EXCERPTS FROM AMERICAN FREEMASONS:
THREE CENTURIES OF BUILDING COMMUNITIES

Presented May 20, 2005 by Mark A. Tabbert,
published by the National Heritage Museum
and New York University Press, 2005


Purpose of the Book
"At your leisure hours, study the liberal arts and sciences; and improve in Masonic disquisitions, by the conversation of well-informed Brethren, who will be as ready to give, as you can be to receive instruction."
-William Preston 1796 edition

This book seeks to explore and understand how generations of Masons have been exposed to the tenets of Freemasonry and have practiced them in public. To fulfill this purpose is to provide an explanation of what Freemasonry is, why American men have joined it for nearly 300 years, and what Freemasons have done and continue to do. The use of authorized quotations from Masonic initiation ceremonies and the symbols used by Masons to explain their ethical tenets will provide the reader with a deeper insight into Freemasonry's basic philosophy and a member's desire to participate.
Part One begins with a basic explanation of some of the legendary and historical origins of the fraternity. Borrowing heavily from three distinct sources, a group of independent, preexisting Masonic lodges came together in London in 1717 to form a so-called "grand" lodge with certain supervisory powers. From this point on, Masons traveled in various directions and adapted the fraternity to fit different locales. In the American colonies, it attracted the social and political elite, entrepreneurs, artisans, farmers and free Africans. Through revolution, war and the establishment of the new republic, Freemasonry was transformed into a forum for equality, liberty, enterprise and civic virtue. By the 1820s, however, its considerable prestige created resentment and fear among some Americans. These attitudes and suspicions about the fraternity helped to fuel the flames of a scandal that caused many political, religious and community leaders to join together to denounce the fraternity, which suffered greatly as a result.
Part Two shows how Freemasonry found new ways to rebuild itself and to grow as the nation expanded in the 1800s. Successive generations of Masons employed the tenets inculcated in thousands of lodges throughout America to build the fraternity and also create new organizations to serve rapidly changing communities. Part Two begins to explore some of the most important reasons for the fraternal involvement of millions of American men, who sought (1) self-improvement, (2) dramatic ritual performance, (3) health and death benefits and (4) social life. Part Three examines life in the 1900s, when they found three more reasons to join: (5) business networks, (6) family participation and (7) community service.
The book does not make predictions for the future of Freemasonry. It relates the past to the present and shows how Freemasonry's tenets - first established in the 1700s - continue to adorn both the lodge and America today. Hopefully, the reader will gain a greater understanding of the interaction between the private Masonic lodge and the public environment of American community.

SECOND EXCERPT ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

"The supports of a Lodge are three great pillars, called Wisdom, Strength and Beauty. It is necessary there should be Wisdom to contrive, Strength to support, and Beauty to adorn all great and important undertakings."
        -Masonic Ritual, ca. 1730

Freemasonry, which is often called "the craft," is founded upon architectural metaphors. Complex symbols and tenets reveal a confluence of many sources. From its perceived origins in medieval Europe up to the present day, Freemasonry's history reflects the continual use of new techniques and tools to illustrate its tenets. Since the founding of the first grand lodge in London in 1717, Freemasonry has spread from England throughout the world and now includes people of all faiths, races, talents and classes.
Three elements have had a profound effect on the creation and development of Freemasonry: Judeo-Christian teachings, stonemasons' regulations and the Enlightenment's philosophy. The Masonic fraternity borrows the concept of wisdom and the tenet of brotherly love from Judeo-Christian teachings. The concept of strength and the tenet of relief come from the stonemasons' guilds. Freemasonry owes its beauty and the tenet of truth to the Enlightenment.

Judeo-Christian Traditions
"Speculative Masonry is so far interwoven with religion, as to lay us under the strongest obligations to pay that rational homage to the Deity, which at once constitutes the duty and happiness of mankind."
--- William Preston, 1772

A product of Western civilization, Freemasonry is grounded on Judeo-Christian foundations. When four London Masonic lodges formally organized in 1717, English society was beginning to recover from the religious, sectarian and political strife. Some two centuries had passed since Henry VIII's fateful decision to break with the Church of Rome, and the intervening years had witnessed warfare and bloodshed. Seeking a means to reestablish unity, Freemasons sought to avoid theological and political differences by subscribing to a viewpoint that supported a universal affirmation of man's dependence on God, the existence of an afterlife, and the wisdom conveyed through Holy Scripture and evident in the designs of nature. To join a Masonic lodge, a man was obliged to respect "that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves."
The first generation of European Freemasons established an important precedent by allowing Jews and Christians of many denominations to enter the lodge and become fraternal brothers. From the fraternity's founding in Protestant England, its principle of universal religious toleration expanded as the organization grew. Because of its spirituality, Freemasonry is frequently described as "a brotherhood of man, under the Fatherhood of God." The spiritual aspect allowed men "to meet on the level" of equality, "act on the plumb" of character and "part on the square" of virtue.

Stonemasons' Guilds
"A LODGE is a Place where Masons assemble and work: Hence that Assembly, or duly organized Society of Masons, is called a LODGE, and every Brother ought to belong to one, and to be subject to its By-Laws and the GENERAL REGULATIONS."
-James Anderson, 1723

During the medieval age, stonemasons' guilds were organized locally to regulate the work of their members. Guilds were comprised of "laborers," who wrought the stone; "foremen," who supervised the work, and "architects," who were the master overseers. Guilds oversaw a craftsman's progress from apprentice to master, maintained the quality and ownership of the craft, and provided assistance to the brothers in time of need. A stonemason's "lodge" was located at the job site and was the place where masons gathered, received instruction and stored their tools.
Unlike most craftsmen, stonemasons were intimately connected to both the religious and secular powers. They worked closely with bishops and priests to build cathedrals, churches and chapels that glorified God, amplified the Holy Mysteries of the Mass and proclaimed the majesty of the Church. Kings, barons and other nobility entrusted stonemasons to build palaces and castles that beautified their courts, protected their realms and magnified their power.
To maintain their craft and satisfy both spiritual and temporal masters, stonemasons created several means to regulate themselves. Organized guilds in the 1300s drew up long lists of rules or "charges" that articulated their mythical history, established their local authority, and required the members to be faithful Christians and loyal subjects of the king. In addition to these written charges were deeper traditions. Illiterate stonemasons probably used words, hand signs and grips to identify each other and retain their trade secrets. These secret signs supposedly prevented unworthy men from gaining admission into the lodges or receiving guild assistance. Masons used the secret words and grips to secure work and establish seniority as they traveled to distance job sites.
Stonemasons' guilds declined with the waning of castle and cathedral building in the late 1500s. Local guilds increasingly competed for work. Masons, particularly in Scotland, sought the protection and patronage of the aristocracy. The acceptance of influential gentlemen into the lodge generated broader public interest in Masonry, thus leading to more non-stonemasons seeking membership. With the passage of time, these "accepted" members came to dominate. In the mid-1600s, "accepted" brothers, such as Elias Ashmole, in England, used the semi-organized guild system with its "ancient" rules and signs of recognition for broader purposes. The Free and Accepted Masons reinterpreted guild rules by restricting membership to only able-bodied men who were loyal to the crown and faithful to God. By 1717, a systematic and rational Masonic organizational movement was underway.

The Enlightenment
 "… the Greater Pythagoras, prov'd the Author of the 47th Proposition of Euclid's first Book, which, if duly Observ'd, is the Foundation of all Masonry, sacred, civil, and military."
-James Anderson, 1723

The British Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries influenced Freemasonry's use of symbolic rituals, appreciation for beauty and emphasis on the pursuit of truth. During the religious and political wars that spread throughout Western Europe in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, intellectuals, artists, scientists and theologians were often forced to relocate in search of safety. Within cosmopolitan communities, public taverns and coffeehouses became popular places for cultured gentlemen to gather for intelligent and social discourse. For example, the Royal Society, founded about 1660, attracted such prominent men as Robert Boyle, Sir Isaac Newton, and Elias Ashmole. These men and many others slowly accumulated, organized and transformed disparate elements of knowledge into a system of scientific principles. Distinguished by its commitment to rational thought and scientific method, a new generation believed it could discover ways to gain personal improvement, bring order to society and understand the whole universe.
In their search for knowledge, they found inspiration and confirmation from their intellectual predecessors. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Galileo and Sir Francis Bacon, among others, had all sought harmony from the Bible, classical philosophies and the laws of nature. The Enlightenment's philosophers continued this work while seeking deeper meaning from ancient civilizations. They studied Greek and Roman architecture and King Solomon's Temple in search of keys to unlock the lost truths of ancient civilizations.
 
King Solomon's Temple
"And if we consider the [Temple's] 1453 Columns of Parian Marble, with twice as many Pillasters, both having glorious Capitals of several Orders, and about 2246 Windows, besides those in the Pavement, with the unspeakable and costly Decoration of it within; … we must conclude its Prospect to transcend our Imagination; and that it was justly esteem'd by far the finest Piece of Masonry upon Earth before or since."
-James Anderson, 1723

The three disparate elements - religion (wisdom), stonemasons (strength) and Enlightenment (beauty) - provided a framework for Freemasonry to develop in the early 1700s. The biblical story of King Solomon's Temple, described in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles, united these elements. Within a lodge, men of differing faiths accepted the Temple as a symbol from which respect and brotherly love could grow.

(SIDE QUOTE)
"And King Solomon sent and fetched Hiram out of Tyre. He was a widow's son of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in brass; and he was filled with wisdom and understanding and cunning to work all works in brass. And he came to King Solomon and wrought all his work."
-1 Kings 7:13-14

To Jews, the Temple was a culmination of their covenant with God; to Christians it was a reflection of the coming City of God. The Temple - as the house of the God of Abraham, Moses and Jesus - became a theologically neutral symbol for Freemasonry's spirituality and brotherly love to which all believers in a Supreme Being could relate.
Built in an ancient time and place, the Temple was also open to mythological interpretation. According to the scriptural passages, Solomon prayed for, and received, wisdom from God to build the Temple.
The natural philosophers of the Enlightenment became increasingly enamored with Solomon's Temple. The Bible's detailed description combined with the accounts of the ancient historian Josephus made it worthy of serious contemplation. Built in Jerusalem around 900 BC, the Temple stood for nearly 400 years before its destruction by the Babylonians. As the house of God, the Temple became the subject of many moral and scientific treatises. Some natural philosophers believed the Temple's architecture and ornaments held mathematical and geometrical keys to understanding the nature of God and His creation.
Early Scottish Freemasons used the Temple as a symbol to unify their initiation ceremonies. The first degree (Entered Apprentice) symbolically begins on the Temple's "checkered pavement" where the candidate receives instruction on the morals, virtues and tenets of the fraternity. In the second degree (Fellowcraft), he symbolically climbs up to the Temple's "middle chamber" and is educated in architecture, the liberal arts and sciences, and intellectual improvement. The third degree (Master Mason) begins in the uncompleted and unconsecrated Holy of Holies, where the candidate assumes the role of the Temple's master builder, Hiram Abiff. Within the third degree, a member is charged with building God's Temple in his heart and employing the tenets of brotherly love, relief and truth within his community.
The innovative use of an architectural metaphor centered on the Temple made the Masonic rituals interesting to contemporaries while developing an exclusive jargon among members. Performing the rituals improved members' intellectual capacities, and taught them the art of memory. The continuation of stonemasons' relief and the development of other charitable work gave Freemasons an important legitimate mission. The adoption of enlightened philosophies restricted membership to the culturally refined. Thus the early Accepted Freemasons transformed a tradesmen's guild into a fraternity for moral edification, intellectual recitations, benevolent service and gentlemanly socialization.