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U. S. Supreme Court Justices who were Freemasons

by Paul M. Bessel


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.

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 33 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

Note

1

John Jay

Chief Justice

1789-1795

1

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

20

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 33 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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