(Excerpted from United Symbolism of America by Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D.)
Throughout the 20th Century academic historians routinely dismissed the suggestion that Secret Societies like the Freemasons and Rosicrucians had an influence on the founding of America. As we move into the 21st Century, however, the acknowledgement of this fact has begun to appear even among mainstream scholars. While earlier historic doctrines required scholars to dismiss anything that was improvable with physical evidence, today it is now considered unreasonable to dismiss the reports of an event or influence simply for lack of hard documentation. In my study of humanistic psychology, I have also grown to appreciate that even if a reported event or influence did NOT occur as popularly believed, its myth or legend still has the power to bring into being something of much greater importance than what we believe to be true.
I can readily understand why the History Channel loves this story about the Mysterious Professor or Unknown Speaker. I wrote about him in both my books, Founding Fathers, Secret Societies, and United Symbolism of America. I kept the accounts short because there is no historical documentation to verify this person’s involvement in either the flag design or the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There is, however, great value in understanding his story on an archetypal level of why his legend became popular and continues to be referenced to this day (most recently by Ronald Reagan in his commencement address at Eureka College on June 7, 1957, according to Wikipedia).
Most often cited as the source for this tale is Manly Palmer Hall’s Secret Destiny of America, 1944. Hall is notorious for not citing his references. In this case, he does reference the Mysterious Professor to Robert Allen Campbell’s earlier book, Our Flag (1890), but Hall also makes the effort to point out that he does not know who Campbell is. Most other sources for this story, like Theodore Heline, or the numerous Internet sources reprinting it, are quoting from Campbell by way of Hall.
Pre-dating Campbell, however, is George Lippard, who in 1847 published a semi-fictional romance entitled "Washington and His Generals: or, Legends of the Revolution". Lippard’s version mirrors Campbell’s, and was probably its influence. He tells of a speech given by an unnamed elderly gentleman in the balcony at the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, which turned the tide of the debate and decided everyone to “sign the parchment!” According to Wikipedia, in recent years this speech has been attributed to John Hanson to make it appear as if it were an actual event in history, though Hanson was assuredly not present at the time.
Both Lippard and Campbell were possibly Rosicrucians and may have had ulterior motives in preserving this story, even embellished with fiction as Lippard’s admittedly was. Lippard and Campbell were both interested in secret societies. Lippard formed one of his own called the Brotherhood of the Union. Less is known about Robert Campbell, but it is fairly well established that he was involved in various secret societies including the Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor, an advanced, initiatic order. His other books include one called Phallic Worship, and another called Mysteries of the Hand, which was reviewed by none other than Helena P. Blavatsky. It is likely that Campbell was an initiate of a secret order held in very high regard.
Why would these authors interested in and probably members of secret societies (Lippard, Campbell, Hall, Heline) perpetuate a story about an unknown man passing in an out of history secretly giving advice and solutions when needed most? Were they alluding to another recurring figure in historical legends, the Count of St. Germain? St. Germain is credited with improbable longevity or as being the reincarnation of influential historical figures like Francis Bacon. Today’s spin on the legend about the Unknown Speaker or Mysterious Professor is that he was the “mysterious Rosicrucian who was the father of the American Republic: Comte de Saint Germain.”
Again, this cannot be proven. Perhaps this is because Secret Orders and Secret Societies teach spiritual sciences and their preference is to remain invisible. It is not far-fetched to believe that such teachers worked together to lay the foundations of this Republic, the purpose of which was to bring about the New Order of the Ages or a representative government with separation of church and state. These tenets are, in fact, the foundation for the Age of Enlightenment of which our Founding Fathers were the greatest champions.
Manly P. Hall notes that upon making his two significant contributions (suggesting the design for the first American flag including how the design was to be altered when America grew in size and scope, and rousing the delegates to agree to the Declaration of Independence) that he disappeared from history. Hall likens this to stories of other strange men who appear and disappeared at crucial moments in history. He lists one who counseled Columbus, and a black-robed man who guided the destiny of Mohammed, theorizing that they may have been “ambassadors of the secret government.” As usual, Hall cites no references for his conclusions.
I find it intriguing that the Mysterious Professor can be studied as a personification of the mottoes on the Reverse of the Great Seal. “Annuit Coeptis” means “He prospers our undertaking.” The Deity (or those who represent the inner dimension) is watching out for the successful process of the founding of the Republic. “Novus Ordo Seclorum” means New Order of the Ages. The new order is founded on a representative government. The professor did not tell the Congress they must follow his suggestions, or else. It was left to the will of the people to follow through.
At the very least the Mysterious Professor serves a positive purpose whether considered as an archetype or a mythological figure. As an archetype he has given American hope that humanity can and will govern itself. A transformation of our personal selves will lead to a transformation of our nation, and planet, as well. Again the message is described by another of America’s mottos “E Pluribus Unum” or out of many, one. The Mysterious Professor can be seen as all of us. We have the Divine spark of our immortal self within us. At their best, Secret Societies teach the science of spirit and how to connect personal consciousness to one’s higher self. This is referred to as Self-Mastery.
Note: Give Robert Campbell a little credit for acknowledging his difficulty in documenting or proving that the Professor was an actual, physical human. In his preface to Our Flag he notes that he decided it was unnecessary to use quotation marks or give special credits because the author is responsible for only the general plan of the book. On page 41, Campbell says it was the Professor who asked that a seventh member be added to the committee on the flag and that it be a woman, “the purifying and intuitional element of humanity.” This woman is not named, but she is their “hostess and a superior woman.” It is this superior woman that acted as the committee’s secretary and it is upon “her notes made at the time, and upon her subsequent correspondence this narrative of the committee’s operations is mainly based.” On page 44, Campbell reiterates, “There is no full report of what he said, but the following is an outline of what has been preserved.” All of the ideas of the Professor and his design for the Grand Union flag were accepted without any objections. His idea is to use the flag of the British East India Company which will please both the masses (many of whom do not want an independent nation) and it can easily be altered if America declares its independence. When the committee approves his ideas he disappears and is not seen again until July 4th when he makes the alleged speech that carries the day and convinces congress to make the break with its mother country. Historically there is no record of this meeting, but that doesn’t prove it didn’t. In fact, there is no record of how and when and by whom the original Grand Union Flag – America’s first flag -- was designed.
Whereas it was once taken for granted that the Grand Union flag was based on the design for the British East India Company, this is no longer the case. Today most vexilologists believe that the Grand Union flag originated from the flag of the Sons of Liberty a rectangle of red and white stripes numbering anywhere from 9-15 in number. Indeed the stripes in early American flags were not only red and white, but sometimes they were also blue, green, black, and yellow. There are innumerable cases of what was thought to be historically accurate changing and shifting over time.
Though the stories about the Mysterious Professor cannot be proven, elements of it should be reconsidered. As the Professor is alleged to have said “God has given America to be free!” (a quote also attributed to Patrick Henry). He was at least right on that score.