Secret Societies of All Ages: Vol 2 - Charles Heckethorn

XVIII. Masonry and Napoleonism

444. Masonry protected by Napoleon.—With renewed court frivolities and military pomp, the theatrical spirit of Masonry revived. The institution, so active before and during the Revolution, because it was governed by men who rightly understood and worthily represented its principles, during the Empire fell into academic puerilities, servile compliance, and endless squabbles. That period, which masonic writers, attached to the latter and pleased with its apparent splendour, call the most flourishing of French Masonry, in the eyes of independent judges appears as the least important and the least honourable for the masonic order. Napoleon at first intended to suppress Freemasonry, in which the dreaded ideologists might easily find a refuge. The representative system of the Grand Orient clashed with his monarchical principles, and the oligarchy of the Scotch rite aroused his suspicions. The Parisian lodges, however, practised in the art of flattery, prostrated themselves before the First Consul, prostrated themselves before the Emperor, and sued for grace. The suspicions of Napoleon were not dissipated; but he perceived the policy of avoiding violent measures, and of disciplining a body that might turn against him. The lodges were inundated with the lowest police agents, who rapidly attained the highest degrees, and seized at the very outset the clue of any political intrigue which might be concocted there.

Napoleon, after considerable hesitation, declared in favour of the Grand Orient, and the Scotch rite had to assume the second place. A single word of Napoleon had done more to establish peace between them than all former machinations. The Grand Orient became a court office, and Masonry an army of employes. The Grand Mastership was offered to Joseph Napoleon, who accepted it, though never initiated into Freemasonry, with the consent of his brother, who, however, for greater security, insisted on having his trusty arch-chancellor Cambaceres appointed Grand Master Adjunct, to be in reality the only head of the Order. Gradually all the rites existing in France gave in their adhesion to the imperial policy, electing Cambaceres as their chief dignitary, so that he eventually possessed more masonic titles than any other man before or after him. In 1805 he was made Grand Master Adjunct of the Grand Orient; in 1806, Sovereign Grand Master of the Supreme Grand Council; in the same year, Grand Master of the rite of Heroden of Kil winning; in 1807, Supreme Head of the French rite; in the same year, Grand Master of the Philosophic Scotch rite; in 1808, Grand Master of the Order of Christ; in 1809, National Grand Master of the Knights of the Holy City; in the same year, Protector of the High Philosophic Degrees. As every new lodge established in France had to pay the grand master a heavy fee, Masonry yielded to him an annual revenue of two millions of francs.

445. Spread of Freemasonry.—But masonic disputes soon again ran high. The arch-chancellor, accustomed and attached to the usages and pomps of courts, secretly gave the preference to the Scotch rite, with its high-sounding titles and gorgeous ceremonies. The Grand Orient carried its complaints even to Napoleon, who grew weary of these paltry farces he who planned grand dramas; and at one time he had determined on abolishing the Order altogether, but Cambace'res succeeded in arresting his purpose, showing him the dangers that might ensue from its suppression dangers which must have appeared great, since Napoleon, who never hesitated, hesitated then, and allowed another to alter his views. Perhaps he recognised the necessity in French society of a body of men who were free at least in appearance, of a kind of political safety-valve. The French had taken a liking to their lodges, where they found a phantom of independence, and might consider themselves on neutral ground, so that a masonic writer could say: "In the bosom of Masonry there circulates a little of that vital air so necessary to generous minds."

The Scotch rite, secretly protected, spread throughout the French departments and foreign countries, and whilst the Grand Orient tried to suppress it, and to prevent innovations, elected a "Director of Rites," the Supreme Grand Council established itself at Milan, and elected Prince Eugene Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy. The two highest masonic authorities, which yet had the same master in Cambaceres, and the same patron in Napoleon, continued to combat each other with as much fury as was shown in the struggle between France and England. But having no public life, no parliamentary debates, no opposition journals, the greater part of the population took refuge in the lodges, and every small town had its own. In 1812, there existed one thousand and eighty-nine lodges, all depending on the Grand Orient; the army had sixty-nine, and the lodge was opened and closed with the cry, Vive L'Empereur!

446. The Clover Leaves.—This was an Order founded in Germany about 1808 by John de Witt, called Von Dorring (555) a member of almost every secret society then existing, embracing some of the greatest German statesmen, to further the plans of Napoleon, in the hope that his successes might lead to the mediatisation of all German states, which, with France, were to form but one empire. The name was derived from the fact that three members only were known to one another.

447. Obsequiousness of Freemasonry.—Napoleon, unable and unwilling to suppress Freemasonry, employed it in the army, in the newly-occupied territories, and in such as he intended to occupy. Imperial proselytism turned the lodges into schools of Napoleonism. But one section of Masonry, under the shadow of that protection, became the very contrary, anti-Napoleonic; and not all the lodges closed their accustomed labours with the cry of Vive L'Empereur! It is, however, quite certain that Napoleon by means of the masonic society facilitated or secured his conquests. Spain, Germany, and Italy were covered with lodges—ante-chambers, more than any others, of prefectures and military command—presided over and governed by soldiers. The highest dignitaries of Masonry at that period were marshals, knights of the Legion of Honour, nobles of ancient descent, senators, councillors, all safe and trusty persons; a state that obeyed the orders of Cambaceres, as he obeyed the orders of Napoleon. Obsequiousness came near to the ridiculous. The half-yearly words of command of the Grand Orient retrace the history of Napoleonic progress. In 1800, "Science and Peace"; in 1802, after Marengo, "Unity and Success"; in 1804, after the coronation, "Contentment and Greatness"; after the battle of Friedland, "Emperor and Confidence"; after the suppression of the tribune, "Fidelity"; at the birth of the King of Rome, "Posterity and Joy"; at the departure of the army for Russia, "Victory and Return" terrible victory, and unfortunate return!

448. Anti-Napoleonic Freemasonry.—Napoleon, we have seen, made a league with Freemasonry to obtain its support. He is also said to have made certain promises to it; but as he failed to keep them, the Masons turned against him, and had a large share in his fall. This, however, is not very probable, and is attributing too much influence to an Order which had only recently recovered itself. Still, the anti-Napoleonic leaven fermented in the Masonic society. Savary, the minister of police, was aware of it in 1810, and wanted to apply to the secret meetings of Freemasons the article of the penal code, forbidding them; but Cambaceres once more saved the institution, which saved neither him nor his patron. Freemasonry, if not by overt acts, at least by its indifference, helped on the downfall of Napoleon. But it was not altogether inactive, for even whilst the Napoleonic star illumined almost alone the political heavens of Europe, a Masonic lodge was formed whose object was the restoration of the Bourbons, whose action may be proved by official documents to have extended through the French army, and led to the seditious movements of 1813.