ALBERT PIKE – ‘the Greatest Mason of All’

Through all the ‘Masonic’ chaos of the 18th century, ‘Masonic’ politics had continued at the highest levels of government, which is to say that ‘it’, whatever its form and whether it was entitled to the label, was a presence at most influential Cabinet discussions across Europe and the Americas. The 19th century watched that high-level significance slowly disappear but there was no shortage of lower level political chicanery in which ‘Masonry’ was involved as we have already seen. Albert Pike was only 17 years old in 1826. Son of a poor shoemaker he came to prominence making treaties with Indian tribes and having them fight for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Midway through that devastating conflict he returned to his work as a lawyer in South Carolina where he also wrote poetry and studied ancient religions. He was often described by acquaintances as head-strong and volatile, by others as manly and independent (Folger, p.67) After his death in 1891 supporters emphasised his importance, and that of Albert Mackey, to the Scottish Rite: ‘(After the ravages of war had swept everything away, and all was sadness, sorrow and ruin) …the Phoenix was again to rise from the ashes of the funeral pyre.’ Given that the ‘Northern Supreme Council was then divided in twain and imposters and frauds were like jackals gorging themselves…upon the bodies of the slain’, it was only ‘the South’ which could restore life to the Order:

(With) the indomitable energy and zeal of its Illustrious Sovereign Grand Commander, Albert Pike, 33*, who had during the last two and a half years of the war, been engaged in rewriting and restoring its rituals, whose matchless scholarship in ancient lore and profound knowledge of the Ancient Mysteries and philosophy, aided by that other most illustrious Mason, the Moses and Lawgiver of the Fraternity of Freemasons around the Globe, Albert Gallatin Mackey, 33*, the late Dean and Secretary General of the Southern Supreme Council, assembling like Zerubbabel and Haggai with a few others at the ruins of the Temple of Jerusalem, commenced the reconstruction of the Rite at Charleston, South Carolina, upon the old foundations which remained undisturbed. [i]

The bombast was, as with Anderson, deliberate. It was an essential part of what was a political package designed to establish once and for all where the Masonic decision-making power was, not just for the US but for the globe. Internecine squabbles since 1801 had been intense and their detail beyond the scope of this essay. They had added to the frustration of any fraternity members and observers who sought genuinely sound history. Rival claimants invariably insisted that their account had finally broken free from the myths and fables, only to be countered by another claimant who had ‘uncovered new evidence’. The process was slowly generating more light than heat. The Middle East was suddenly awash with sponsored groups of diggers determined to prove the Bible was literally true. Academia was suddenly interested in antiquarian collections and in categorising everything from frogs to Matabele washing rituals, from rubber trees to hairy mammoths. Religious and political wars which had raged for centuries were renewed – the detail in the ever-enlarging ‘exposes’ now required thousands of pages, prefiguring muck-raking journals and 20th century ‘Frontline’ documentaries. Pike was accused of having defrauded the US Treasury, having enlisted Cherokee and Choctaw Indians who ‘were said to have scalped and tomahawked Union soldiers’, and to have taken the doctrines of ‘his’ 28th degree from ‘Asiatic pagan religions‘. This was the degree which Mackey declared to be ‘perhaps the most important of all the high degrees’. For Presbyterian abolitionist Jonathon Blanchard, who revived the anti-Masonic Party and published thousands of pages attacking all secret societies, not only had Pike set aside the Bible as obsolete, he was a long-time traitor who had skilfully covered his tracks: ‘(The) records and papers (of the Charleston Supreme Council) for fifty-nine years before the war, were all burnt up, doubtless to conceal treason and crimes committed against the country, and the laws of war… (pp.229-30)

Pike’s most memorable book, Morals and Dogma, was published in 1872. His research had led him to the conclusion that ‘we know nothing whatever’ of the origins of many of the degrees then making up ‘The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite’ and that the whole was not brought together before the 19th century. In 1858, he had ‘scourged’ the ‘swashbucklers and braggarts of the so-called “Cerneau” Supreme Councils in New York’ for asserting that ‘the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite’ had been practised in its entirety by several Masonic bodies in 1743.[ii] He accused the proponents of Cerneauism of ‘deliberately falsifying history’, in another place of having ‘committed a very grave offence against the proprieties of discussion.’ (Pike, 1858, p.10) His account prevailed, little has been heard since of Cerneau.

Pike’s continuation of the Andersonian contradiction – the dual modern and therefore political, and the ancient and therefore religious nature of ‘Freemasonry’ – is clear. Hoddap, initiated US brother, wrote in 2005: ‘One of Pike’s influences was the French author Eliphas Levi. Levi was a prolific writer on occult topics who, in Pike’s day, was considered an expert on pagan mysteries and Gnosticism … In his book Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, (1855) Levi claimed that Freemasonry had its roots in ancient pagan rituals, and Pike accepted many of these claims.’ [iii]  Pike backed the ‘pagan rituals’, eg in his First Degree ritual, that of the Apprentice, with legal rhetoric:

The FORCE of the people, or the popular will, in action and exerted, symbolised by the gavel, regulated and guided by and acting the within the limits of LAW AND ORDER, symbolized by the TWENTY-FOUR-INCH-RULE, has for its fruit LIBERTY, EQUALITY AND FRATERNITY – liberty regulated by law; equality of rights in the eye of the law; brotherhood with its duties and obligations as well as its benefits. (His emphases)[iv]

That this is totally at odds with the 1717-21 principle of obedience to one’s government, is clear, as is Pike’s continuing to use ‘Freemasonry’ to gain political advantage, particularly in the south. Spain was known to be seeking to reassert its control over its former colonies, and Mexican authorities were plotting the capture of Cuba in order to weaken foreign influence across the whole of the Caribbean. Arroyo’s later chapters are on the continued involvement in US politics of non-Anglo activists drawing on ‘Freemasonry’s’ public statements about universal tolerance to argue for their civil rights, and the often-negative responses to their efforts by Anglo ‘Freemasons’. She noted Pike’s ‘inconsistent agendas.’ He was ‘on the one hand, a Masonic imperialist figure and on the other a non-interventionist.’ He was not as bigoted as many of his colleagues but he could not accept the idea of ‘Black (African-derived) Masons.’ He opposed the expansion of US territory by military means but he ‘invested the prestige and the power of the US Masonic Scottish Rite in the fate of Cuban and Latin-American affairs by sending not one, but two Cubans to fight against each other and to organise Cuban and Mexican Masonic affairs.’ (Arroyo, p.67)

US administrations had begun to bring European migrants ashore to augment labour supply. In the 1830’s and 40’s this meant millions of German and Irish immigrants brought into the US what some residents saw as ‘an exotic and suspect religion – Roman Catholicism’. There were reactions:

In 1834 a Catholic convent near Boston was burned by a mob, followed by subsequent attacks on Catholic schools and churches. Violence against Catholics on the east coast was so common that insurance companies practically refused to insure them. [v]

This time the Catholic Orders did not leave and they remained politically suspect. Papal preference for a centralised and hierarchical system of governance contained an abhorrence for ‘a creedless, universal democracy’, a Jesuit definition of a republic. Greater Catholic numbers in the US were augmented by Creole refugees migrating to New York from the Caribbean and bringing vestiges of ‘Spanish Freemasonry’ with them. They set up media outlets and ‘clubs’ to plot independence and their return as ‘Masons’:

In several cases, Masonic insignia appeared on the front page (of Cuban exile newspapers in New York), pointing to the importance of Freemasonry for Cuban exiles…(Many) of the most prominent Cuban filibusteros were Freemasons …Connections among Freemasons accounted in part for the contacts that Cuban exiles developed with prominent figures in the United States and veterans of the US-Mexico War. The influence of Masonic doctrine, which described tyranny as the enemy of the human race and despots as outlaws, was evident…One of the tenets of the order was that a true Mason seeks to attain the truth, and to serve our fellows, our country and mankind. [vi](My emphasis)

A conspiracy, ‘patterned on the Texas model’, to annex Cuba to the United States had been hatched in New York’s ‘The Havana Club’. Using the code of secrecy ‘practised in clandestine Masonic lodges’ each member had adopted a covert code name.[vii] The filibustero invasion of Cuba from the north in 1848 was one result only of such efforts.[viii] Assertions of ‘Freemasonry’s’ alleged universality, racial tolerance and comprehensive freedoms in order to establish an independent nation militarily do not fall within the Andersonian definition. That these assertions were believed and acted upon makes them parts of ‘Masonic history’ but those facts do not establish that what Anderson labelled ‘Free-masonry’ was in play. They do illustrate just how insular even the most recent European scholars are. The opportunistic use of the label by political activists was apparent from the beginning but English-language scholars at least have chosen to discount any motivation other than that which fitted the Order’s rhetoric. Arroyo, like de los Reyes, has seen a need to widen the context of enquiry to include the socio-political voice provided to non-Anglos by lodge membership, and the consequent reactions by colonial powers, some of whom were also initiated brothers. One example only: ‘Threatened by the powerful nationalist movement [in the Philippines] led by Masonic intellectuals such as Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo, US treasury officials ended up financing the most expensive and bloodiest military campaign of the early twentieth century.’ [ix]

[i] E Sherman, New Edition of the Brief History of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, etc, Calif, 1890, p.37.

[ii] A Pike, Foulhouzeism and Cerneauism Scourged, Charleston, 1858. Published by Forgotten Books.

[iii] C Hoddap, Freemasonry for Dummies, Indianapolis, 2005.

[iv] A Pike (ed), Morals and Dogma, Charleston, 1871, pp.4-5 – published by Forgotten Books, 2016.

[v] R Joyce, ‘Fear of ‘the Other’: An Un-American Position’, 2010, ‘Berkeley Blog’ site, UC Berkley, 2017.

[vi] R Lazo, Writing to Cuba, U of Nth Carolina Press, 2005, pp.66-67.

[vii] A de la Cova, Cuban Confederate General: The Life of Ambrosio Jose Gonzales, Uni of Sth Carolina Press, 2009, p.x, p.6.

[viii] J Arroyo, Writing Secrecy in Caribbean Freemasonry, Palgrave, 2013, p.15.

[ix] J Arroyo,  2013, p.174.