McKinley and Freemasonry


William McKinley as a member of the Knights Templar. It was during the Civil War that McKinley became interested in Masonry.

William H. Armstrong described McKinley’s initial interest in Freemasonry. After the battle of Opequon, McKinley accompanied a surgeon to visit a Confederate soldier taken prisoner at the battle. McKinley stated:

Almost as soon as we passed the guard, I noticed that the doctor shook hands with a number of Confederate prisoners. He also took from his pocket a roll of bills, and distributed all he had among them. Boy-like, I looked on in wonderment; I didn’t know what it meant. On the way back to our camp I asked him, “Did you know these men or ever see them before?” “No,” replied the doctor, “I never saw them before.” “But how did you know them ad why did you give them money?”, I asked. “They are Masons, and we Masons have ways of finding that out.” “But,” I persisted, “you gave them a lot of money, all you had about you. Do you ever expect to get it back?” “Well,” said the doctor, “if they are ever able to pay it back, they will. But it makes no difference to me. They are brother Masons in trouble, and I am only doing my duty.” I said to myself, “If that is Masonry I will take some of it myself.[1]


This item is a postcard depicting the building where President McKinley was initiated into the Free Masons. The front reads: ” McKinley Made a Mason, Winchester, VA. On the upper floor of the center building shown above, Major William McKinley, afterward President of the United States, was initiated into the Masonic order, May 1-3, 1865. Though the local Masons were Confederates many Federals in Sheridan’s army, who were quartered in Winchester during the winter of 1864-65, were initiated by Hiram Lodge, which was organized in 1768. These Union initiates paid $4,400 in fees, and with this nucleus, the Winchester Masonic Temple was built. The white star shown on the picture is directly above a tablet marking the building. Published by Shenandoah Publishing House- Strasburg, Virginia.

McKinley took the oath at Winchester, Virginia, on May 1-3, 1865. Upon leaving the Union Army, he re-joined the Masons as a member of the Knights Templar when he returned to Ohio. There, he continued to be an active Mason throughout the rest of his life. A listing of McKinley’s Masonic record follows. He was initiated an Entered Apprentice May 1, 1865. He then passed to the degree of fellow craft May 2nd, 1865, raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason, May 3, 1865 in Hiram Lodge, No. 21, F. & A.M., Winchester, Va. At the time of his death was a member of the Eagle Lodge, No. 431, Canton, Ohio. (Since the death of the late President, the name of Eagle Lodge has been changed to William McKinley Lodge, No. 431, F. & A.M. Advanced to the degree of Mark Master, Past Master, and Most Excellent Master, Dec. 27, 1883, and exalted to most Sublime Degree of Royal Arch Mason, Dec. 28, 1883, in Canton Chapter, No. 84, R.A.M. Received the illustrious Order of Red Cross, December 18, 1884. Created a Knight Templar, and made a Knight of Malta, December 23, 1884, in Canton Commandery, No. 38, K.T., Canton, Ohio.”[2]


This postcard shows a black and white photo of McKinley wearing his Mason’s apron. The text beside it shows McKinley’s Masonic record. Postcard from the Doyle Collection of the National McKinley Birthplace Memorial.


A letter dated September 16, 1901  from the Knights Templars Grand Commandery to all knights of Ohio. It is a letter ordering that all the commanderies in Ohio be decorated in mourning of William McKinley. It also gives permission for any knight to appear in full uniform at memorial and funeral services for McKinley.

In response to McKinley’s death, several Masonic commanderies sent letters of resolution to the Canton commandery:

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A letter dated September 30, 1901 from the Knights Templars St. John’s Commandery in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to the Canton Commandery No. 38. The letter mourns and praises Sir William McKinley. It also resolves that a copy of the minutes be sent to the Canton Knights.


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A three-page letter of resolutions ca. 1901 on the death of William McKinley by the Knights Templar Commandery No. 3, Versailles, Kentucky. It expresses their remorse and mourning for the death of the president and includes instructions that the resolutions be sent to Mrs. McKinley.


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A three-page letter of resolutions from the Committee of the Knights Templar New Haven Commandery No. 2 to its knights and commander. The resolutions address the assassination and betrayal. They also express love and sympathy for Ida McKinley. Instructions for the resolutions to be passed to the Canton Commandery No. 38 are included.


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A resolution record passed by the Geneva Commandery No. 29 of the Knights Templar. The resolution is about William McKinley’s death. They express grief and praise his personality and ability as a statesman. They also express sympathy for Mrs. McKinley. It is signed by the committee, the commander and the recorder of the Geneva Commandery.

[1] Horatio C. King, “How McKinley Became a Mason.” Grand Lodge Bulletin, Grand Lodge of Iowa, A.F. & A.M. 30 (January 1929); 7-8. Reprinted in William H. Armstrong, Major McKinley: William McKinley & the Civil War. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press. 2000. 100.

[2] Text of postcard in Doyle Collection of National McKinley Birthplace Memorial.