Sunday, August 06, 2006

Freemasonry and the Constitution

Dr. Kathleen Rawls, Dept. of History and Political Science, Guilford Technical Community College

On Sept. 18, 1793, President George Washington donned his ceremonial Masonic apron
and dedicated the cornerstone of the nation’s capitol. Acting in the capacity of Grand
Master, President Washington poured the libations of corn, oil and wine onto the
cornerstone and blessed the construction of this important national building. The choice
to invoke Masonic ritual in dedicating the capitol was a gesture that reflected the
influence freemasonry had on the founding of the United States of America. Indeed,
George Washington remarked at the time of the constitutional convention, “America is to
become what freemasonry already was; a temple of virtues.”

Freemasonry had its origins in Western Europe with the transformation of the stone
mason’s trade guild into a secret fraternal voluntary society in the 18 th century. The
Masonic lodges functioned as an important vehicle for the transmission of Enlightenment
ideals and a key space in which men could practice the concepts of republicanism at a
time when many men lacked access to political power. Freemasonry was brought to the
American colonies on the wave of Enlightenment ideals and provided young men like
George Washington with a way to improve their station in life.

During the Revolutionary War, nearly one half of Washington’s officers joined the
masons. The reason why men chose to join the freemasons centered in the desire to
belong to a brotherhood which created unity among men from different backgrounds,
class and geographic location. After the war was over, the lodges served as laboratories
for the practice of republican principles in a fledgling nation. When the Articles of
Confederation proved to be unworkable, many of our founding fathers, including
Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Daniel Carroll, shaped their vision of what the
nation should look like from the Masonic literature they were familiar with. In fact,
lodges had a long tradition of teaching their members practical skills important good
citizenship such as public speaking, voting, the importance of paying taxes, how to live
under a constitution and the importance of public service. It is estimated that 28 out of
the 40 signers of the constitution were either members of freemasons, affiliated with
lodges or sympathetic to Masonic ideals.

The constitution of the United States of America was a bold experiment in government
that has endured and inspired other nations. Freemasonry played a part in shaping the
spirit and language of the constitution while members became leaders in all walks of
public life.

Steven C. Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American
Social Order
Margaret Jacob, Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in 18 th Century Europe
The History Channel, In Search of: The Secret Brotherhood of the Freemasons



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