Dwane F. Treat, 33
S.G.I.G. in Arkansas
Searcy, Arkansas

A new biography of Pike presents an authoritative portrait of this significant 19th-century figure.

At long last, a definitive biography of one of the most fascinating characters in 19th century America!

Albert Pike was a man who symbolized many of the looming national issues of his time. In his twenties, when the United States ended east of Arkansas, he lived on the edge of the American frontier as a trapper and explorer. Until well into his eighties, he went on frequent extended camping trips among the Native Americans of the plains and aided in the westward expansion of the United States when that expansion characterized much of American culture.

He was an emblematic figure for his time in other ways, too. Americas in the 1800s was largely self-educated. Schools were rare, and opportunities for “school-learning” were few. With limited formal education (although he himself served as a school teacher several times), Pike made self-education a life-long process. Americans of his generation were a people who valued refinement. The concert hall and the lecture platform were very popular. To be able to sing, to play, and to write were regarded as highly desirable accomplishments. Pike sang beautifully, played the violin well, and wrote poetry which was highly praised in his time. His spoken eloquence was famous, and his orations were reprinted in newspapers and books.

The law was a rough and ready affair in the middle of the last century, and Albert Pike was among the best of Western attorneys. He rode the circuit in Arkansas before it was a state and did so when a lawyer could carry all the law books he needed in his saddle bags. Litigation, then, was a matter of arguing from the great principles of the common law, of building a case clearly and logically, and convincing the judge of the rightness of your position. Laws were few and general in nature, not the numerously refined precise pinpoints we have today. Pike became one of the most famous and wealthiest lawyers in the South, although he frequently worked without fee when he saw injustice about to happen. It has been said that the courts in the 1800s were concerned with justice and in the 1900s were concerned with law. Pike was a consistent champion for justice.

When Pike was outside the courtroom, he entered into political controversies with gusto, a habit that carried over into his middle life when, as a newspaper editor in Arkansas, he was not hesitant to express his opinions. At the same time, whatever his views of law or politics may be, a man in the 1800s was expected truly to value honor and integrity more than life. Whether in war or peace, he lived by a strict code of conduct, even when it would have been far more convenient and even safer to have accommodated a lesser standard.

Freemasonry, in the 1800s was growing at an unprecedented rate, and here, again, Pike fit the mood of his time. He became arguably the best-known Freemason in the United States, as well as Masonry’s most prolific writer and most profound philosopher. Elected to head the Scottish Rite branch of the Masonic Fraternity, he held that position for more years than any other man in history. He probably did more, too, than any other single person to determine the course of Masonry throughout its further expansion in the 20th Century.

In the 1800s, a gentleman was expected to feel emotions deeply and to express them eloquently. Albert Pike, again, was a man of his time. He loved humankind, justice, truth, and joy just as surely as he hated intolerance, persecution, oppression, and religious bigotry. He wrote those passions into words which still ring today with fierce conviction.

America in Pike’s time was a nation of great characters, of men and women larger than life--people like Davey Crockett, Sam Houston, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Abraham Lincoln. Pike knew many of these people and counted some of them as friends. And he, too, was a character larger than life. Whether swirling through the Washington, D.C., social scene--where he was accounted an outstanding dancer and a host without parallel--or retired to his study, reading throughout the night and producing essays, poems and, finally, his major work in Masonic philosophy, Morals and Dogma, everyone knew, and most people admired, Albert Pike.

Finally, America in the 19th Century had an unbounded faith in the future, in progress, in expansion, in the certainty of humanity’s continuing moral and spiritual improvement. Pike preached those things and, more importantly, worked to make them come about. He lived in an unshakable confidence that the best was yet to come.

It is our great good fortune that a senior scholar in our own time has written this book. Walter Lee Brown is surely the most qualified person in America to undertake the task. Pike was the subject of his doctoral dissertation while he was a student at the University of Texas. Throughout a long and distinguished academic career, Dr. Brown has continued an active interest in Albert Pike. His research is exhaustive and meticulous, but it stays in the background, never getting in the way of the fascinating story of Pike’s rich life.

Much of Professor Brown’s career has been spent at the University of Arkansas, in Pike’s backyard, as it were, and this biography has the easy familiarity of one who has visited over the back fence. It is a book written as one would write of a friend one has known for years, followed through sorrows and triumphs. Dr. Brown has done a large service in bringing before us a personality who shaped and was shaped by the forces of his time. This biography has much to teach, and we are privileged to learn.

To order A Life of Albert Pike by Walter Lee Brown, see “Book Reviews” by Jim Tresner.

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