Anti-Masonry did not see a lot of growth during the era of the American Revolution. Colonists were, after all, preoccupied with other things. It is also a well-known fact that many Freemasons – George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock and a nearly endless list of others – supported the cause. Not only that, the Revolution was fought for liberty and equality, ideals that were consistent with those of the fraternity. The perceived secrecy added to the mystique of the order and most saw membership as a desirable enhancement to one's status.
Still, the same objections to the Craft that had always been there – suspicion of its secrecy, objections by organized religion, the perception of elitism, and rumors of conspiracies – continued to plague the Masons.
A few years after the American Revolution, the French Revolution came along and with it a complex relationship with Freemasonry. A number of factors including social inequality, financial problems due to the monarchy's extravagance, taxes, and the King's weak leadership led to public dissatisfaction culminating with the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789.
The Enlightenment, with its ideas about reason and individual rights appealed to the populace and was also a factor leading to its discontent. These same ideals promulgated by the Enlightenment, were not at all inconsistent with progressive Masonic thinking, leading many prominent Freemasons to support the revolution. Among these were the Marquis de Lafayette (1757-1834), Georges Danton (1759-1794), Jean Sylvain Bailly (1736-1793), Count Volney (1757-1820), and Comte de Mirabeau (1749-1791).
The end of the revolution became a tumultuous period now known as the French Reign of Terror, characterized by extreme repression. The Committee on Public Safety sprang up in order to deal with threats to the revolution and the newly-formed republic. Although formed to suppress counter-revolutionary forces and protect the revolution, the Reign of Terror soon devolved into a violent force using accusations of treason to settle personal conflicts.
Not all Freemasons supported the revolution, but many of them supported it initially until the violence of the Reign of Terror emerged. As such some of those same Masons who were supporters of the revolution were later declared its enemies. Danton and Bailly were both declared traitors and guillotined when they became disenchanted with the Committee's violent tactics. Mirabeau and Lafayette changed their views but escaped the wrath of the Reign of Terror. Pierre Samuel DuPont de Nemours (1739-1817), who also fell into this group, escaped the guillotine only because the head of the Reign of Terror, Maximilian Robespierre, was executed beforehand.1
Without the existence of definitive data, it is probably safe to assume Freemasons, more than not, supported both revolutions. In the case of the French Revolution, it is probable Masonic support did not extend to the Reign of Terror. In both cases, anti-Masonry may have been aligned with those in opposition to the revolutions or, later, part of Robespierre's terrorism.
1 Denslow, William, 10.000 Famous Freemasons, Volume IV Q-Z and supplement, Transactions of the Missouri Lodge of Research, Volume No. 17, 1960, © 1961, William R. Denslow, pp. 388-389
Bro. Steve Harrison, 33° is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships is the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master's Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35-year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.