The Grand Orient of France under the Restoration (1815-1830)

The fallacious theories of the Jesuit Augustin Barruel (known as "l'Abbé Barruel", 1741-1820), which portrayed Freemasonry as the instigator of the Revolution, began to spread and Freemasonry was forced to shut down in the countries that had formed the Holy Alliance in 1815 (Austria, Prussia and Russia). The situation was more nuanced in France, where the Grand Orient of France had learned to submit to political power and where it continued to have support in the close circle of Louis XVIII, who had probably been initiated in 1784, as had his brother, the future Charles X. The restored monarchy had also acknowledged the new preponderance of the bourgeoisie in society and had no intention of losing the economic forces it represented.

No sanctions were taken against the Grand Orient of France as such, as any prosecutions only concerned individuals. It was thus able to continue its activities, under the control of new Masters who supported the royal government. This meant the end of Joseph Bonaparte's Grand Mastership and Cambacérès's power.

Strangely enough, as Joseph Bonaparte never formally resigned, the position of Grand Master was declared vacant until 1852. During this period, the highest leader of the Grand Orient of France took on the title of Grand Conservator or Deputy Grand Master. In 1815, Pierre Riel de Beurnonville (1752-1821), a former general of the Empire who had rallied to Louis XVIII and become a Peer of France, was appointed Deputy Grand Master and succeeded Cambacérès until his death in 1821. Then the position fell to Étienne Macdonald (1765-1840), who had the same profile as Riel : former Marshal of the Empire who became a Peer of the Kingdom. He headed the Grand Orient of France until 1833.

The Supreme Council of France was less fortunate than the Grand Orient, which was made up of a majority of imperial dignitaries loyal to the Empire. It was therefore forced to disband. The Grand Orient of France took advantage of this situation to take over the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite, which it entrusted to a Grand Consistory of Rites, which became the Grand College of Rites in 1826.

The Duc Élie Decazes (1780-1860), a favourite of Louis XVIII, Minister of the Interior and then Prime Minister, succeeded in bringing together the various dissidents from the Supreme Council that had formed to form the Supreme Council of France of the Ancient Accepted Scottish Rite in 1821, which we still know today and which became the great rival of the Grand Orient of France. Monarchist but liberal, his presence at the side of Louis XVIII, whom he favoured until 1820, helped to maintain power along a rather liberal line.

The Grand Orient of France had formerly celebrated the glory of Napoleon, and was now singing the praises of Louis XVIII and then Charles X with the same displayed enthusiasm. Essentially bourgeois, liberal and deist, it kept a cautious distance from any political or religious polemics. However, this did not prevent some of its members (especially the youngest and most progressive ones) from taking part in the various more or less secret societies that were seeking to bring down the monarchy once again, in particular Carbonarism, which had been established in France through the Rite of Misraïm since 1815, and the "Help yourself, heaven will help you" society founded in 1827. A fairly radical fringe of the Grand Orient of France played an active role in opposing the regime, while the majority, either liberals or moderate monarchists, cautiously awaited the outcome of events.

The assassination in 1820 of the Duc de Berry (son of the Comte d'Artois, the future Charles X) was the occasion for a political hardening. The ultraroyalists, who blamed the liberals for the murder, brought down the Duc Decazes, who was replaced by the Duc de Richelieu (1766-1822). Richelieu re-established press censorship and then withdrew in 1821, making way for the leader of the ultraroyalist party, Joseph de Villèle (1773-1854). Louis XVIII died in 1824 and was succeeded by Charles X, who was more authoritarian, conservative and influenced by the Catholic clergy than his brother.

Opposition between the ultra-royalists and the liberals was at its height, and in 1827 the liberals and moderate royalists succeeded in uniting and founding the aforementioned "Help Yourself, Heaven Will Help You" society, which included many Freemasons in its ranks. Public demonstrations were organised and in the 1827 elections, thanks to the action of this society, the Chamber swung to the Liberal side. Charles X appointed a new half-Royalist, half-Liberal Council of Ministers, chaired by Vicomte de Martignac (1778-1832), who restored freedom of the press. But the years from 1828 to 1830 proved to be very difficult for France : poor harvests, epidemics and escalating living costs. Riots broke out and grain convoys were attacked.

Charles X dismissed Martignac in August 1829 and appointed an ultraroyalist in his place, Prince Jules de Polignac (1780-1847). The King then tried to regain control by dissolving the Chamber on 18 May 1830, in the hope that new elections would allow the ultraroyalists to win. But in July 1830, the Liberals won again. Charles then decided on a coup de force: with the "Ordonnances de St-Cloud" (25 July 1830), he abolished press liberty, dissolved the new Chamber and modified the rules of censal election, so as to exclude part of the petty bourgeoisie from the vote. New elections were scheduled for September 1830.

These ordinances set off a firestorm. Insurrectionary committees had already been organised in Paris, in many cases under the impetus of young progressive Freemasons from the Grand Orient of France and Carbonari. The July Revolution, known as the "Three Glorious Ones", broke out and lasted three days, from 27 to 29 July 1830. The initial riots quickly turned into a revolutionary insurrection, with fighting in the streets. The army fired on the insurgents, killing hundreds.

On 30 July, Charles X fled to Rambouillet and, on the same day, the insurgent deputies stripped him of his title of king and appointed Louis-Philippe d'Orléans, Duc d'Orléans (the eldest son of Philippe Égalité, former Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France, who was beheaded in 1793) as Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom. For his part, on 2 August, Charles X, like his son, abdicated in favour of his grandson, Henri V, aged nine, and entrusted the Regency to the same Louis-Philippe d'Orléans. Louis-Philippe now saw himself invested with power by both the insurgents and the deposed king! He would have to decide which side to take. But for him, the greatest risks were the return of the Bourbons to the throne, the restoration of the Empire or the establishment of a Republic. He opted for the option most likely to satisfy liberals and moderate monarchists : constitutional monarchy.

So it was on 9 August 1830 that, after nine days as Lieutenant-General of the Kingdom, Louis-Philippe d'Orléans was proclaimed King of the French, the same title that had been imposed on Louis XVI in 1791 to signify that royalty emanated from the nation and was not by divine right. At his enthronement, Étienne Macdonald, Duc de Tarente, Peer of France and Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Orient de France, presented him with the royal crown.

The Grand Orient of France under the July Monarchy (1830-1848)

While the most radical fringe of the Grand Orient of France had actively participated in the fall of Charles X, the majority of its members, mostly liberals and moderate monarchists, had prudently stayed away from the events, awaiting what they hoped would be a happy outcome. It was then with satisfaction that they initially welcomed the enthronement of a liberal sovereign likely to meet their aspirations. The prominent role played by the Deputy Grand Master at Louis-Philippe's coronation augured well for the future.

But the reality turned out to be less idyllic than they had hoped. France's political situation was highly complex. Louis-Philippe and his successive governments had to contend with multiple opposition : the Legitimists, the Bonapartists and the Republicans. While the republicans acted mainly through revolutionary clubs, created in the image of the clubs of the Revolution and the source of many plots, the legitimists and bonapartists also tried to bring down the government through insurrections and attempted coups d'état.

Freemasonry was seen as a potential hotbed of disorder and insurrection, and was subjected to strict police monitoring. The government's fear of Freemasonry was not unfounded, given the active role played by certain members of the Grand Orient of France in the events of the "Three Glorious Years". Although Louis-Philippe had taken advantage of this brief revolution to seize power, he was disapproving of it and did not wish to see such disorders recur.

In 1830, Freemasonry consisted of three Obediences : the Grand Orient of France, the Supreme Council of France and the Rite of Misraïm, founded in Italy in 1805 but established in France since 1815. In 1838, they were joined by the Rite of Memphis, a dissident of Misraim. The political positions of these four organisations were quite different. Apart from a progressive and republican fringe, the Grand Orient of France had a majority of rather conformist bourgeois and moderate monarchists ; having benefited from the commitment and support of the Duc Decazes under the Restoration, the Supreme Council (chaired by Decazes from 1838 to 1860) was more conservative and aristocratic in its recruitment, although it did have a few more progressive Lodges ; the Rite of Misraim, which had been founded in Italy in 1805 by veterans of Bonaparte's Army of Italy, had links with the Carbonari and made no secret of its Bonapartist nostalgia and revolutionary aspirations ; and the Rite of Memphis was also made up of republicans and Bonapartists.

The July Monarchy was a pivotal period in French history. In political terms, of course, but also and above all in economic and social terms. The Industrial Revolution, which had begun in England at the end of the 18th century, was beginning to unfold in France, generating a new social class, the working class, and more generally a new middle class made up of employees.

The Grand Orient of France could not remain aloof from this changing world. While it was still run by a wealthy bourgeoisie, the number of members from more modest backgrounds (craftsmen, employees, etc.) was growing. As a result, there were internal debates that presaged later developments. From the 1840s onwards, some Lodges questioned the need to require Freemasons to believe in God, while others felt it was their duty to get involved in social and political issues, and even to oppose the government. The Grand Orient of France as an institution tried to curb these protest movements by increasing the amount of capitations in 1847, to limit access to the middle class. It also suspended some Lodges, or forced others to remove certain sensitive subjects from their agenda.

The July Monarchy, which was supposed to be a liberal regime, became increasingly hard-line as a result of its parliamentary instability and the many disturbances and uprisings it had to deal with. Louis-Philippe stubbornly refused to consider the universal suffrage demanded by the republicans and became increasingly unpopular. In 1847, the government of Marshal Moult (1769-1851) banned political meetings and, at the same time, tried to prohibit army officers and non-commissioned officers from belonging to Freemasonry, which was still considered a troublemaker.

From July 1847, republicans began organising banquets throughout France, modelled on the republican banquets of the Revolution, in order to get round the ban on political meetings. The government of Guizot (1787-1874), which had been in power since September 1847, tried to oppose these banquets. And it was the ban on the banquet that was to be held in Paris on 19 February 1848 that ignited the fuse. Postponed until 22 February, the banquet was later cancelled by its organisers, seeming to give the government the upper hand. But the most republican elements did not stop there. One of the banquet's organisers, Armand Marrast (1801-1852), opposition leader, editor of the newspaper "Le National" and member of the Grand Orient of France, incited the Parisian population to rise up and on 22 February, more than 3,000 people gathered to march on the Palais Bourbon, chanting anti-government slogans. On 23 July, the army fired on the crowd and on 24 July the situation became untenable : faced with the flood of insurgents, the army withdrew from Paris. With the troops guarding the Tuileries showing hostility towards him and his generals seeing no way out, Louis-Philippe abdicated on 24 February in favour of his grandson, the Comte de Paris, before going into exile in England, but not before appointing his daughter-in-law, the Duchesse d'Orléans, Regent of the Kingdom.

But power was already in the hands of the Republicans, who had taken over the Palais Bourbon, and although many moderate deputies were prepared to accept the regency of the Duchesse d'Orléans, the Second Republic was proclaimed on 24 July 1848 by Adolphe Lamartine (1790-1869), a poet, academician and politician with close ties to the Freemasons.

In its brevity, the Revolution of 1848 is reminiscent of the "Three Glorious Years" of 1830, but it was nonetheless very different, because it had a much more popular and proletarian dimension. And from the point of view that interests us here, Freemasons, particularly from the Grand Orient of France, played a more important role. While in 1830 only a fringe of the Grand Orient of France took an active part in the events, the number of Freemasons who supported the Republic was much greater in 1848, to the point where they had probably become the majority by then. The provisional government of the new Republic set up around Lamartine in 1848 included five Freemasons out of eleven members.

This internal transformation of the Grand Orient of France is perfectly illustrated by the gradual decline in the social status of the Deputy Grand Masters or Grand Conservators of the Order. While Antoine-Guillaume Rampon (1759-1842) was still a former General of the Empire who had become a Peer of France, like his two predecessors, Alexandre de Laborde (1773-1842), Count of the Empire, was only a deputy, as was Emmanuel Pons de Las Cases (1800-1854), son of the author of the famous "Mémorial de Sainte-Hélène"; and Laurent Bertrand (1795-1861) was only a bourgeois, Presiding Judge of the Commercial Court of the Seine and a deputy.

February 09, 2024 — Ion Rajalescu