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Masons on the U.S. Supreme Court
 

United States Supreme Court Justices who were Freemasons

by Paul M. Bessel, 5/21/98

Introduction

From 1789 to the present, there have been 108 Justices of the United States Supreme Court. Depending on which source is consulted, 34, 36, 38, or 40 of them have been Freemasons. This means about one-third of the Supreme Court Justices were Masons, a far larger proportion than in the general population.

This might be just an interesting statistic, if they were Masons in name only, and some probably were. However, it appears that several were Masters of their Lodges, and some were Grand Masters of their Grand Lodges. Undoubtedly, then, the philosophy and spirit of Freemasonry had some effect on them, as well as the other Masons on the Supreme Court. This, in turn, may mean that to some extent the decisions of the Supreme Court, which have had so much of an impact on the lives of all Americans, reflect some of the teachings of Freemasonry.

Supreme Court Justices Who Were Freemasons

Two Supreme Court Justices were Grand Masters of Virginia. John Blair, Jr., was a Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1789 to 1796. Previously he was Grand Master of Virginia from 1778 to 1784. John Marshall, the greatest Chief Justice of the United States, was in that position from 1801 to 1835. He was also Grand Master of Virginia, from 1793-1795. (However, there is evidence that John Marshall was not proud or enthusiastic about being a Freemason, at least later in his life.)

Another Chief Justice who had a great impact on our country, Earl Warren, served from 1953 to 1969. He was Grand Master of California 1935 to 1936. He was also Potentate of Aahmes Shrine, and a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason and an officer in two of the Scottish Rite bodies, in Oakland, California.

William H. Taft became a Mason "at sight" in 1909, while he was President of the United States and before he became Chief Justice. Although he did not become a Mason in the traditional way, it is reported that he made many visits to Lodge meetings, participated in Masonic ceremonies, and attended meetings of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association.

Robert Trimble, an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1826 to 1828, was Master of his lodge, Union #16 in Paris, Kentucky. Henry Baldwin, Associate Justice from 1830 to 1844, was Master of Lodge #45 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1805. Joseph R. Lamar, Associate Justice from 1910 to 1916, was Senior Warden of Webb Lodge #166 in Augusta, Georgia, in 1885, but apparently did not become Master of the Lodge.

Many of the Supreme Court Justices who were Freemasons also were members of their local Royal Arch Chapters, Cryptic or Royal and Select Master Councils, Knight Templar Commanderies, Scottish Rite bodies, Shrines, and Grottoes.

Stanley Matthews, Associate Justice from 1881-1889, became a Mason in 1847, but dimitted in 1856, long before he served on the Supreme Court.

William R. Denslow's book, 10,000 Famous Freemasons, identifies a total of 38 Supreme Court Justices who were Masons, often giving their lodges and the dates of their degrees. Allen E. Roberts' book, Masonic Trivia and Facts, says that Ronald E. Heaton compiled a list of 39 Supreme Court Justices who were Freemasons, and a 1940s study in the possession of MSA lists 34. Some of these sources list as Masons those who are not listed by others. If we rely on any of these sources for our list of Supreme Court Justices who were Freemasons, we get a total of 40.

The following chart lists the Supreme Court Justices who are identified by one or more sources as having been Freemasons. The first column shows the chronological order in which that Justice joined the Supreme Court. The numbers not listed are for Supreme Court Justices who are not indicated by any source as having been Freemasons.

# Name   Dates of Service Note
1 John Jay Chief Justice 1789-1795  
2 John Rutledge Chief Justice 1789-1791, 1795 2
3 William Cushing   1789-1810 3
5 John Blair, Jr.   1789-1796  
8 William Paterson   1793-1806  
10 Oliver Ellsworth Chief Justice 1796-1800  
13 John Marshall Chief Justice 1801-1835  
16 Thomas Todd   1807-1826  
18 Joseph Story   1811-1845 4
  Robert Trimble   1826-1828  
21 John McLean   1829-1861 5
22 Henry Baldwin 1830-1844  
26 John Catron   1837-1865  
29 Samuel Nelson   1845-1872  
30 Levi Woodbury   1845-1851 6
35 Noah H. Swayne   1862-1881  
37 David Davis   1862-1877 7
38 Stephen J. Field 1863-1897  
44 John M. Harlan   1877-1911  
45 William B. Woods   1880-1887  
46 Stanley Matthews   1881-1889  
48 Samuel Blatchford   1882-1893  
60 William H. Moody   1906-1910  
63 Willis Van Devanter   1910-1937  
64 Joseph R. Lamar   1910-1916  
65 Mahlon Pitney   1912-1922 8
68 John H. Clarke   1916-1922  
69 William H. Taft Chief Justice 1921-1930  
76 Hugo L. Black   1937-1971  
77 Stanley F. Reed   1938-1957  
79 William O. Douglas   1939-1975  
81 James F. Byrnes   1941-1942  
82 Robert H. Jackson   1941-1954  
83 Wiley B. Rutledge   1943-1949  
84 Harold H. Burton   1945-1958  
85 Fred M. Vinson Chief Justice 1946-1953  
86 Tom C. Clark   1949-1967  
87 Sherman Minton   1949-1956  
88 Earl Warren Chief Justice 1953-1969  
92 Potter C. Stewart   1958-1981  
96 Thurgood Marshall   1967-1991 9

Notes:

1 10,000 Famous Freemasons quotes evidence that Jay was a Freemason, but says there is no proof. The MSA 1940s study also indicates Jay was a Mason, but says it has not yet been discovered in which lodge.

2 Rutledge became Chief Justice while the Senate was not in session, and when they reconvened he was rejected. Still, he did serve for a time in that position. Masonic Trivia and Facts and The MSA 1940s study say he was a Mason, without identifying his lodge, but 10,000 Famous Freemasons does not list him.

3 Cushing is listed in 10,000 Famous Freemason as having been a member of St. Andrew's Lodge in Boston. He was offered the post of Chief Justice but chose instead to continue as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

4 Story is listed as a member of Philanthropic Lodge in Marblehead, Massachusetts, in 10,000 Famous Freemasons and the MSA 1940s study, but not in Masonic Trivia and Facts.

5 McLean is listed in 10,000 Famous Freemasons as having been a member of Columbus Lodge #30 in Columbus, Ohio, but he is not listed in Masonic Trivia and Facts or in the The MSA 1940s study.

6 Woodbury is listed as a Mason in Masonic Trivia and Facts, but is not listed in 10,000 Famous Freemasons or in the MSA 1940s study.

7 Davis, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln's, is listed in 10,000 Famous Freemasons as having been buried with Masonic ceremonies in Bloomington, Illinois. He is not listed in the other sources as having been a Freemason.

8 Pitney is listed in the MSA 1940s study as having been a member of Cincinnati Lodge #3 in Morristown, New Jersey, but he is not listed in 10,000 Famous Freemasons or in Masonic Trivia and Facts.

9 Thurgood Marshall is listed in 10,000 Famous Freemasons as having been a director and counselor or the Prince Hall Grand Master Conference, and a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Mason.

Percentage of Supreme Court Justices Who Were Freemasons

The number of members of the Supreme Court has varied through the years, and, of course, the number of Supreme Court Justices who were Masons has also varied.

At almost all times from the first appointment to the Supreme Court, there was at least one Mason on the Court, the percentage usually was between and . From 1949 to 1954, the highest percentage of Freemasons on the Supreme Court was reached, with 89% or 8 out of 9. From 1992 to the present, we have for the first time reached the lowest percentage, as there is not a single Mason among the members of the Supreme Court.

Significance of This Information

Sometimes we hear or read comments by Masons about "how wonderful" it is that certain important people were Freemasons, or even that Masonry made these individuals great when there is no evidence of Freemasonry having had any impact on them. In the past and in the present, some Masons are very interested in the lessons and meaning of Freemasonry while others simply join, for various reasons, but do not study or learn anything from the Craft.

It is reasonable to assume that those who became Masters or Grand Masters, and who joined other Masonic bodies, were serious about Freemasonry and that the lessons of Masonry had some impact on their lives, their thinking, and their work.

There are some who would read decisions of the United States Supreme Court and see some Masonic influence in them, while others would say this is coincidental or does not exist at all. Perhaps those who have written judicial decisions about the equality of all people, the right of every human being to be treated with dignity, the importance of freedom of speech, religion, and thought, and fair and due process, were influenced directly or indirectly by those ideals in Freemasonry. However, it should be noted that some of the strongest Court decisions on these subjects have been written by non-Masons, or at times when there was a small percentage of Masons on the Court.

What is more likely is that the ideals of Freemasonry and the ideals of the United States at basically the same, and those who are involved in either develop similar ideas and principles. In some ways the United States was the first and only country that was created to promote ideals of human progress, justice, liberty, democracy, and equality. These ideals were developed and promoted by great thinkers of the Enlightenment period in the 18th century, the same time and often the same people who were involved in the development of Freemasonry. That is probably the most important connection between Freemasonry and the Supreme Court, the United States, and human progress.

 


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