A number of US presidents have belonged to secret societies over the years.
In fact, a whopping 14 presidents were Freemasons.
Others belonged to a range of secret societies, from college groups like Skull and Bones to lesser known organizations like the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.
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To the paranoid mind, it probably sounds somewhat startling that 20 out of 45 US presidents have been affiliated with some kind of secret society.
Are there any movies with remotely benevolent secret orders? Most fictional secret societies are depicted as ominous — and usually feature troublesome chanting, outdated robes, sacrifices, and nefarious global plots.
The societies presidents have been involved with, however, function more like social clubs. Under the secret handshakes and mysterious rituals, many are just like fraternities.
14 presidents were Freemasons. Masonic lodges essentially function as combination of a social club, charitable organization, and business network. The fraternal organization has been around since at least the 1700s, likely arising from early modern organizations of stonemasons.
Here are the presidents who have belonged to Masonic lodges or other secret societies at some point.
Abby Jackson and Christina Sterbenz contributed to an earlier version of this post.DON’T MISS: 14 US presidents who were members of one of the most powerful secret societies in history
George Washington

Secret society: Freemasons
That’s right. The first president of the US also happened to be rather involved in a secret society.
George Washington was the country’s first ever Masonic president.
In Ron Chernow’s “Washington: A Life,” he notes that the future president may have been attracted to the Masonic Order’s adherence to Enlightenment ideals.
Washington joined the Order of the Freemasons early in his life, entering Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 at the age of 20, according to Mount Vernon’s official website. 
Masonic influences even came into play at Washington’s first inauguration. During the ceremony, he swore his oath on a Bible from St. John’s Masonic Lodge No. 1 in New York.
The first president’s Masonic ties followed him his entire life — and beyond. There’s even a George Washington Masonic National Memorial, which was dedicated in 1932 and finally completed in 1970.
Thomas Jefferson

Secret society: Flat Hat Club Society
Thomas Jefferson may have been a member of the FHC. Society at the College of William and Mary, but that doesn’t mean he was impressed by the group.
In one 1819 letter, the third US president reflected on his experience in the secret society: “There existed a society called the FHC society, confined to the number of six students only, of which I was a member, but it had no useful object. Nor do I know whether it now exists.”
The initials FHC stood for “Fraternitas, Humanitas, et Cognitio” — Latin for “brotherhood, humanity, and knowledge.” However the group became known as the Flat Hat Club, probably a reference to the mortarboards students wore at the time.
Members identified themselves with a secret handshake, along with a silver badge inscribed with the words “stabilitas et fides” (stability and faith, which is now the motto of William and Mary’s campus newspaper).
The group pretty much died out when the Revolutionary War interrupted classes. However, the name lived on with William and Mary’s student newspaper and the secret society itself re-surged in 1972, under the name the Flat Hat Club.
James Monroe

Secret society: Freemasons
Mason website The Masonic Trowel lists Monroe as entering the Williamsburg Lodge No. 6 in 1776. At that time, he was a 17-year-old student at the College of William and Mary and heavily involved in anti-Crown activities on campus.
He’s recorded as paying dues to the lodge from 1776 to 1780, according to “A Comprehensive Catalog of the Correspondence and Papers of James Monroe: Volume I.”
Over the course of those four years, the future fifth president would drop out of college to fight in the Revolution, nearly die after getting shot during the Battle of Trenton, and then return to William and Mary to study law.
Andrew Jackson

Secret society: Freemasons
Jackson’s status as a Mason actually became a major political issue during his presidency.
In 1826, Mason were implicated in the (still unsolved) kidnapping of a New York man who threatened to reveal their secret rites. An anti-Masonic political party formed shortly after, claiming Masons were sinister, elitist, and anti-democratic, Slate reported.
The Anti-Masonic Party found a natural foe in Jackson, who was not only a Mason, but a high-ranked one. Jackson served as the grandmaster of the grand lodge of Tennessee from 1822 to 1824.
James K. Polk

Secret society: Freemasons
According to the “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky,” the 11th president was initiated in Columbia Lodge No. 31, Columbia, Tennessee in 1820. He was 25 at the time and had just been licensed to practice law.
James Buchanan

Secret society: Freemasons
According to “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Freemasonry,” Buchanan was a member of Lodge No. 43 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
Buchanan later went on to become one of the worst-ranked presidents in US history.
Andrew Johnson

Secret society: Freemasons
In her biography on Johnson, historian Annette Gordon-Reed says that the former president remained a “proud Mason” throughout his life and that “the local Masonic temple played a great role in the funeral proceedings.”
Ulysses S. Grant

Secret society: Independent Order of Odd Fellows
18th US President and famed Union general Ulysses S. Grant belonged to a society known as the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
The fraternal order has its roots in early modern Europe and was an offshoot off of England’s Odd Fellows. The American version of the organization was officially founded in 1819 in Baltimore. The order focused on charitable causes and eventually admitted both men and women as members.
According to “The General’s Wife: The Life of Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant,” Grant joined the Order after his wife became pregnant with their second child.
“The Papers of U.S. Grant” feature an invitation from the Order asking then-President Grant to attend its 50th anniversary celebration in Philadelphia in 1869.
James Garfield

Secret society: Freemasons
Garfield only served a few months of his presidency before being assassinated. He had a lengthier tenure in the Freemasons.
According to the “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Kentucky,” he was initiated into Magnolia Lodge No. 20 in Columbus, Ohio in 1861, and went on to receive “the Capitular and Templar degrees, and those of the Lodge of Perfection in the Scottish Rite.”
Rutherford Hayes

Secret society: Independent Order of Odd Fellows
A list of Hayes’ speeches shows that the 19th president spoke to gatherings of Odd Fellows five times from 1850 to 1887.
In his 1887 speech in Fremont, Ohio, where he ushered in the appointment of new Odd Fellow officers, Hayes discussed his own feelings about the order and other societies like it:
“The beneficial societies, commonly known as secret societies (in fact, they are secret chiefly in name, and secret only to guard against imposture) … gather under the same friendly roof in close intimacy persons differing widely in occupation, politics, religion, and conditions of life and fuse them easily and naturally into complete harmony and cordial friendship.”
William McKinley

Secret society: Freemasons, Independent Order of Odd Fellows
McKinley succeeded Garfield as both the next Masonic president and the next president to be assassinated.
Roadside America features a post documenting the site where McKinley was first initiated as a Mason while fighting for the Union during the Civil War. His Masonic legacy lives on today, as the lodge he once belonged to is now named after him.
McKinley also belonged to the Odd Fellows, like Hayes and Grant.
Theodore Roosevelt

Secret society: Freemasons, Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo
The Theodore Roosevelt Center has digitized many of the 26th president’s letters — some of which reference his Masonic activities.
President Roosevelt addressed the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania in 1902 on the anniversary of Washington’s initiation. In his speech, he reflected on some of his own reasons for joining the Freemasons:
“One of the things that attracted me so greatly to Masonry, that I hailed the chance of becoming a mason, was that it really did act up to what we, as a government and as a people, are pledged to — of treating each man on his merits as a man. When Brother George Washington went into a lodge of the fraternity, he went into the one place in the United States where he stood below or above his fellows according to their official position in the lodge. He went into the place where the idea of our government was realized as far as it is humanly possible for mankind to realize a lofty idea.”
However, Roosevelt also ran into occasional snags with the society. In his letters, he chastised one alleged Mason for attempting to use his position in the society for political advantage (which is against the rules of Freemasonry), and complained about another situation in a letter to a friend, writing that one foe was “… endeavoring to use Masonry to my political disadvantage.”
After his presidency, Roosevelt wrote about traveling the world and visiting Masonic lodges in Nairobi and the Azores.
Roosevelt wasn’t just a Mason, however. He also belonged to the comparatively obscure International Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo. As Forest History Society blogger Amanda T. Ross writes: “The Hoo-Hoos resemble less an exclusive secret society and more a business fraternity.” It was a fraternal organization for men in the lumber industry, and boasted Theodore Roosevelt as one of its most famous members, due to his conservation work.
William Taft

Secret society: Freemasons, Skull and Bones
Taft probably found entrance into Skull and Bones rather easily. His father, former Attorney General Alphonso Taft, cofounded Skull and Bones as a Yale student in 1832.
Taft later became a Mason in 1909, about a month before his inauguration.
The 1912 record book “Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York” mentions that Taft, as “president of the greatest and mightiest Republic of the world,” was applying Masonic principals in his attempts to handle world affairs.
Warren Harding

Secret society: Freemasons, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo
Harding, the 29th president, was a member of three secret societies already mentioned on this list.
He was first initiated as an “entered apprentice” with the Masons on June 28, 1901 in Marion Lodge No. 70 in Marion, Ohio. He wasn’t officially declared a master mason for another 19 years.
The timing of his acceptance just happened to coincide with Harding’s presidential campaign — and subsequent victory.
A paper by Mason and researcher John R. Tester details Harding’s long-thwarted quest to rise within the secret fraternal society. Tester theorizes that the reasons for Harding’s delayed promotion may have been due to political prejudices or rumors about his Black ancestry. Most Masonic lodges refused to admit African Americans for much of US history.
Harding seemed to have an easier time as a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
 A 1921 edition of the Chicago Lumberman also lists Harding as being a member of the Concatenated Order of Hoo-Hoo.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt

Secret society: Freemasons, Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Roosevelt was first initiated as a Mason in 1911. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Library and Museum’s official blog features several historic materials pertaining to the three-term president’s participation in the society.
One excerpt from a 1935 press conference features Roosevelt’s account of a Mason-related prank he pulled on then-Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Joseph Kennedy (the father of future president John F. Kennedy). 
The day after the press conference, Roosevelt conducted a ceremony initiating his two sons at the Architect Lodge. Afterwards, the president gave a speech praising the society: “To me, the ceremonies of Freemasonry in this state of ours, especially these later ones that I have taken part in, always make me wish that more Americans, in every part of our land, could become connected with our fraternity.”
But the Masonic Order wasn’t the only secret club that FDR was a member of —he also belonged to the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, as Houstonia Magazine reported.
Harry Truman

Secret society: Freemasons, Independent Order of Odd Fellows
Truman was very involved with the Freemasons — in fact, the 33rd president helped found a Masonic Lodge in Belton, Missouri in 1911 and was elected its first master, according to the Truman Library.
Apparently, Truman’s lodge hall burned down while he was serving in WWI, but he continued to rise within the Freemasons throughout the 1920s.
The Truman Library cited one observer’s assessment of Truman’s leadership abilities in the society at the time: “He did a good job in the lodge work … He was a good lodge man.”
Later, during his presidency, he remained a committed Mason. The New York Times reported that Truman’s “only jewelry was a double-band gold Masonic ring on the little finger of his left hand.” The Truman Library also reports that in 1945 Truman became the only president to received the 33rd degree of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite.
He also is said to have been a member of the Odd Fellows, although this isn’t nearly as documented.
Richard Nixon

Secret society: The Order of the Red Friars
Founded in 1913, The Order of the Red Friars was a semi-secret society at Duke University. New members were initiated, or “tapped” by a member of the Order donned in a red hood and robe. The society was apparently invested in improving life on campus.
There’s not much information about what Nixon did as a member of the Order, but Duke University’s library lists him as a member. The Order voluntarily disbanded in 1971, only a year before the Watergate burglary set a series of events in motion that would unravel Nixon’s presidency.
Gerald Ford

Secret Society: Freemasons
So far, Gerald Ford has been the last known Masonic president. He was initiated to the order in 1949, in Columbia Lodge No. 3 in D.C.
That same year, Ford actually helped preside over the unveiling of the Masonic memorial honoring George Washington.
Ford’s speech at the event, which was later published in his public papers, featured some reflections on his own Masonic journey.
“When I took my obligation as a master mason — incidentally, with my three younger brothers — I recalled the value my own father attached to that Order. But I had no idea that I would ever be added to the company of the Father of our country and 12 other members of the order who also served as Presidents of the United States. Masonic principles — internal, not external — and our order’s vision of duty to country and acceptance of God as Supreme Being and guiding light have sustained me during my years of government service.”
George H.W. Bush

Secret society: Skull and Bones
Before George H.W. Bush became the second Bonesman to occupy the Oval Office, he was also a pilot in WWII and served as ambassador to Communist China, director of the CIA, and vice president to Ronald Reagan.
As president during the end of the Cold War, Bush supported space exploration. The American people have also criticized and exalted his involvement in the Gulf War, notably Operation Desert Storm.
George W. Bush

Secret society: Skull and Bones
Bush’s family name had become synonymous with Skull and Bones by the time he arrived on Yale’s campus. There were rumors that Bush almost missed getting tapped by the group, but he ended up becoming the third Bonesman to become president. 
“My senior year I joined Skull and Bones, a secret society, so secret I can’t say anything more,” Bush wrote in his 1999 autobiography, “A Charge to Keep.” Bush, however, carries a certain disdain for Yale’s brand of East Coast elitism, as The Atlantic pointed out. 
 

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