History of Freemasonry in the founding of the United States of America
The origins of Freemasonry are as enigmatic as the occult symbols and rituals associated with it. It is widely accepted that the organization of Freemasonry stems from the stonemason craft guilds of the Middle Ages in Europe. Freemasonry’s core principles revolve around religious toleration and liberty. Many of America’s Founding Fathers were Freemasons, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Other notable Freemasonic figures involved in the founding and early stages of the United States were Paul Revere, John Hancock, and Chief Justice John Marshall. With this knowledge, it follows that Freemasonry was an undeniably important influence in the founding of the United States.
The mysterious origins of Freemasonry in medieval Europe are what has given this fraternity its allure to the public. In 17th century Europe, religious conflict was strife. At the time, Freemasonry sought to search for religious truth across all civilizations throughout the ongoing course of history. Freemasonic members turned to ancient occult symbols as a method of communication without risking charges of heresy or worse. This is the primary explanation for the obscurity of early Freemasonry.
With the establishment of the English Grand Lodge in London in 1717, Freemasonry was exported to the United States. American settlers followed the trend of Freemasonry, establishing the first masonic lodges in America. The spread of Freemasonry in America occurred through the establishment of military lodges which were able to move about with the regiment. Many gentry joined these military lodges, and after the regiment would relocate, they would request the Grand Lodge to constitute them as a new lodge. Many British regiments were located along the Atlantic seaboard, and the number of lodges grew rapidly as a result.
In the U.S., Freemasonry attracted two divergent types of people: philosophical intellectuals and gentlemen who saw the organization as an agreeable social activity. Boston-born Benjamin Franklin was the first type who explored freedom of worship and religious toleration – concepts which tended towards deism for him. In 1764, Franklin underwent his final visit to London to petition the King to make Pennsylvania a royal colony. This trip would eventually culminate in the American Revolution and Declaration of Independence. Republican Freemasonic philosophy was evident in Franklin’s vehement opposition to the British monarchy. With the onset of the Revolutionary War, assistance from France began with French Freemason Marquis de La Fayette’s army of volunteers. Benjamin Franklin realized quickly that this assistance was not enough. Through links from French Freemasons and the American victory at Saratoga, Franklin was able to convince France to declare war on Britain, turning the tides of the war towards the colonies.
Around the early 1750s, George Washington was initiated as a Freemason. Washington was the latter type of Freemason and considered a perfect gentleman in all respects. Washington was a leading figure in the revolutionary movement. As the first President of the United States, Washington set many precedents in America’s foundations. He was a proponent of one of Freemasonry’s most radical ideas – many faiths existing under one nation. This is seen most explicitly in a letter to the congregation of a Rhode Island synagogue in which he wrote, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily, the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens…” Washington embodied the Freemasonic philosophy as seen through his own struggle with the institution of slavery which he desired to end. Of all the Founding Fathers, Washington was the only one to free all his slaves in his will.
In a time of racial division, Freemasons proved themselves to be ahead of the times. In 1775, Freemasonic officials granted a group of local freemen of color led by Prince Hall to affiliate as the Masons. This marked the first time in history that black men were made masons in colonial America. Prince Hall was a skilled orator who supported the Revolution and fought against the British during the war. Hall’s mission in this time was double-sided – to release colonial America from the clutches of Britain and release oppressed blacks from the clutches of slavery. Hall signed the fledgling nation’s earliest anti-slavery petitions. Towards the end of the antebellum period, African Lodge No. 1 became the first black-led abolitionist movement.
Though these Freemason figures were influential in shaping the colonies into the United States of America, the ideology that pervaded Freemason thinking was the most principal factor in the lives of all Freemasons involved in the founding of the United States. In the late 18th century, Freemasonry served as a platform to spread the ideas of the Enlightenment: “the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual, the right of all persons to worship as they choose, the formation of democratic governments, and the importance of public education.” These ideas are seen throughout the Constitution and Declaration of Independence in “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” freedom of religion in the 1st Amendment, and the republican form of government practiced in the U.S. Freemasons were proponents of the very first public schools in Europe and America. These ideas, imprinted in the everlasting scripts of the founding documents, remain integral to the fabric of the U.S. government and society.
Over the years, Freemasonry has become a worldwide fraternity with an emphasis on personal study and improvement, and social betterment through individual activism and philanthropy. In the 1800s and early 1900s, Freemasonry provided social security though the establishment of orphanages, and homes for widows and the elderly. Throughout these centuries, many notable Americans have been affiliated as Freemasons, such as Charles Lindbergh, John Glenn, Dr. Charles H. Mayo, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today, the Masonic Fraternity continues to donate nearly $1.5 million each day to a range of philanthropic causes.
The esoteric secrecy of Freemasonry has obfuscated its role in the founding of the United States. It is believed that about nine of the fifty-six men that signed the Declaration of Independence and about thirteen of the thirty-nine that signed the Constitution were Freemasons. The spread of Enlightenment ideals developed a philosophy in which the brotherhood strove to advance the betterment of society. Though Freemasons fought on both sides of the Revolutionary war, the nation that emerged from it was and is still influenced by its origins in the Freemasonic cause.
Additionally, Amirah followed up after the award ceremony night with a very thoughtful email, provided below…
Dear Mr. Tishman,
On behalf of myself, my family, and my school, I would like to thank the lodge for attending my school’s senior awards night and awarding me the Freemasonry scholarship. I really enjoyed learning about Freemasonry while writing the essay. Not to mention, it is truly an honor to be recognized by such an influential and noble organization. I am very grateful for the lodge’s noteworthy contribution in pursuing my college education. Again, thank you all so much!