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Why Did Joseph Smith Become a Mason?

W. John Walsh
Elder John A. Widtsoe

by Elder John A. Widtsoe

Nauvoo, the city beautiful, was founded by the Latter-day Saints in 1839, nearly ten years after the Church had been organized. The decade had been one of unreasoning persecution of the members of the Church. The forces of evil seemed to be combined against the restoration of the simple gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Prophet, to save his life, was obliged to flee from Kirtland, Ohio, headquarters of the Church where a lovely temple and many progressive enterprises had been built. The Saints as a body were expelled from Missouri, under an "exterminating" order by the governor of the state, despite several successful settlements by the Church within the state. In seeking a city of refuge, Nauvoo, then a squalid village called Commerce, was founded.

The settlement in Nauvoo was effected in the hope that the people might now live in peace to worship the God of heaven in their own way. There they built well, for soon Nauvoo was the most populous and thriving city in Illinois. But soon after their arrival there, neighbors began to question the doctrines of the Church, notably revelation. The prosperity of the industrious Saints also incited jealousy on the part of those who would not pay the price of toil for success, or who were speculating in lands and other properties. Persecution began to rise there as in other places. Political differences and hopes also entered into the picture.

The Saints knew well enough the sufferings from mob persecution. Joseph Smith, the leader, looked for means to quell the rising tide of opposition.

Many of the Saints were Masons, such as Joseph's brother Hyrum, Heber C. Kimball, Elijah Fordham, Newel K. Whitney, James Adams, and John C. Bennett. These members called attention to the spirit of brotherhood and brotherly love which are the foundations of Masonic fraternity and which characterize Masonic activities: -- as, for example, from this writer,

On the rolls of Masonry, those lodges will stand highest in which not some few, but each and every member cheerfully gives of his time and labors to make the others happier, not some of the time but all of the time.

This ideal agreed well with the high ideals of the Prophet. Moreover, it was conceded that many of the prominent and influential men of the state were Masons who could be friends when needed. Association with such a fraternity might help to lessen the mob persecutions to which the Church had been subjected in Ohio and Missouri, so reasoned the Prophet's advisors.

The people of the Church needed friends. The work in Nauvoo would be hindered if opposition to the Church were allowed to grow. The Prophet and his brethren and sisters of the Church had suffered much without cause. They wanted peace. Perhaps Masonry would help. So, in the light of history, ran the thoughts of the people.

With the acquiescence of the Prophet, members of the Church already Masons petitioned the Grand Master of Illinois for permission to set up a lodge in Nauvoo. In answer they were granted permission, in October, 1841, to hold lodge meetings; but it was March 15, 1842, before authority was given to set up a lodge in Nauvoo and to induct new members. Joseph Smith became a member. At the time of the lodge organization, Joseph Smith received some of the degrees in Masonry. He was never an active Mason. His other work consumed his time and energy. His history shows that he was extremely busy at this time with a multitude of Church problems. Lodge matters would have to be left in other hands.

Meanwhile, large numbers of Nauvoo citizens were inducted into the fraternity. Soon the Nauvoo lodge had more members than all the other Illinois lodges together. It became the largest in the state. In this rapid growth, some lodge errors appear to have been made. These however could easily have been corrected.

However, Joseph's Masonic membership did not lessen the persecution. The religious claims of the Mormons were ridiculed; their political power seemed a threat; and their prosperity nettled the less successful neighbors.

The attempt to win sufficient friends through Masonry to stop persecution failed. The Masons after all were only a small fraction of the people of the territory surrounding Nauvoo. And no one knows with certainty whether any of them took part in the "Mormon" persecutions. The whole terrible affair leading to the assassination of the Prophet and his brother Hyrum was a local affair within the Nauvoo territory, where lived people of many faiths and allegiances.

Evidences and Reconciliations, p.357

Copyright by Bookcraft

by W. John Walsh

It is rather common for enemies of the Church to attack Latter-day Saints because some of our early Church leaders, including Joseph Smith, were associated with the Freemasonry movement.  Many of these critcs hate Freemasons with the same degree of passion with which they loath Latter-day Saints.  Therefore, it seems appropriate to make a few comments about Freemasons. The following is information received from a local lodge:

Freemasons are respectable citizens who are taught to conform to the moral laws of society and abide by the laws of the government under which they live. They are men of charity and good works. They remain unchallenged as "the world's greatest philanthropy!"

The Freemasons of America contribute almost two million dollars every day to charitable causes which they, alone, have established. These services to mankind represent an unparalleled example of the humanitarian commitment and concern of unique and honorable Fraternity.

Many of our nation’s early patriots were Freemasons, as well as thirteen signers of the Constitution and fourteen Presidents of the United States, beginning with George Washington.

Today, the more that four million Freemasons around the world come from virtually every occupation and profession. Within the Fraternity however, they all meet as equals. They come from diverse political ideologies, but they meet as friends. They come from virtually every religious belief, but they all believe in one God.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Freemasonry has been: how so many men, from so many different walks of life, can meet together in peace, never have political or religious debates, always conduct their affairs in harmony and friendship, and call each other “Brother!”

Past Masons have included some of the greatest names of the American Revolution:

John Adams - (Spoke favorably of Freemasonry - never joined)

Samuel Adams - (Close and principle associate of Hancock, Revere & other Masons)

Ethan Allen - Mason

Edmund Burke - Mason

John Claypoole - Mason

William Daws - Mason

Benjamin Franklin - Mason

Nathan Hale - No evidence of Masonic connections

John Hancock - Mason

Benjamin Harrison - No evidence of Masonic connections

Patrick Henry - No evidence of Masonic connections

Thomas Jefferson - (Deist with some evidence of Masonic connections)

John Paul Jones - Mason

Francis Scott Key - No evidence of Masonic connections

Robert Livingston - Mason

James Madison - (Some evidence of Masonic membership)

Thomas Paine - Humanist

Paul Revere - Mason

Colonel Benjamin Tupper - Mason

George Washington - Mason

Daniel Webster - (Some evidence of Masonic connections)

Summary: 10 Masons, 3 probable Masons, 1 Humanist, 2 Advocates of Freemasonry, 4 no record of connections.


Known Masons (8): Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Joseph Hewes, William Hooper, Robert Treat Payne, Richard Stockton, George Walton, William Whipple

Evidence of Membership And/or Affiliations (7): Elbridge Gerry, Lyman Hall, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Nelson Jr., John Penn, George Read, Roger Sherman

Summary: 15 of 56 Signers were Freemasons or probable Freemasons.

It's true that this represents only 27% of the total signers. But this 27% included the principle movers of the Revolution, most notably Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, the primary authors of the Declaration. The former was a Freemason, the latter a deist and possible Freemason. If one were to analyze the Declaration, he would see their humanistic influences.


Known Masons (9): Gunning Bedford, Jr., John Blair, David Brearly, Jacob Broom, Daniel Carrol, John Dickinson, Benjamin Franklin, Rufus King, George Washington

Evidence of Membership And/or Affiliations (13): Abraham Baldwin, William Blount, Elbridge Gerry, Nicholas Gilman, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, John Lansing, Jr., James Madison, George Mason, George Read, Robert Morris, Roger Sherman, George Wythe

Those Who Later Became Masons (6): William Richardson Davie, Jr., Jonathan Dayton, Dr. James McHenry, John Francis Mercer, William Patterson, Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer

Summary: 28 of 40 signers were Freemasons or possible Freemasons based on evidence other than lodge records.


- Lafayette, French liaison to the Colonies, without whose aid the war could not have been won, was a Freemason.

- The majority of the commanders of the Continental Army were Freemasons and members of "Army Lodges."

- Most of Washington's Generals were Freemasons.

- The Boston Tea Party was planned at the Green Dragon Tavern, also known as the Freemasons' Arms, and "the Headquarters of the Revolution."

- George Washington was sworn in as the first President of the United States by Robert Livingston, Grand Master of New York's Masonic lodge. The Bible on which he took his oath was from his own Masonic lodge.

- The Cornerstone of the Capital building was laid by the Grand Lodge of Maryland.

Therefore, when the critics attack Joseph Smith for being a Mason, they are also attacking people like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin.

(See Freemasonry and the Temple; Daily Living home page; Church History home page; The Prophet Joseph Smith home page)

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