These days, Free Masons tend to be regarded with a mixture of Da Vinci code inspired fascination and conspiracy theory suspicion. The truth is that the founding fathers of America included plenty of Masons, such as George Washington, John Adams, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, and John Hancock. But how much of a role did their society play in the founding of the United States? Let’s take a look.

It all began with the Brits

It’s understandable that some people get easily sketched out by Masonry’s use of ancient, esoteric symbols and highly secretive meetings. What’s up with all the cloak and dagger secrecy anyway? To better understand, you’ve got to consider why many of the founders became Masons in the first place.

Keep in mind that before they went all colonial, the founders were citizens of a very different Britain than the one that exists today. In 17th century Europe, religious intolerance wasn’t just rampant — it was pretty much the law of the land.

Religious freedom was once fiction

Back then, the church played a huge role in the government and simply being Catholic or Protestant during the reign of the wrong ruler could mean persecution or worse.

So it’s no surprise that Masons, who rejected the idea that a hierarchy should restrain free thought and personal beliefs, had to keep a pretty low profile. Consequently, Free Masons were all about a place where people could explore whatever spiritual path they wanted without having to look over their shoulders all the time.

Masonic ideals: Refreshingly patriotic

While Masonic beliefs doubtless made their way into the culture of America, it wasn’t in the Illuminati mind-control way that many conspiracy theorists suspect.

Part of the reason these Masonic ideas were adopted in the first place was that they were directly in line with many non-Masonic founders’ ideals of what the new country should be. Things like religious tolerance, personal freedom, and a democratic government were all highly praised Masonic virtues that many Americans wouldn’t hesitate to admit were pretty damn good ones.