Free Masonry and French Revolution

I have blogged about Free Masonry.

I have some additional information which I quote.

Isis Fountain


Fire in the Minds of Men: Origins of the Revolutionary Faith, by James H. Billington, is arguably the most valuable reference on revolutionaries ever written. (The softcover that I purchased in 2004 is in tatters from overuse and nearly impossible to handle; the situation is the same, I suspect, for many students and historians of the subject.) The body of the text is remarkable enough, however his extensive notes also feature a narrative full of minutia, and multiple citations ranging from a paragraph to a full page. I continually mine it for new leads, and constantly discover that many of the most obscure older sources – once only housed in the most prestigious University and libraries – are now accessible on the internet.

An example that I’ve found lately is a 1910 article by Otto Karmin. Here’s the passage followed by citations (pp. 93, 537-8):

In the early days of the revolution, Masonry provided much of the key symbolism and ritual—beginning with the Masonic welcome under a “vault of swords” of the king at the Hotel de Ville three days after the fall of the Bastille.[36] To be sure, most French Masons prior to the revolution had been “not revolutionaries, not even reformers, nor even discontent”;[37] and, even during the revolution, Masonry as such remained politically polymorphous: “Each social element and each political tendency could ‘go masonic’ as it wished.”[38] But Masonry provided a rich and relatively nontraditional foraging ground for new national symbols (coins, songs, banners, seals), new forms of address (tu, frère, vivat!), and new models for civic organizations, particularly outside Paris.[39]


36. On the use of the voûte d’acier on Jul 17, see J. Palou, La Franc-maçonnerie, 1972, 187.

37. D. Mornet, Les Origines intellectuelles de la révolution française (1715–1787), 1954, 375; discussion 357–87; bibliography, 523–5; and outside of France, Billington, Icon, 712–4. A. Mellor, Les Mythes maçonniques, (1974) also minimizes Masonic influence, though vaguely acknowledging the influence of the occultist revival on the revolutionary movement.

38. Ligou, “Source,” 46, also 49.

39. This subject has never been comprehensively studied. For the best discussions in general terms, see O. Karmin, “L’Influence du symbolisme maçonnique sur le symbolisme révolutionnaire,” Revue Historique de la Révolution Française, 1910, I, 183–8 (particularly on numismatics); J. Brengues, “La Franc-maçonnerie et la fête révolutionnaire,” Humanisme, 1974, Jul–Aug, 31– 7; Palou, 181–215; R. Cotte, “De la Musique des loges maçonniques à celles des fêtes révolutionnaires,” Les Fêtes de la révolution, 1977, 565–74; and the more qualified assessment of Ligou, “Structures et symbolisme maçonniques sous la révolution,” Annales Historiques, 1969, Jul Sep, 511–23.

For the heavy reliance on Masonic structures in provincial civic rituals, see, for instance, F. Vermale, “La Franc maçonnerie savoisienne au début de la révolution et les dames de Bellegarde,” Annales Révolutionnaires, III, 1910, 375–94; and especially the monumental work for la Sarthe which lifts the level of research far above anything done for Paris: A. Bouton, Les Franc-maçons manceaux et la révolution française, 1741–1815, Le Mans, 1958. See also his successor volume Les Luttes ordentes des francs-maçons manceaux pour l’établissement de la république 1815–1914, Le Mans, 1966.

In the New World, where the links between Masonic and revolutionary organizations were particularly strong, rival revolutionary parties sometimes assumed the names of rival rites. In Mexico, for instance,escoceses (pro-English “centralists” from Scottish rite lodges) battled yorquinos (federalists from the rite of York introduced by the first U.S. ambassador, Joel Poinsett). See A. Bonner, “Mexican Pamphlets in the Bodleian Library,” The Bodleian Library Record, 1970, Apr, 207–8.

Leads a plenty.

It was the Karmin article, after finding it online, which compelled me to compile “Masonic Emblems on Coins and Medallions during the French Revolution.” Basically, what he did was mine the data in astandard numismatic reference work and highlight the examples of Masonic influence – minus illustrations, hence the need for my own treatment. The evidence is clear and seems deliberate, although one isn’t quite sure whether the artists involved were actually Masons themselves.

Before Karmin lists his numismatic findings, there’s a ten page introduction about Masonic influences in general. Rallying cries, songs, and distinct phrases suddenly appear in popular revolutionary discourse that can be traced back to Masonic lore. L’École de Mars is mentioned as well, whose uniforms were designed by the famous artist Jacques-Louis David, responsible for some of the most iconic images of the French Revolution. Karmin matter-of-factly calls him “le franc-maçon David,” but disagreement among historians persists (Professor Albert Boime, however, apparently provided evidence in the affirmative, during a 1989 conference titled “David contre David.”)

David had many students. The engraver Augustin Dupré was one of them. He was friends with Benjamin Franklin who commissioned him to engrave the famous Libertas Americana medal in 1782/3. Dupré is prominent in Karmin’s list, having been the engraver for numbers’ 39, 423, 608, 613, 748 and duplicates thereof. Number 608 (1793) is quite interesting. It’s a coin depicting the August 10th, 1793 Fête de l’Unité et de l’Indivisibilité, featuring the “Fountain of Regeneration” (the Egyptian goddess Isis) on the ruins of the Bastille. David was responsible for the details of the festival, while his student Dupré commemorated it.

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