The Illuminati is a reference to several groups, historical and modern, real and possibly fictitious. Historically, the term refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, an enlightenment-era secret society founded in 1776. Today, the term most often refers to a supposed conspiratorial organization acting as a shadow government, secretly in control of world affairs, and generally connected to a New World Order.
The Influence of the Illuminati on Early New England
The Illuminati, when it is thought of today, is an ethereal organization
of unknown, but powerful people, who are the puppet masters behind the
governments of the world, allegedly working to bring about a New World
Order. While central to many conspiracy theories, the Illuminati are often
thought to be an invention of right-wing fringe individuals and groups
within the United States, and is seldom spoken about except on Internet
postings and in some late-night radio shows. For the most part, those who
believe in the Illuminati are ridiculed.
However, the origins of the Illuminati are a matter of historical fact. The movement was founded on May 1, 1776, in Ingolstadt, in Upper Bavaria. With an original membership of five, it was known as the Order of the Illuminati. Its founder was Adam Weishaupt, a lay professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt, who seemingly modeled the organizations after the Freemasons. As its members took a vow of secrecy, little is known about the organization, but among its goals were to eliminate superstition, prejudice, and the domination that the Roman Catholic Church had over government, philosophy, and science. The organization also worked to reduce abuses of power by the government, and to advocate for the inclusion of women in intellectual pursuits.
Before long the organization grew to include influential people throughout Europe, reportedly boasting a membership of around two thousand people within ten years of its inception. It became known popularly as the Bavarian Illuminati.
In 1777, a new government in Bavaria, under the leadership of Karl Theodor, banned all secret societies, including the Illuminati. The oppression against the organization continued and, in 1785, Weihaupt fled Bavaria, and the organization's documents and internal correspondence was seized by the government and subsequently published in 1787.
In other European countries, the organization either died out or went deeply underground, although it was alleged to have been the force behind the French Revolution. It made its way to the newly formed United States of America as well. Jedidiah Morse, a geographer whose textbooks were a staple for U.S. students, and the father of Samuel Morse, preached against the Illuminati in 1798 and 1799, delivering three sermons arguing that the Illuminati were behind the anti-Federalists.
On the subject, President George Washington said, "It is not my intention to doubt that the doctrine of the Illuminati and the principles of Jacobinism had not spread in the United States. On the contrary, no one is more satisfied of this fact than I am."
Vernon Stauffer, Dean and Professor of New Testament and Church History at Hiram College, published a book in 1918, entitled New England and the Bavarian Illuminati, in which he documents the manner in which the Illuminati came to America and the influence that the Illuminati had on U.S. politics in the early days of the nation.
The Federalists had just won a closely matched presidential election, defeating the Democrat-Republicans. John Adams ascended to the presidency amid sharp hostility and resentment. Thomas Jefferson, his opponent, became Vice President, which didn't alleviate the situation any. In addition to the presidency, the Federalists controlled both houses of congress, but also narrowly. There was no clear majority through which either faction could claim a mandate.
The new nation was split into two political parties that had little in common. The country was divided geographically, as well as politically, with the Federalists having a clear majority in the New England states, while the Southern states and Pennsylvania were in the Democrat camp, and Maryland was split between the two. The vote of the electoral college that chose Adams over Jefferson was in dispute.
Newspapers were distrusted, as the majority of them took one side or another, and there were many who felt that the church had too much influence over governmental policy. Americans were also divided over matters of foreign policy, with part of the nation hostile to France, favoring England as an ally, and relations with continental Europe were poor.
Many saw the hand of a conspiracy in the events that were taking place. It was a matter of fact that the Order of the Illuminati had existed, so it was not a large leap to see the Illuminati behind the troubles that had fallen on America.
In 1802, Seth Payson had published a book that was originally entitled, Proofs of the Real Existence, and Dangerous Tendency, of Illuminism, which was later shortened to Proof of the Illuminati. Payson was a Congregational preacher who had been instrumental in establishing churches throughout northern New England. He was also a staunch Federalist, who had served in the New Hampshire State senate from 1802 to 1805.
In his book, Payson argued against the efforts to discredit the existence of the Illuminati, which included ridicule and defamation. He also viewed the aims of the Illuminati to include the abolition of Christianity and the national government. In the preface to his book, he writes:
"I claim no merit for discovering what I could not avoid seeing, but by shutting my eyes; and I fear no censure, for I have obeyed the call of duty. I have no hope of convincing those who have had access to the evidence here referred to, but for reasons best known to themselves, have rejected it; nor the many who have presumed to give judgement without examination."
Given the history of the Illuminati in the United States, it is perhaps fair to say that, if they are still in existence and playing a role in U.S. politics today, those who believe that will be treated in the same way as those who believe it during the early years of our nation - with ridicule and defamation.