental Army.


3. Andrew Jackson, the 7th president, was from a family of poor Irish immigrants. Both his parents and his brothers died while Jackson was a boy. With no one left at home, he left to join the Army at age 13, and is the only president who served in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Jackson was a tough, strict officer during the war of 1812; this, along as having strong, straight values, earned him the nickname “Old Hickory.”
Politics and scandal always seem to go together, but Jackson’s case was a little unusual. Two years after he married a divorcee with 11 children, it was discovered that her divorce had not been properly and legally finalized. Her (first) husband opened a new divorce proceeding, on grounds of her adultery. Rumors of adultery and bigamy followed Jackson through his political career.
In office, Jackson was the first – and last – president to pay off the national debt. He was also the first – but not the last – president to ride a train. His trip was 12 miles long, from Ellicott’s Mill to Baltimore in Maryland.
Washington had his dogs, and Andrew Jackson had a pet parrot named Poll. It could talk, but what it said was not worth hearing. When Jackson died, the bird screeched such obscenities to the mourners that it had to be removed from the funeral room.
Jackson is believed to have been initiated in St. Tammany Masonic Lodge #1 in Nashville, Tennessee around 1800, although those records have been lost. Record of his membership in Harmony Lodge #1 in 1805 is on file at the Grand Lodge of Tennessee, and he served as Grand Master of Tennessee in the early 1820s.

4. The 11th president, James Polk, was known as a workaholic. Polk described himself as the hardest-working man in Washington, and remarked, “No President who performs his duties faithfully and conscientiously can have any leisure.” His biographer Charles G. Sellers wrote that politics was Polk’s “whole life, aside from which he had no aspirations, intellectual interests, recreation, or even friendships.”
He did have a wife, however, and it was she who introduced the tradition of the annual White House Thanksgiving Dinner. No wine accompanied this, or any other dinner: Polk banned all types of alcohol from the White House. He also did not allow dancing.
Polk was initiated as a Freemason on June 5, 1820, in Columbia Lodge No. 31, Columbia, Tennessee. He assisted in the Masonic ceremony placing the cornerstone of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. on May 1, 1847.

5. James Buchanan, the 15th president, is the only bachelor ever to serve as president in the White House. A frugal man, Buchanan claimed that a working man could live on ten cents a day; this earned him the nickname “Ten-Cent Jimmie.”
Buchanan was often seen with his head cocked to one side and one eye closed. He did this because he was nearsighted in one eye, and farsighted in the other.
Buchanan became a Mason on December 1l, 1816, at Lodge No. 43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He served a year as Master of the Lodge in 1822-1823, and the following year was appointed as a District Deputy Grand Master.


6. Most of us know that Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin and was unable to get much schooling as a child. That was also the case for another President: Andrew Johnson, the 17th president. Johnson’s parents were illiterate, and he didn’t even learn to read until he met his wife. Before politics, Johnson was a tailor and a soldier. Although he never had a pet, he did feed a family of white mice that he found at the White House. In accordance with his wishes, when he died Johnson’s body was wrapped in a U.S. flag and a copy of the Constitution was placed under his head.
Johnson was initiated in Greenville Masonic Lodge No. 119, Greenville, Tennessee on May 5, 1851.

7. James Garfield, the 20th president, was also born in a log cabin. He was a very religious man, and was once a practicing preacher. Because of this, he was given the nickname “The Preacher President.”
Garfield was ambidextrous. He could even write fluent Greek with one hand and Latin with the other, simultaneously.
President for only 200 days (80 of those incapacitated), Garfield made just one executive order: he granted government workers the day of May 30, 1881, as a non-working day, so that they could spend that Decoration Day at the graves of those who died fighting in the Civil War.
Garfield was shot twice on his 120th day in office; doctors could not find one of the bullets, and the wound became infected. He died 80 days after being shot.
Garfield began his Masonic career on November 19, 1861, with his initiation into Magnolia Lodge, No. 20, Columbus, Ohio. Owing to Civil War duties, he did not receive the Third Degree until November 22, 1864 in Columbus Lodge No. 30, Columbus, Ohio. On October 10, 1866, he affiliated with Garrettsville Lodge No. 246, Garrettsville, Ohio, serving as its Chaplain in 1868-1869. Garfield then became a Charter Member of Pentalpha Lodge No. 23 of Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1869; in fact, he was one of the Petitioners for the Lodge Charter.

052614b Memorial_Day_no_1

8. Like Andrew Jackson, the 25th president, William McKinley, had a pet parrot. It was named Washington Post. Unlike Jackson’s profane bird, McKinley’s whistled “Yankee Doodle.”
McKinley loved red carnations. He kept a vase of them on his desk in the oval office, and often wore one in his buttonhole to bring him good luck. He wore one to a public reception at the Temple of Music in Buffalo, New York, in 1901, and gave it to a 12-year-old girl named Myrtle in the line. A few minutes later, a man in the line reached McKinley and shot him twice in the stomach. McKinley told his staff to call off the mob that was after the assassin, telling them, “Boys! Don’t let them hurt him!” McKinley died 8 days later from infection.


McKinley wearing a carnation

Come back next week for the rest of the Freemason Presidents.


One response to this post.

  1. […] Last week we learned some fun facts about 8 US presidents who were Freemasons. This week we’ll discuss the other 7 presidents who were Freemasons, and clear up some confusion on a few others. […]


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