By Den Ardinger
In the 233 years since George Washington became the first president of the United States in 1789, there have been 45 men to hold the office of President with Grover Cleveland holding the office twice. Of this group, 14 are known to have been Freemasons. George Washington was the first president to have been a Mason and Gerald R. Ford was the last.
The 1952 photograph below is commonly used to illustrate this strong attachment between the highest office in the land and Freemasonry but it needs some explaining. Although often referred to as Masons, no strong evidence has been found that connects either Thomas Jefferson or James Madison to a Lodge and no evidence has been found that they went through any Degrees. Additionally, the illustration needs updated to include Gerald R. Ford. Making these changes brings the total to a correct number of 14 presidents having been raised a Master Mason.
There have also been other presidents who have had an attachment to Freemasonry but never completed the three degrees. Lyndon B. Johnson, for example, was initiated an Entered Apprentice in Johnson City Lodge 561 but never went further. President Bill Clinton was a member of the Order of DeMolay as a young man but did not go on to become a Freemason. Additionally, President Ronald Reagan was made an “Honorary Freemason” but did not go through any of the three degrees.
Some of the presidents have been prominent Freemasons and were openly known to the public in this capacity. George Washington, for example, is commonly shown wearing his Masonic apron and took part in laying the cornerstone of the White House in a Masonic ceremony. He was initiated in Lodge 4 in Fredericksburg, VA in 1752 and was Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge 22 in 1788.
Andrew Jackson was a member of St. Tammany Lodge 1 in Nashville, TN and later served as Grand Master of Tennessee from 1822 to 1824.
James Buchanan was initiated in Lodge 43 in Lancaster, PA and was later appointed District Deputy Grand Master for Lancaster, Lebanon and York Counties in 1824.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was initiated in Holland Lodge 8 in New York City in 1911. He became Prophet-at-Sight in Tri-Po-Bed Grotto in 1931 and made Honorary Grand Master of the Order of DeMolay in 1934.
Harry S. Truman was initiated in 1909 in Belton Lodge 450 in Belton, MO. He became Worshipful Master of Grandview Lodge 618 in 1911 and was elected Grand Master of MO in 1941. In 1945 he received the 33rd Degree. He became Honorary Grand Master of the Order of DeMolay in 1959.
Gerald Ford was initiated in Malta Lodge 465 in Grand Rapids, MI in 1949. He was then Passed to Fellow Craft and Raised a Master Mason in Columbia Lodge 3 in Washington, D.C. In 1962, he received the 33rd Degree and was made Honorary Grand Master of the Order of DeMolay in 1975.
In addition to Presidents, Freemasonry has a long tradition among prominent American men including many of the founding fathers, Supreme Court Justices, Congressmen, and other men holding influential positions. It is a tradition and a heritage that we have long admired and will uphold far into the future of the Craft.
Credits: The photograph of Masonic Presidents of the United States of America is from the Harry S. Truman Library and Museum, Accession Number 58-11 with no copyright claim known