Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States whose 1980 election was a landmark victory for America’s right-wing conservative movement, was devoted to the writings of an occult guru who believed that America had a “secret destiny” inspired by a mysterious figure who could vanish through locked doors in a closed room.
Reagan himself told the “unknown speaker” tale, apparently lifted straight from Hall, in speeches of his own.
In his new book, One Simple Idea: How Positive Thinking Reshaped Modern Life, author Mitch Horowitz — who writes frequently on spiritualist topics — recounts how Ronald Reagan lifted the story of the “unknown speaker” directly from Hall.
Horowitz’s book will be released this week, but in an excerpt published in the online magazine Salon, Horowitz explains Hall’s version of the story. As America’s Founding Fathers were gathering to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Hall wrote in his 1944 book The Secret Destiny of America, a mysterious man suddenly appeared out of nowhere and delivered an inspirational speech.
“‘God has given America to be free!’ commanded the mysterious speaker, urging the men to overcome their fears of being hanged or beheaded, and to seal destiny by signing the great document,” Horowitz recounts, summarizing Hall’s bizarre tale.
The Founding Fathers then “looked to thank the stranger only to discover that he had vanished from the locked room. Was this, Hall wondered, ‘one of the agents of the secret Order, guarding and directing the destiny of America?’”
Ronald Reagan first told the odd story, without attributing it to Hall, in the 1957 commencement speech he delivered at his alma mater, Eureka College. He repeated it in a 1981 essay, written in his own hand on a yellow legal pad, for Parade Magazine, Horowitz recalls.
The wording Reagan used in the 1981 essay was suspiciously close to Hall’s own language. “When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how he had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors,” Reagan wrote.
Ronald Reagan also told the story in a 1974 address to the Conservative Political Action Committee, but this time he attributed it, at least indirectly, to Hall. Reagan did not name Hall, but instead described him as “a writer who happened to be an avid student of history.”
In that speech, Reagan said that this “writer” had told him the story directly, leading Horowitz to speculate that Manly P. Hall and Ronald Reagan actually met in person, and that Reagan was more than simply a casual fan of Hall’s books.
In 1988, Ronald Reagan’s former press secretary Marlin Fitzwater publicly acknowledged that both the president and his wife Nancy Reagan often relied on astrologers to make decisions, and Ronald Reagan was also taken with numerology, the belief that numbers have mystical meanings and can be “lucky” or “unlucky,” Horowitz recounted in a recent Washington Post column.
The revelations caused a minor scandal for Ronald Reagan at the time as observers wondered whether national security could have been compromised by his fascination with the occult as the video below explains.