Masonic high morals and character examples in American History
Masonic high morals and character examples in American History

Masonic high morals and character examples in American History

John Marshall was elected Grand Master of Masons in Virginia in 1793, despite never serving as a Worshipful Master in a Masonic Lodge. He was later to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

He was an active Mason despite his busy schedule. He presided over Richmond Lodge # 10 on October 30, 1824, at the request of the Worshipful Master for the purpose of receiving the Marquis De Lafayette, of Revolutionary War fame.

In 1797 he accepted an appointment by President John Adams to be part of a three-person commission to conduct diplomatic negotiations with France. The event became known as the XYZ Affair and Marshall’s handling of the event gained him great popularity in the United States when he returned home after refusing to pay bribes to French officials to secure the negotiation aims.

The character of a high degree as realized here made him popular in the eyes of the public and he kept that reputation throughout his lifetime.

Marshall is believed to have joined, as he later claimed, Masonry during the winter at Valley Forge while serving under General Washington in the Revolutionary War. Several prominent Masons were present at Marshall’s Masonic rites for his burial on July 9th, 1835.

It is notable that he never held any Masonic title before his election for Grand Master of Masons in Virginia. His character was firmly established by the XYZ Affair and less hindered by his well-known public divisions with his famous relative Thomas Jefferson, who was a distant cousin.


In 1810 a group of American settlers claimed West Florida as a Republic. In 1818 the War of 1812, better known as the “Second War for Independence” resulted in lots of personal drama while enriching individual coffers. Far too many were willing to “Let the other fellow get the job done,” when it came to personal sacrifice. Not everyone was willing to fight for or sacrifice for freedom.

This feeling by citizens was what we would now term an “I” cycle in our nation rather than the “We” cycle of citizens who had fought the Revolutionary War on principles of character as citizens rather than strictly for personal gain as an individual often does in an “I” cycle, usually at the expense of society as well.

On February 22, 1819, nearly nine years after the creation of the Republic of West Florida the United States made the citizen’s act of setting up a Republic in West Florida illegal. For $5,000,000 Spain sold East and West Florida to the United States. However, the government gave up its claim to Texas!

In 1822 Joel R. Poinsett was sent on a special mission to Mexico. In 1825 he returned to Mexico as a United States Minister. While there he helped establish five masonic lodges, with charters granted by the Grand Lodge of New York. These lodges later formed the Grand Lodge of Mexico.

This same man is now remembered every Christmas season for an act that he performed while in Mexico. He brought back to South Carolina a plant that he developed into the “Poinsettia pulcherrima” which has been shortened to “poinsettia” today. The very same plant has become the Christmas plant.

For his efforts in Mexico, several accused him of perverting Masonry into a political service for the efforts of Texas, among other things. The political smear was strong, and he addressed it in a speech before his brothers.

On his election to Deputy General Grand High Priest of the General Grand Chapter, Royal Arch Masons he spoke about his assistance to the Mexican Masons.

“….I have in no way contributed to such a perversion of its principles. And with the same solemnity I here declare, that if such evil council were to prevail in this country, and Masonry be perverted to political use, which God forbid, I would sever the ties, dear as they are to me, which unite me to my brothers.”

For 20 years Joel R. Poinsett was Grand High Priest in South Carolina. He was elected Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge three times but was prevented from becoming Grand Master because he served as Secretary of War from 1837 to 1841. Masonic politics prevented him from the lofty position of Grand Master.

Politics kept Joel from the attainment of Grand Master, but his character was never in question as a Mason or man. The poinsettia is a fitting reminder a man doesn’t always attain lofty status or titles or retain mentions in American history to be of high significance to his fellow man or to be highly regarded and remembered by his brother masons.

Both men of high character were centered around the “we” work, rejecting personal enrichment or entitlement stemming from an “I” focus towards Masonry!

The source material for this Masonic Education is from the book, Freemasonry in American History, by Allen E. Roberts.

By Paul R. Swanson, 32°