Freemasonry During the Civil War: Acts of Treason? Part Eight
Submitted by Illustrious Companion Kevin A. Wheeler, District Inspector 4th District, Grand Council of Illinois
IC Kevin A. Wheeler
The cause and effect here can be clearly identified when considering the instances where treasonous acts were committed by Freemasons on either side of the Civil War, is the fact that many of those acts are clearly documented, in stories and articles alike, yet there appears to be a somewhat suppression of evidence as to the fact that those who committed such acts were not, and have not been clearly identified, nor prosecuted despite there being details of those who received assistance by those treasonous acts. This is especially the case, when we consider the story of L.J. Williams, and his mysterious escape from prison following his being raised to the degree of Master Mason. (Brickman, 2010; Howey, ND.)
While conducting a critical analysis of the literature for this research paper, the cause and effects for Masons committing treason during the Civil War became more apparent. On the one hand there is evidence pointing to the cause or causes of why Freemasons would have helped one another during the Civil War, however when considering the specific acts of treason there is no sufficient evidence that suggests any of the persons involved that committed such acts. Therefore we know through research that in various wars there has been Masons who assisted one another on opposite sides of the battlefield. (Brickman, 2010) However, in my opinion there is a difference in rendering aid to an individual vs. assisting in someone’s escape, however at the time during the Civil War either act would have been considered treason. (Zelchenko, ND.)
My reaction to the results of this critical analysis is wow, and this state of euphoria is twofold. On the one hand it is because some of the treasonous acts that were committed are not considered such in today’s day and age. On the other hand allowing someone to escape prison or aiding in such escape is an egregious crime against the state, yet no one has ever been called to answer for such an act. Despite these acts the overwhelming assistance came from that of Masons assisting one another while tending to wounds or following being tortured in prison camps. Other assistance came by way of protecting Masonic Lodges from destruction, or assisting in keeps a lodge open and running by having members from the opposing side join the lodge, or conducting degree work for a brother from the opposing side. These acts are in no way shape or form treasonous in any way.
After completing this literature review it becomes more apparent as to why these minor acts of treason, were not prosecuted as such. First, most of the acts that were considered treason during the Civil War, are not considered treason today, in fact feeding a prisoner, rendering medical aid to a prisoner and not torturing prisoners are part of the “Geneva Convention, an international agreement establishing rules for treatment of prisoners of war, the wounded, etc.” (Thorndike & Barnhart, 1988, p. 461) Second let us examine the meaning of the word treason. Treason as described by Thorndike & Barnhart (1988) is “betrayal of one’s country or ruler. In the United States treason by a citizen consists of making war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies” (p. 1170). According to the above definition of treason although considered so at the time, the acts committed by Freemasons that I believed to be that of treason, are not, with the exception of the story of L.J. Williams. However, if we examine the definition of disloyalty, I think we may find that the majority of the acts committed by Freemasons during the Civil War would have been or can now be better fit within that definition. Disloyalty as described by Thorndike & Barnhart (1988) “means unfaithfulness to the allegiance owed to person, friends, one’s country, or the like. Treachery suggests some definite act of betraying trust while pretending to be loyal. Treason applies to treachery to one’s country, shown by doing something openly to help the enemy” (p. 381). Lets take a look at the definition of Treason from the point of view of The World Book Dictionary: The action of being false to one’s country or ruler. Helping the enemies of one’s country is treason. According to the United States Constitution, Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them or in adding to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort” (Article 3, Section 3). An act against any individual does not constitute treason.