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
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.
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.
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.
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. . .”
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