Review of Freemasonry

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Bro. Jack Buta

A war hero, an exceptional Freemason, and one of the founders of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite.
by W. Bro. Jack Buta MPS
PM Paradise Valley Silver Trowel Lodge #29
Arizona Grand Lodge, USA
32 degree Scottish Rite Mason

Alexandre François Auguste de Grasse-Tilly

            In 1801 eleven Freemasons in Charleston South Carolina founded a 33° system of Masonry known as the Scottish Rite. Most of the degrees had their origin in the Jacobite lodges in France and the Rite would return to France in 1804 under the care of one of the most remarkable and least known of its founders, Alexandre Francois Auguste Comte de Grasse.

            The Comte de Grasse was about to establish the Rite so firmly in Western Europe that more than 200 years later it is still the most prevalent form of Freemasonry on the continent. To understand how he was able to do it you must first understand the kind of man he was.

            He was the son of a heroic admiral, Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse who was born in 1722. At the tender age of eleven Francois entered the Order of Malta working as a page for the Grand Master. By the time he was twelve, de Grasse had become an officer working on the Galleys of the Knights Hospitaller and six years later joined the French Navy. However, his place in history lay some 40 years later and 3,000 mile west of his native France.

            In 1776, the French Navy was assigned to assist the American cause against the British.   In 1781, with General Washington facing defeat at the hands of Lord Cornwallis, de Grasse sailed into the Chesapeake Bay with 3,000 men and destroyed the British fleet decisively turning the battle in favor of the Americans and ensuring the independence of the young republic.  

            Unfortunately for the Admiral fate had a bitter blow in store for him. In April, 1782, shortly after capturing the Island of St. Kitts he was engaged by Admiral Rodney in what was to become known as the Battle of the Saints. The battle lasted from sun-up to sun down. Just two hours into the battle the French commander, Bougainville suffered hits to his ship and pulled his squadron out of the battle leaving de Grasse badly outnumbered. By nightfall it was over and de Grasse was a prisoner on his way to England. Upon his release, Comte de Grasse contended that the battle was lost due to negligence on the part of Bougainville. A Council of War, influenced by the King’s close relations with Bougainville, charged de Grasse with sending unclear signals and Bougainville for not conveying orders received to his squadron. De Grasse was banished to his country estate where he demanded a new trial. The Minister of Marine, in acknowledging the receipt of his protest, replied in the name of the king: "His Majesty, dissatisfied with your conduct in this respect, forbids you to present yourself before him".  It would take two years for the Admiral to be cleared of any wrongdoing. Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse died on 11 January, 1788.

            Alexandre had worshiped his father and for the rest of his life fought to restore the family’s name and reputation. He wrote to George Washington informing him of the Admiral’s death and requested permission to wear his father’s Eagle of the Cincinnatus, representing his fight for the republic. Washington though sympathetic, politely had to turn him down. It would be 1796 before de Grasse gained admittance to the society.

             De Grasse sailed to Haiti in 1789 arriving just as the French Revolution began back home. No sooner had he arrived when a war of insurrection began and de Grasse was promoted to the rank of Colonel at the age of 23.  Unfortunately, the war went against the French. Four years later, in 1793 the new Comte de Grasse was forced to flee to Charleston with his wife, daughter, and father-in-law, the soon to be co-founder of the Scottish Rite, Jean Baptiste Delahogue. Like father, like son, de Grasse did not suffer his defeat easily. During the next six years he became an American Citizen and became an active Mason but he kept his military skills honed by teaching fencing and artillery to the youth of the city.

            By 1799 news of the arrival from France of General Hedouville in Haiti reached de Grasse and he volunteered his services and immediately set sail for the island.  On his arrival in Santo Domingo he was informed that the General had been driven off the island and de Grasse was taken captive and cast into prison shackled hand and foot. Only the intervention of the American Consul prevented his death and he was released on the condition he return directly to Charleston.  

            The average man would have given up at this point but de Grasse was not average and he left no doubt in the minds of those who knew him that he was only marking time until he could get back into the war. That attitude is reflected in the words of the Supreme Council’s manifesto of February 21, 1802 wherein de Grasse was appointed the Grand Inspector General and Grand Commander of the French West Indies with his father-in-law serving as Deputy. Within 30 days de Grasse now under orders from General Leclerc and sailed for Haiti once more.

            De Grasse’s heroism under fire was recognized by Leclerc who appointed him to the general staff of the Army shortly before the General died in November. De Grasse’s letters to his friend General Pierre Quentin mentions that despite the war he is still very active in the Rite. He renewed his friendship with his father’s old ally General Rochambeau and was accepted by all the generals in the campaign. His health deteriorated but de Grasse refused to leave Haiti.

            The war in Haiti ended for the French in late 1803. de Grasse was a prisoner once more. He was shipped to Jamaica, released, returned briefly to Charleston and set sail for France to continue his military service under Napoleon Bonaparte. He was received with honors and promoted to aide-de-camp of Marshal Kellermann, one of Napoleon’s ablest and most loyal Generals, who would be at Napoleon’s side until Waterloo. Undoubtedly the general’s heroic aide-de-camp did not escape Napoleon’s attention and brings us to the point of all this. 

            De Grasse arrived in France on July, 4th and by September 22nd he had already established the Supreme Council of France. In a few months he would be in Germany with Kellermann where he would be cited for bravery and devotion to duty in Strasbourg.

So, how is it possible that the Scottish Rite could become so popular without anyone to promote its cause?  The answer to that question might be found in the activities of the Scottish Rite’s main opponent and chief architect of the rebirth of the Grand Orient, Roettiers de Montaleau.

             By 1796 the Reign of Terror had run its course. Roettiers de Montaleau, the PGM of the Grand Orient, newly released from prison began to pick up the pieces. Both the Grand Orient and the Grand Lodge of France had been dormant since very early in the revolution. The Grand Lodge suffered the worst due to the fact its Masters were Perpetual and if a Master of one of its Lodges had been killed or fled the country then their Lodge was extinct. After the revolution there were not enough Masters left to reconstitute the Grand Lodge. Montaleau used this fact in a year long campaign to merge the Grand Lodge into the Grand Orient in order to save it from dying. Once the Grand Lodge was made part of the Grand Orient Montaleau changed the constitution to do away with perpetual Masters and replace them with 9 year terms of office. In one simple move he had eliminated his major competition but many of the Scots orders were not ready to concede the field to the Grand Orient. One Scots Master Mason named Anton Firmin Abraham published a Masonic paper called the Mirror and in 1806 would publish a very interesting article which we will examine later on.

            By 1803 The Grand Orient decided to install two sets of officers, one set which did the actual work, and one set of ‘honorary’ officers which consisted of highly placed Military and State officials.  By taking this action the Grand Orient was able to benefit from the wave of Nationalism sweeping the country.

            When de Grasse returned to France in 1804 the Grand Orient was the dominating force in French Freemasonry.  He immediately went to work establishing a Supreme Council within a few months of his arrival drawing every disaffected Scots Mason in France to his cause. His position improved when the Scots Philosophic Rite granted de Grasse the use of their temple as his headquarters.

            On October 22nd 1804 de Grasse formed a second Grand Lodge to counter the Grand Orient. The new body was called the ‘Grand Loge General Ecossaise’.  De Grasse even arranged to have Prince Louis Bonaparte accept a position as its Grand Master.

            The Grand Orient responded by petitioning two other members of the Imperial Family to accept top positions in the Grand Orient.

            At this point, the Emperor himself stepped in to mediate a settlement.    Four commissioners were selected; De Grasse’s boss Marshal Kellermann represented the Scots masons assisted by Pyron while fellow Marshal and friend Massena represented the Grand Orient assisted by Montaleau. Since all four commissioners were also officers of the Grand Orient it would seem that the resulting solution would favor the Grand Orient but Pyron was one of De Grasse’s strongest supporters and things did not come out as expected. The end result was that de Grasse and Montaleau each took oaths of fealty in both bodies but the imperial mediated treaty would fall apart shortly after de Grasse and Kellermann left France for Germany.

            With so many of the Imperial family and almost all of the Marshals becoming Freemasons it became the fashion for everyone who wished to please the emperor to become a Mason. The only person of authority in France who was not a mason was Napoleon; or was he?

            The most persuasive argument against Napoleon being a Freemason is a total lack of evidence of his initiation into any Masonic lodge. However when you consider that he had on his general staff, the Grand Inspector General and Grand Commander of the  Supreme Council of France who had the power to make the Emperor a 33° Scottish Rite Mason over a good cigar, the argument looses a lot of its validity. There is no doubt that the Emperor would have seen a kindred warrior spirit in the Comte de Grasse. His continued promotion and awards for valor are testament to the confidence Napoleon had in him.

            There are four or five other written statements which lend credence to the argument that Napoleon was a Freemason. The first is found in a letter Pyron sent to his brother in 1806. "The Grand Orient sought to wake out of its lethargy, elected a Grand Master, Grand ‘Officiers d’honneur’; we did the same. It took some of ours; we took some of theirs. And our batteries were drawn up in position, when His majesty the Emperor and king, member of our Rite, desired the union of these two rites into one single Masonic body."  It is clear that Pyron places this event between the time the Grand Orient announced their Officer d’honneur in 1803 and the December 5th, 1804, meeting to hammer out the treaty. 

            Abraham the publisher of the ‘Mirror’ printed a similar statement in 1806 which stated. "But today, when a general Peace, when days unclouded and serene have all of a sudden succeeded to the tempest of the Revolution; when Masonic Temples are again opening their doors in all parts (of the country), when the precious rays of the directing luminary cause the bright light of regular lodges to shine forth, when the august Order swells with pride at counting among its members the Peacemaker of Europe, the immortal Bro. Bonaparte, the conqueror of the Rhine; the modest and virtuous Bro. Moreau, and those heroes worthy to follow in their steps"

            There are two other written records, one from an English officer and the other from a sergeant, both prisoners of war, reporting that Napoleon sought out Freemason prisoners and gave them relief in the form of money. Even Thory, writing in 1818 at a time when the Freemasons of France were distancing themselves as far as they could from the imperial area, stated that Pyron did present Napoleon with the legend of the Scottish Rite. "The Freemasons having been without a Grand Master since the death of the Duke of Orleans conceived the idea of proposing to the Prince Cambaceres to accept this dignity. He mentioned it to Bonaparte and presented to him that the association of Freemasons properly directed, instead of being prejudicial to his interest, might be made very useful to him politically.

            Before deciding upon the matter, the Emperor required a memoir on the objects and principles of the association, especially as to what is called the Secret of the Freemasons. Cambaceres convoked the chiefs of the order at his hotel, and communicated to them the Emperor's answer. M. Pyron and some others were charged with the duty of preparing the memoir. They presented it a few days afterwards.

            In their report, these gentlemen declared that the Free Masons were the successors of the Templars; that the ultimate object of the members was the restoration of the Order of the Temple, that all their allegories related to the death of Jacques De Molay, that the vengeance alluded to in the Elu degrees and in Kadosh was that which the Templars formerly swore to execute upon King Philip the Fair, the destroyer of the Order, and upon his successors, but this vengeance was accomplished by the accession of Napoleon to the imperial throne. . .”

            If one assumes the phrase “and some others” that Thory uses in his letter, refers to de Grasse and Kellermann and if one takes the other four written accounts into consideration it seems logical to conclude that the circumstantial evidence strongly supports a conclusion that Napoleon was indeed a Scottish Rite Mason.

            I am not the first to put forth most of the arguments I used here to support the claim that Napoleon was a Scottish Rite Mason. Brother J.E. Shum Tuckett, P.M. of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge, published most of them in a 36-page presentation on this very subject in the 1914 volume of the AQC. My very minor contribution is in adding one more argument. Alexandre Francois Auguste Comte de Grasse, one of the ‘eleven gentlemen of Charleston’ had the means, motive, and opportunity, while he served on the general staff of Napoleons army, to facilitate the making of Napoleon a Scottish Rite Mason. Whether the reader accepts or rejects this argument I leave to him; as for me, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and is seen in the company of ducks, it probably is a duck.


History of the Supreme Council 33° S.J. 1801-1861 Ray Baker Harris
The History of Freemasonry: Volume V Gould.
Napoleon I. and Freemasonry (transactions of the Quatuor Coronati Lodge 1914) Tuckett
Napoleon’s Campaigns in Italy Haythornthwaite-Hook
Napoleon’s Marshals Chandler

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