On Presidents Day we think mostly of George Washington, whose birthday we used to celebrate by scarfing cherry pie (he didn’t tell a lie) on 22 February until his own personal holiday a) became subject to the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Bill and then b) got transformed in 1971 into Presidents Day to honor both Washington and Abraham Lincoln, whose birthday is February 12th.
In California the holiday is spelled Presidents’ Day (apostrophe after the s) to honor all U.S. presidents.
But for the sake of this column let’s stick with “The Father of His Country” who was an ardent Freemason, inducted at age 21 on the 4th of November 1752 into Masonic Lodge No. 4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Benjamin Franklin, who helped draft the Declaration of Independence, was a founding member of the first American Freemason lodge in 1730, two years before George Washington was born. The Boston Tea Party saboteurs who sparked the inciting incident of the Revolutionary War were Masons, along with Paul Revere, famous for sounding the alarm when the Redcoats came. Moreover, all 33 of Washington’s generals were Freemasons. The number itself is interesting because of its many mystical meanings, not least the Masonic 33rd Degree, reputed to be the highest level one may attain in that secret society’s hierarchy.
French historian Bernard Fay saw Freemasonry as “the spiritual father of political revolutions” in France and the colonies. And Sidney Morse, a 19th century American journalist, reported that “Masonry brought together in secret and trustful conference the patriot leaders.” Freemasons, he wrote, “dominated the Continental Congress.”
Although George Washington never actually lived In his namesake city, as president he and his Masonic architects designed the “Federal City” in accordance with Masonic code and utilizing Masonic ceremony, ritual and regalia for laying cornerstones. Which of course is what Masons do: They cut stones and build secret chambers—and use a bunch of quirky handshakes to recognize one another for gaining entry.
U.S. Presidents who doubled as Masons include Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt (FDR), Andrew Jackson, Harry Truman and Gerald Ford. It was FDR who added the Masonic pyramid with all seeing eye to the iconic one dollar bill which, when Washington’s countenance first appeared on it in 1869, could buy $21.82 worth of goods or services in today’s money.
THE SOCIETY OF THE CINCINNATI
Our first president was also a founding member (and president general) of another fraternal order, The Society of the Cincinnati, named after Roman statesman Lucius Cincinnatus, who relinquished dictatorial control not once but twice (in 458 BC and 439 BC) in favor of returning to his farm.
George admired such humility and surprised his own countrymen by following Lucius’s example not only for his refusal to be crowned king after defeating the British but also his unwillingness to seek a third term as President and instead return to a private life at his beloved Mount Vernon. Washington was apparently concerned that if he were to die in office his successors might come away with the erroneous assumption that their election could be stretched into a lifetime appointment.
When news of Washington’s retirement reached England’s King George III, from whom our American Cincinnatus wrestled the colonies, the astounded king is reputed to have said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
And even in his madness (schizophrenia from porphyria), Georgy-Porgy was right.
Washington took his Masonic membership as seriously as the new country he presided over and even wrote up 110 Rules For Freemasons in Life and Lodge, transcribed from maxims originally created by 16th century French Jesuit priests—perhaps one of the earliest self-improvement manuals.
To celebrate and honor George Washington this weekend, we present a handful of these aphorisms:
‘”Tis better to be alone than in bad company.”
There is a vast difference between being alone and aloneness. The former is sad, the latter, heavenly—especially if company would be nuts and dolts.
“Be not angry at the table whatever happens.”
Worth bearing in mind at Thanksgiving.
“Read no letters books or papers in company.”
In today’s world, there goes your smart phone; best powered off and out of sight. (Good luck with that; we’ve all been hypnotized and the Millennials, Gen Zs and Gen Alphas cannot go five minutes without checking for texts and email, present company be ignored.)
“Spit not in the fire, nor put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire especially if there be meat before it.”
Hmm. Times have certainly changed.
“Entertaining anyone at the table, it is decent to present him with meat.”
And if her and not him, a vegan dish?
“If you soak bread in the sauce, let it be no more than what you put in your mouth.”
More succinctly, no dribbling.
Addressing the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts in 1793, Washington defined the objective of Masonry: “To promote the happiness of the human race.”
According to the World Happiness Report, the United States ranks only 19th in happiness, behind all Scandinavian countries, the UK, Ireland, Costa Rica and a dozen others.
Which means that lodges in the USA are on the wane and need to step up their efforts.
The secret of Washington’s Revolutionary War victory lay in his mastery of the craft of intelligence, taught to him by French deserters and Native Americans, on whose side he fought for the Brits against France during the French and Indian War.
Thus, early into the war Washington created the Culper Spy Ring for espionage against the redcoats, who had sacked and then occupied New York City. In the codebook of Washington’s spymaster, Benjamin Tallmadge (a Freemason, of course), Washington’s codename/number was 711.
(If you’ve ever wondered how 7-Eleven got its name, maybe there’s a Masonic connection to consider—thus hatching a new conspiracy theory.)
Washington is also remembered by his Farewell Address to the Nation, in which the retiring president made three important (if lately forgotten) points:
One: Unity. Focus on common interests rather than differences.
Two: Loyalty to political party over country is the worst enemy.
Three: “Steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world” as a means of staving off “foreign influence and corruption.”
If alive today to witness the trifecta contravention of his message, not to mention the diminished influence of Freemasonry (and diminished happiness), George would probably not have a very happy birthday.
And the painful dentures he wore (not wooden as popular lore suggests but crafted from donkey teeth) would likely preclude him from blowing out 291 candles.
Saint Barbara is the patron saint of bricklayers and masons so it is entirely appropriate that Freemasonry should have a presence here—and it does: Masonic Lodge #192, founded in 1868.
Members have included such distinguished Santa Barbarians as “Worshipful Master” John Stearns (of Stearns Wharf fame), Dr. William Sansum (Sansum Clinic), Dwight Murphy (father of Old Spanish Days Fiesta) and Thomas Storke, who in addition to establishing Santa Barbara Airport and building Lake Cachuma as SB’s main source of water, founded this esteemed newspaper.
Even SB’s Earl Warren Showgrounds is named after “Worshipful” Earl Warren.
Sadly, this Lodge’s glory days are over. Laments a member, “Only around 40 Masons attend meetings—a far cry from when SB had three lodges and 600 members.”
And maybe that’s why everything has gone to hell in a handbasket.
Full disclosure: My maternal grandfather, Edward Stanley, was a Freemason. My mother, who gifted me his Masonic ring, once told me her father was devoted to his Lodge; that when he was buried in 1959 fellow Freemasons provided him a most dignified and heartfelt sendoff.
FREEMASONS IN FRANCE & MONACO
It is unfortunate the same benevolence does not extend to Masons in France and Monaco.
When I was Prince Albert of Monaco’s intelligence chief he expressed concern to me about Masonic influence in his principality’s government and police department, having heard that promotions were based not on merit but on Masonic membership. He asked our service to investigate.
What we discovered was very troubling. As Monaco did not have a Masonic Lodge, the problem emanated from France because many of Monaco’s ministers were French and Monegasques are not allowed to be police officers (a long standing law), so all police were French.
We quickly learned through our spy-net that the Masonic brotherhood have a very tight control over the French legal and judicial systems—and those in Monaco by extension.
There are three Masonic Lodges in France: Grande Loge Nationale Francaise (GLNF), Grande Loge de Francaise (GLF) and Grand Orient de Francaise (GO).
Both GLF and GO operate in southern France and have been corrupt for decades, the latter believed to have been completely overtaken by organized crime. Only GLNF is associated with the Great United Lodge of Britain, the other two considered “irregular.” GLNF concentrated on philosophical matters while GLF and GO with social matters, though all gained reputations for being “affairiste” i.e. becoming involved with corrupt business practices.
But it was particularly in the south (GO and GLF) where influence trafficking, false invoicing, creation of fictitious employees and similar matters had been rife, particularly in companies controlled by the state. Freemasons then hampered investigations by the judiciary, which they heavily penetrated and utilized a number of bureaucratic measures they could take to torpedo any serious attempt at reform or prosecution fellow Masons: “Routine” inspections, internal investigations and reassignments. Further, these measures taken at the local or regional level were often supported or generated at the Paris level by Freemasons in positions of great importance.
Even though we made Prince Albert aware of our findings, he inexplicably did something his father, Prince Rainier III, had vehemently resisted throughout his 56-year reign: He allowed the Freemasons to create a Lodge in Monaco.
It made no sense, given his original concern.
But so much of what Albert has done as sovereign makes no sense.
All the various factions of Monaco (corrupt ministers and courtiers, mafias) have—to the detriment of the principality—been able to thoroughly exploit the prince’s innate weaknesses.