“No Talking Politics!” - A Glance at Freemasonry and Politics

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Patrick Dey

At the end of last month Darin Lahners posted on this blog a post in which he says that Freemasonry is “supposed to be a refuge from Religion, Politics, and other sectarian subjects.” And that is the general opinion of brothers within our polite gentlemen’s society: that we should avoid talking about the three things that give our individual lives any value, meaning, or purpose: politics, religion, and sex. Now, while I commend Bro. Darin on his article, I do have to dispute the extent to which Masonry and politics have remained separate, if they have ever been separate, and if they even can be separate.

Freemasonry and politics walk hand-in-hand, almost since its origins as a social club, and really long before that. For instance, the old guild system was an economic system, which means it was by extension a political arm of social-economic policies. Guilds were government sanctioned monopolies. To be, say a baker, and practice in a commercial capacity, you had to be part of the bakers guild. Sure, you could bake at home for your family, but if you wanted to bake and sell bread, you had to contend with the guild, who had the blessing of the king, governor, or whomever has granted them the monopoly. Guilds had patrons, usually an aristocrat who had a vested interest in the commercial work of the guild. For instance, if one owned a silver mine, they would be a patron of the silversmith guild. The patron would lend his political influence to curry favors for the guild from the king or governor, and likewise would help enforce regulations the king has mandated upon a guild, which also ensures his commercial interests in the work of that guild. Such was a matter of public health and safety, maintained quality of production, et cetera. So long before Freemasonry emerges from the stonemason guilds as a symbolic gentlemen’s club, it was already a political organization.

As laissez-faire capitalism emerges, and soon thereafter communism, the guilds as the dominant politico-economic system begins to wane. It is these two opposing economic systems that effectively kill the guilds, as both were equally in opposition to the guilds as they were to each other. Yet, more and more non-operative Masons were still joining the remnants of the stonemason guilds, effectively as patrons. And like the old patrons, though they may not have had a commercial interest in stonemasonry, they were nearly all aristocrats, the likes of which include Sir Robert Moray (initiated in 1641) and Alias Ashmole (initiated in 1646). These gentlemen appear to have used Symbolic Masonry as a private club to rub shoulders and advance scientific and philosophical agendas in a socio-political capacity, and such political ideologies would continue on into the formation of the Premier Grand Lodge of England in 1717.

One need only look at the driving personalities behind the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, as well as the relationship many of these men had to preceding events in England to see the politics embedded in Freemasonry from its very start.

Ric Berman traces the politics behind the formation of the Grand Lodge of England in several of his books (e.g. Inventing the Future, his Prestonian lecture, et al), which I will outline here using his work. As Protestantism spread and gained followers in the 16th and 17th centuries, especially in France, Catholics grew increasingly belligerent toward them. Hundreds of thousands of French Huguenots were massacred over the course of two centuries by French Catholic Kings. One need only look at St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572 or the Dragonnades implemented under King Louis XIV to see how terribly Huguenots were treated: theft, rape, torture, murdered… absolutely awful. And over the course of these two centuries the Huguenots would trickle out of France into Germany, Switzerland, North Africa, and most popularly to England. Then in 1685 the last vestige of protection any French Protestant had was revoked by King Louis, and that previous trickle turned into a flood of mass migration of Protestants. And England was very sympathetic to their plight, providing asylum, charitable funds to support them, opportunities for work, et cetera. It is estimated that post-1865 the population of London was 10% Huguenot.

And why wouldn’t England be accommodating to them? They had spent decades trying to get rid of Catholic rulers. And with George I and James Stewart contending for the throne, it became dire for England to keep James from assuming the throne, and thus George I of the House of Hanover became King. There was a serious threat that James would attempt to seize the throne, and he did try, several times, and France, Rome, and Spain all supported him. Over the years a number of Jacobite uprisings occurred to attempt to dethrone George I, but all failed. Had James seized the throne, all those Huguenots that sought asylum in England would have entered into the same predicament they were in previously.

The personalities behind the formation of the Grand Lodge of England were all aristocratic (with the exception of Anthony Sayer, the first Grand Master). They were noblemen with high-ranking titles, advocated pro-Enlightenment philosophy and scientific pursuits, Protestant, and pro-Hanoverian. Jean Theophilius Desaguliers, the third Grand Master, was the son of a Huguenot refugee from France. He grew up poor, his father working for a church in North London, which did not include a salary, but a stipend provided to all the workers for the amount of service they provided, which they split collectively. But Desaguliers becomes wealthy and greatly respected, rising through the ranks rapidly in a way that was almost unprecedented prior to the Huguenot migration.

All the Grand Masters for the first few decades were pro-Hanoverian. That is, they supported Enlightenment ideologies, they promoted meritocracy for social advancement rather than a rigid class system in which there was next to no social mobility; they championed freedom of religion, which was unheard of in its time; they promoted equal rights within governance, such as each man gets a vote and each vote is equal, regardless of social standing. And they provided a social club that would permit such to be implemented. As long as you could afford to pay your dues as a Freemason, you could practice whatever religion you wanted, and it allowed for a simple laborer to have as much right to become Worshipful Master of a lodge as a duke or lord, and that both had the same value in their votes.

This was wildly unheard of. It was truly radical, and deeply political. We might put this on par with, say, a lodge in South Carolina admitting a person of color into their lodge, or any lodge anywhere admitting a transgender or gender-non-conforming person into Masonry. Sure, today we look at Article I of the Constitutions of Free-Masons (1723) and think: “Oh yes, they were wise and ahead of their time.” No, they were absolutely radical. I’m certain there were Masons at the time who were saying: “Keep politics out of the Lodge!” when the Constitutions was published in 1723. And as a note, while we are not totally certain, most scholars firmly believe that Desaguliers was the author of the Charges.

Then look at Article II of the Charges, which specifically states that Masons maintain a “peaceable” subservience to the government, but there is still no problem with a Mason being rebellious toward his government: “So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State, he is not to be countenanc’d in his Rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy Man; and if convicted of no other Crime, though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.”

Let’s put that into perspective. I remember during the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020 there were a lot of brothers I heard advocating for the expulsion of any Mason who participated in those protests. Every Grand Master in the United States issued a formal letter condemning the violence at those protests, and yet, only two Grand Masters formally condemned the violent actions of the insurrectionists on January 6, 2021, and likewise the same brothers calling for the expulsion of BLM protestors were suddenly very quiet on January 6. Double-standards aside, and explicit political biases aside as well, in either instances, so long as a brother did not actually commit a crime, or least was never charged and found guilty of a crime, then no action should be taken against him in the Masonic fraternity, at least according to Desaguliers, Anderson, etc. A brother may have supported the Black Lives Matter movement, or even supported the violence on the Capitol while Congress was in session, but unless he actually did anything, his political opinion is not chargeable. Sure, he may be regarded as an “unhappy man” and all Masons should “disown his rebellion,” but nothing else could be done. It is wild to me, personally, that both rebellions could be weighed the same by Masons, and yet the framers of the Constitutions of 1723 would have seen it exactly like that.

This would be like the Premier Grand Lodge of England permitting a Catholic supporter of James Stewart to become Grand Master… and they did. Philip Wharton, the First Duke of Wharton, was just such a person. Where everyone else was Protestant and pro-Hanoverian, when the Duke of Montagu stepped down as Grand Master, the Duke of Wharton stepped up. He had long been placated by the King and the high-ranking aristocracy, being given titles and lordships to subdue his passions as a Jacobite and win his loyalty to the King. He was also a wildcard, likely being a libertine, and certainly indulging in transgressive and immoral activities. He was even the founder of the original Hellfire Club. However, soon Masons grew tired of his Jacobite rhetoric, and his Deputy Grand Master, Desaguliers, would push him to step down from Mastership. Mind you, at the time, there were still ongoing Jacobite revolts and they were real threats to the Throne of England. We might put this on par with a member of Al Qaeda becoming a Grand Master… and then only urging him to stepdown as Grand Master and no further action taken against him, so long as he was not actually engaged in any crimes. Yep. All anyone can say is: “Booooooooooo!”

It is easy for us look back at the politics of the early Grand Lodge of England and see it as mere “history.” We don’t see all this as deeply political, or even radically political, but it was. We lose sight of the implications of these things because they happened in England a long time ago. Yet, even as history marches forward, we will see again and again Freemasonry intwined with politics.

Freemasonry is a social club, and thus is typically a reflection of the larger socio-political climate it is situated within. I could probably do a second part to this piece to further elaborate, and I probably should, but for now, I will leave it at this. We could deeply explore the politics behind various anti-fraternization policies of Grand Lodges during the American Civil War, as well as how many brothers chose to ignore those policies (and just as many followed them). I have previously explored on the Whence Came You? podcast how most Freemasons and Grand Lodges in Germany renounced Freemasonry and signed up with the Third Reich when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany… a reality that is very contrary to the feel-good narrative we are fed about the origin of the Forget-Me-Not. Heck, even today, I have wondered how the Grand Master of Russia could run against Putin for President and not end up going missing (it has been rumored that the two are very close friends and that Putin actually has some influence over how Freemasons conduct themselves politically in Russia). We could look at how Freemasons have committed treason together (e.g. Boston Tea Party) as well as build a nation and even form states (e.g. it is well known that Freemasons had a huge and mighty hand in the formation of the State of Colorado).

Time and time again we will find that Freemasonry is very political, or at least politics and Freemasonry often walk hand-in-hand, no matter how much we say otherwise. The larger issue isn’t that we need to keep politics out of the Lodge or that our fractured political climate in the United States is bleeding over into the Lodge. No, the bigger issue is that we are confusing our patriotism with our politics.

We know we have a deeply divided political climate in this country. The issue has become that one side of the political aisle thinks their politics is “patriotic” and thus the other side are seditious bastards. Each side thinks their party is correct and walking with God, so the other side is wrong, and therefore we are the patriotic side
. If being antisemitic is the policy of one side, then the other side that says, “Hey maybe we don’t exterminate Jewish people,” then the former will claim that any favor extended to Jewish people is unpatriotic... and horrible things tend to follow shortly thereafter, historically speaking. Swap “Jewish” with “transgender” and the same point stands. Frame the same scenario with gun laws and suddenly one side is full of terrorists that want to rip this country apart! (See how I kept that example vague, and you already think it fits your point of view?)

It's not that politics in Masonry is dangerous. It’s how far sideways political identity has tipped. Bro. Darin’s original point in his post still stands: a lack of thinking, a total lack of reason in guiding our political understandings, a complete lack of original rhetoric in how we understand how we live and make policies together, has led to a decay in how politics can ever be appropriate within Masonry. Thus, what we are left with is left or right-wing soundbites regurgitated as if original, but ultimately is a lot of “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” This is when politics in Masonry becomes dangerous: when politics can’t be a part of Masonry.



Patrick M. Dey is a Past Master of Nevada Lodge No. 4 in the ghost town of Nevadaville, Colorado, and currently serves as their Secretary, and is also a Past Master of Research Lodge of Colorado. He is a Past High Priest of Keystone Chapter No. 8, Past Illustrious Master of Hiram Council No. 7, Past Commander of Flatirons Commandery No. 7, and serves as the Secretary-Recorder of all three. He currently serves as the Exponent (Suffragan) of Colorado College, SRICF of which he is VIII Grade (Magister), and is a member of Gofannin Council No. 315 AMD and Kincora Council No. 8 Knight Masons. He is a facilitator for the Masonic Legacy Society, is the Editor of the Rocky Mountain Mason magazine, serves on the Board of Directors of the Grand Lodge of Colorado’s Library and Museum Association, and is the Deputy Grand Bartender of the Grand Lodge of Colorado (an ad hoc, joke position he is very proud to hold). He holds a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Colorado, Denver, and works in the field of architecture in Denver, where he resides with wife and son.

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