Historical Accuracy

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
RWB. Michael H. Shirley
I’m a bit obsessive about accuracy in historical writing, and have been known to get testy when writers are careless with their facts. That’s an occupational hazard of an historian, to be sure, and one common to most people who care about history. I know it’s true of  Todd Creason, and it was true of a Mason more eminent and historically knowledgeable than both of us combined: Harry S. Truman. He was a stickler for accuracy, and one little known anecdote illustrates the importance he placed on getting things right.

In 1942, in the midst of the Second World War, when he was far busier than it seems possible to credit, Truman took the time to write to a publisher of a Masonic history about that publisher’s treatment of Andrew Jackson:

“I notice where you say that Andrew Jackson received his degrees at Greenville Lodge, Greenville, Tennessee in 1851. Andrew Jackson was Grand Master of Tennessee long before that, and it is not known exactly where he received his degrees, but it is recorded that he received them in North Carolina.

He was born in 1767. You gave the date of his birth in 1808, and the place Raleigh, North Carolina. He was born in Wax Haws, and it is doubtful whether he was born north or south of the State line. There has always been a controversy between North and South Carolina about the location of the State line at the time of his birth. I don’t know where you got those figures, but you certainly ought to make a correction on them.

For your further information, if my dates are correct, Andrew Jackson died in 1845, so he couldn’t possibly have received his degrees in 1851.”

As President Truman later and famously said, “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them and they think it’s Hell.” Past Grand Master Truman seems to have done the same thing, and, while some might think it was a small matter, he would doubtless have disagreed. After all, he was a good historian. 


R.W.B. Michael H. Shirley serves the Grand Lodge of Illinois, A.F. & A.M, as Leadership Development Chairman and Assistant Area Deputy Grand Master of the Eastern Area. A Certified Lodge Instructor, he is a Past Master and Life Member of Tuscola Lodge No. 332 and a plural member of Island City Lodge No. 330, F & AM, in Minocqua, Wisconsin. He currently serves the Valley of Danville, AASR, as Most Wise Master of the George E. Burow Chapter of Rose Croix; he is also a member of the Illinois Lodge of Research, the York Rite, Eastern Illinois Council No. 356 Allied Masonic Degrees, Eastern Star, Illini High Twelve, and the Tall Cedars of Lebanon. The author of several articles on British history, he teaches at Eastern Illinois University.You can contact him at: m.h.shirley@gmail.com

1 comment:

  1. Here's a link to an interesting little article about MWB Harry Truman (or just Bro. Harry as the article said he liked being called) that appeared in the March/April, 2015 of the "Scottish Rite Journal. http://pubs.royle.com/display_article.php?id=1930170&id_issue=246186