In addition, both governments and churches began to grow suspicious of the group, probably because of the "organization's secrecy and liberal religious beliefs" (Watson, 2009). As a result, Portugal and France banned Freemasonry; in fact, it was a capital offense to be a Freemason in Portugal (Watson, 2009). Moreover, "Pope Clement XII forbade Catholics from becoming Freemasons on penalty of excommunication" (Watson, 2009). Feeling pressure in Europe, many Freemasons decided to flee the Old World and travel to the European colonies scattered throughout the world, most notably, America.
Influence on America
Anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of the Freemasons and American history understands that, whatever resistance the Freemasons met with in Europe was not to be found in America. The Freemasons set up lodges in Boston and Philadelphia, and some of the founding fathers, including Benjamin Franklin and George Washington. More importantly, the Freemasons are reported to have played a crucial role in the American Revolution:
A story exists that Freemasons were among the dozens of men who, dressed as Native Americans, boarded three British ships in Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773 and dumped hundreds of crates of tea into the water, setting off the American Revolution. Whether Freemasons actually were involved in the Boston Tea Party is a matter of some speculation, but there is no doubt that they were among the signers of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution (Watson, 2009).
The American Revolution led to another type of independence; the American Freemason Lodges reorganized by state. Though there was never a central Masonic authority in the United States, the lodges recognized each other. Because more than one type of Masonry had come to the colonies, it comes as no surprise that more than one type of Masonry evolved in the United States. Those two types include the Scottish Rite, which follows English traditions, and the York Rite, which follows French traditions (Watson, 2009). In addition, in America, special Freemason lodges were developed for African-American men. American lodges are also notable for their sister auxiliary groups, which exist to promote female participation in Freemason tradition, without having to induct women in the lodges, themselves.
In fact, by the 1820s, it seemed that Freemasonry and America were forging a special relationship. First, many of the founding fathers, including a full one-third of the signers of the Constitution, were Freemasons (Tolson, 2005). In addition, the Freemasons shared many of the ideals that were coming to be recognized as American ideals. "American republican values looked like Masonic values writ large: honorable civic-mindedness, a high regard for learning and progress, and what might be called a broad and tolerant religiosity" (Tolson, 2005). In fact, some conspiracy theorists point to Masonic involvement in the Revolution and in beginning the nation as evidence of a Masonic conspiracy. While it may not be a conspiracy, it is simply impossible to ignore the fact that the Freemasons were intimately involved in the establishment of modern-day America.
Not only did Freemasonry held shape the face of America, but America helped change the face of Freemasonry. Perhaps the most notable difference in American Freemasonry was the development of the Shriners. Formally known as "The Ancient Arabic Order of Nobles of the Mystic Shrine," the Shriners have become an intrinsic part of American Freemasonry (Watson, 2009). Most Americans are familiar with Shriners, due to their fund-raising circuses, involvement in children's charities, charitable hospitals for sick children, fun attitudes, and signature red fezzes. However, what many people may not realize is that Shriners are linked to Masonry. "To become a Shriner, a man must first rise to the Third Degree (Master Mason) in the Blue Lodge" (Watson, 2009). Therefore, though all Masons may not be Shriners, all Shriners are Masons.
While it is impossible to list all of the prominent Americans who have been Freemasons, a brief overview of the list reveals that successful people in all areas of American life have been members of the fraternity. Freemason Presidents include George Washington, Theodore Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Ronald Reagan. Freemason patriots include Benjamin Franklin and Paul Revere. Freemason businessmen include automobile manufacturers Henry Ford, Walter P. Chrysler, Ransom E. Olds; James C. Penney, David Sarnoff, Louis B. Meyer, and Darryl f. Zanuck. Famous Freemason entertainers include W.C. Fields, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr., Clark Gable, Oliver Hardy, John Wayne, John Philip Sousa, Irving Berlin, George M. Cohen, and Harry Houdini. Freemasons have also been on the cutting edge of exploration; both the aviator Charles Lindbergh and the astronaut John Glenn were Freemasons (Watson, 2009).
As might be expected with any large and successful group, there are many conspiracy theories surrounding the Freemasons. These conspiracy theories probably have their origin in the fact that the Freemason's liberal religious attitudes threatened the established political and religious powers in 17th and 18th century Europe. Given that the early Freemasons did encourage liberal discussions about religious freedom, allegations that they were anti-religion, especially Catholicism, which, at that time, did not tolerate questioning of the faith. In addition, while the Freemasons "claim to be no more religious than any Rotary Club or other social organization, their rituals do have strong spiritual overtones" (Watson, 2009). These overtones have made it easy for people to associate the Freemasons with a wide variety of conspiracies.
Clint Jhonson has linked Freemasonry with the practice of the occult sciences. It is a confirmed aspect of Freemasonry that Freemasons acknowledge a supreme being, whom they refer to as the architect. "This architect is considered as the creator of the entire world and the freemasons are used to observe his presence and actions on a daily basis" (Jhonson, 2007). However, rather than seeing the supreme architect as a generic substitute for the name of an all-powerful monotheistic God, some conspiracy theorists have suggested that Satan is the force behind the Freemasons. While the allegations that Satan is behind the Freemasons may be completely unbelievable based on one's own religious orientation, the conspiracy theorists are persuasive when they discuss how such a conspiracy would work. For example, they believe that "the occult world already controls all the finances that are to be found in the modern world" (Jhonson, 2007). When one considers that the overwhelming majority of the world's resources are controlled by less than one percent of the world's population, those assertions of a conspiracy seem less far-fetched and much easier to believe. In addition, because of the control that money provides people, financial control would permit Freemasons to perpetuate their conspiracies. According to Jhonson:
Even the law enforcement agencies are likely to be controlled by the occult world; the media is also believed to be controlled by freemasonry because all the vital systems that are to be found in the whole world belong to some leading families. These families own their corporations in order to control the worldwide finances; for instance, the banks are infiltrated with all the conspiracy theories that are used in order to take care of everybody's money. The entire inflation, the interest rates and every type of economy management are likely to depend on the occult sciences that are governing the entire world. The entire economy is likely to be manipulated by the occult theories that are able to infiltrate in the world monetary system because this system is vital when it comes to the good functioning of the world (2007).
In addition, two widely successful elements of pop culture have focused on Masonic conspiracies in their plotlines. These two works are the Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown and the movie National Treasure. In the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown links the Knights Templar to a conspiracy to hide the fact that Mary Magdalene and Jesus actually had a child together, and that Jesus' has a modern-day descendant. Because of the link between the Knights Templar and Freemasonry, it has been suggested that the Masons play a role in this conspiracy. There is no evidence to support the idea that Mary Magdalene and Christ ever married, much less evidence to suggest that their marriage produced a child and that the Knights Templar or the Freemasons have been involved hiding that descendant (Lovgren, 2004). However, there is also no evidence to disprove such involvement, and the very secrecy of the organization only serves to increase speculation that they exist in order to promote a secret purpose.
In National Treasure, the Freemasons are portrayed in a very positive manner. Building on the link between the Knights Templar and the Freemasons, the movie suggests that the Freemasons brought the hidden treasure to the United States and hid clues to the treasure's whereabouts in famous American landmarks (Lovgren, 2004). This suggests a conspiracy among the country's founding fathers, and the movie backs up those allegations with reputed evidence that the founding fathers used Masonic symbols in early American creations. These examples include, among others, the Great Seal, the design of Washington, D.C., and the dollar bill.