Influence of Freemasonry on Texas

by Jack B. Pace

 After being exposed to Texas history in intermediate school, then in high school, and again in college, one would think they would know quite a bit about Texas history. In addition to the requirements that Texas history be taught in Texas schools, there are numerous televised programs which talk about the history of Texas aired on a regular basis. When researching the ties Freemasonry[1] has to Texas history one will find that an important factor in the history of this state seems to have been left out of most textbooks used in schools, as well as the media. That factor is that Freemasonry had a profound impact on the developments which led to Texas independence, formation of the public school system and its entry into the union of the United States.

It seems that scholarly historians shy away from mentioning Freemasonry as a contributor to the ideals and unity required to bring about revolution. Perhaps Freemasons are a contributing cause to this hesitation. Many of the Freemasons who have written on the subject often embellish the importance of Freemasonry far too much. Antagonists of the fraternity are also to blame because they do the same, only with the aim of making the fraternity look bad instead of good. While it is difficult to gage the exact impact any single group had on the development of Texas, it cannot be denied that Freemasonry was an important contributor.

The involvement of Freemasons in the government of the Republic demonstrates this in itself. All three of the presidents of the Republic of Texas were Masons as were all the vice-presidents. The lowest percentage of Masons who held executive positions in any of the four administrations was eighty-five percent. In fact, in the last administration which carried Texas into the Union, all those occupying executive positions in the government of the Republic where Masons.[2] The first question about Freemasonry in Texas is how it got here.

Freemasonry came to central Mexico from Spain. A Grand Lodge was formed in Spain in 1729. But the Catholic Church, a long time opponent of the Masonic fraternity, slowed its expansion there. Freemasons promoted religious toleration and had a liberal philosophy. The Church viewed this as dangerous to their influence in Spain, thus subjected Freemasonry to great persecution. In 1738, Clement IX issued a Papal Bull against Freemasonry, and in 1740 the members of a lodge in Madrid were arrested by the Inquisition as ‘dangerous to religion and good government.’ All of these men spent time in prison, and eight were sent to the gallows. Freemasonry went underground in Spain until May of 1808, when Napoleon placed his son, Joseph Bonaparte on the throne of Spain. Joseph was the Grand Master of Masonry in France, and all restrictions on Freemasonry in Spain were immediately lifted. The Freemasonry of Spain and France differed from that of England and Scotland in that Mainland European Masonry was strongly political, while English Masonry discouraged ties to politics.[3]

This highly political version of Freemasonry, and the friction between the Fraternity and the Church was carried into Mexico. By 1785 there were four recorded cases of trials by the Inquisition in Mexico of people accused of being Freemasons. None of those were Spanish citizens. There was a claim made in 1782 made by Priest Jose Maria Muniz that Archbishop Alonso de Haro y Paralta and the Mexican Viceroy were Masons. Evidently there was no further investigation into the matter, and whether they were Masons or not cannot be proved.[4] By the early 1800s, however, there was a strong Masonic presence in Mexico. The traditional Masonry in Mexico which came from Spain was called the Escosese (Scottish Rite). There is some evidence that indicates these Escosese Masons may have been involved with the movement which led to Mexican independence.

A competing form of Masonry came from the United States after the Mexican revolution. This type of Masonry was introduced through Joel Poinsett, the US Minister to Mexico and past Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Carolina. This group was called the Yorkinos (York Rite). The main difference between the two groups of Masons was that the Escosese supported the idea of a centralized government while the Yorkinos “were opposed to the centralization of government, the privileged position of any class, and favored the expulsion of the Spanish from Mexico.”[5] Both rites had newspapers which attacked one another, and in 1827, the Grand Master of the Escosese (General Nicolas Bravo) led a revolution against the Grand master of the Yorkinos (General Vincent Guerrero) because Bravo’s demands, that Poinsett be expelled from Mexico and the York Rite dissolved, where denied.[6]

The United States version of Freemasonry, practiced in the Northeast, originated in England. Records exist from lodges meeting prior to the 1700s in the American colonies.[7] Masonic ideas are strongly incorporated into the history of the United States. The involvement of Masonic involvement in the American revolution are at least as prevalent as their involvement in the Texas revolution. The Freemasonry in the Louisiana territory, however, was not so well defined. Louisiana had Masons which had immigrated from French and Spanish holdings to the South, as well as those who came from the states in the North.

Masonry in Texas was influenced by all these variations on the organization, but the greatest influence by far came with the Anglos from the Northeast. The majority of Texas earliest Masons attended schools (where they became Masons, such as Steven F. Austin) or immigrated from the western territories of the United States, and brought their Masonry with them. Among the original 300 settlers who came to Austin’s Colony, 39 are known to have been Masons. Out of 120 families who settled Green DeWitts grant there were 21 known Masons. These Masons were joined by others and by 1835 there were over 300 documented masons in Texas who had brought it with them from the United States.[8]

Steven F. Austin worked hard help Texas maintain good relation with Mexico. In February of 1828, Austin had petitioned to the York Grand Lodge of Mexico for a new lodge charter. A response to this request was never issued from the York Grand Lodge. Although no record of why a response was not returned exists, most likely the turmoil between the York and Scottish Rite factions in Mexico at this time led to the neglect of Austin’s request. It was not until 1835 when Anson Jones, with four other brethren of the fraternity. gathered together and decided to petition the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for a charter that an official Masonic organization in Texas was once again pursued.[9] A record of the meeting was written by Anson Jones as follows:

The place of the meeting was back of the town of Brazoria, near the place known as General John Austin’s, in a little grove of wild peach or laurel, and which had been selected as a family burying-ground by that distinguished soldier and citizen. The spot was secluded and out of the way of ‘cowans and eavesdroppers’ and they felt they were alone. Here and under such circumstances, at 10 o’clock in the morning of a day in March, 1835, was held the first formal meeting in Texas as connected with the establishment and continuance of masonry in this county.

The charter was granted by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana for Holland Lodge to commence work in January of 1836. Shortly after Holland Lodge received a charter from Louisiana, requests from Masons in Nacogdoches and San Augustine were sent as well. Both were granted dispensation in July of 1837.[10]

While Holland Lodge was started before the revolution, in 1837 it had not officially met since its inception. Membership had been scattered during the war and it was not until November, 1837, that the lodge was reconvened in Senate Chamber of the capital building. In the second meeting of that lodge that month, Jones introduced a resolution inviting the brethren from Nacogdoches and San Augustine to meet with the brethren of Holland Lodge in order to form a Texas grand lodge. In December 1837, these brethren met and the Grand Lodge of Texas was formed with Sam Houston presiding pro-tem until the election of Anson Jones as Grand Master. By 1846, when Texas was approaching statehood, thirty-two lodges had been constituted under the Texas Grand Lodge, and there were approximately fifteen hundred masons in Texas.[11]

In addition to its liberal ideas which contributed to Texas desire for independence, Masons instilled a deep desire for education in the residents of the state. Steven F. Austin, in 1823, had used his influence in Mexico to get a provision for general system of education included in to Mexican Constitution of 1824. He took further action that same year locally when the Ayuntamiento of San Felipe de Austin, under his leadership “strove earnestly, but without success, to raise funds for the establishment of an academy at San Felipe.”[12] His civil and criminal code written in 1824 included a clause which said all fines shall be applied to the use of schools and other public purposes. His efforts to support education continued through and after the Texas revolution.

After the revolution, the Masonic dominated government made great strides to instill a public education system in the Republic. Several respected historians who have no Masonic ties have also pointed this out. Frederick Eby of the University of Texas had this to say:

Among the most effective agencies which undertook to provide the means of culture for the youth of that day were the fraternal organizations, particularly the Masonic order…

The services of the Masonic lodges in conducting schools and furnishing buildings were possibly greater than those of any single religious denomination… Their services must be regarded as one of the most important transitional steps toward free public education.[13]

Other non-Masonic academics who “recognized that the incidence with which Masons emerged as the dynamic leadership in Texas was not a coincidence”[14] include Walter Prescott Webb and Eugine C. Barker. The Masonic Order has continued to support public schools. Masons have provided assistance and scholarships to countless people since the beginning of Texas as a Republic, and continues this support even today.

In addition to the support of schools, Masons have developed hospitals for children and homes for the elderly. In 1992, the nationwide dollar value of donations from Masonic organizations to charities was over 2 million dollars per day,[15] and this does not include the countless volunteer hours given by members of the order and their families. With so much involvement in the history of Texas, and more especially Texas education, it seems strange that few history books used in our education system even make mention of their contributions. It appears, as James Carter wrote, “that historians and political theorists have overlooked a major influence in American history,”[16] and perhaps a greater influence in Texas history. Freemasonry, because of its active role in communities and its progressive philosophy, is one of the most powerful forces that contributed to the shaping of the Republic and State of Texas.

References:

  1. Note that the words Freemasonry, Ancient Freemasonry, the Fraternity, the Order, and Masonry when used in this paper all refer to Speculative Freemasonry, not Operative Masonry or any other group.
  2. Carter, Masonry in Texas to 1846, xvii
  3. ibid. p184-186
  4. ibid. p187
  5. ibid. p199
  6. ibid. p202
  7. The first official Grand Lodge in England was not established until 1717, though the Regius Manuscript, the oldest British Masonic Document, dates from around 1390.
  8. ibid. 222-225
  9. History of holland, p7
  10. Huts 103
  11. ibid 114-115
  12. educ to 1846, p32
  13. ibid. x
  14. ibid xi
  15. masonic philathropies
  16. hist to 1846, p352