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Article # 111
Freemasonry and Its Effects on the First War of American Independence

Author: Bro. Ryan H. Driber    Posted on: Monday, September 20, 2004
General Article | 0 comments  | Post your comment

 [ The contribution of Freemasons for American Independence was very significant.The tenets of Freemasonry

 are reflected in the American Constitution and has been largely responsible for the evolution of American

Constitutional Law. The author in  this article has admirably brought out the contribution of Freemasons

and the effect of Freemasonry on the American War of Independence and as to how the Freemasons

in England had helped the cause of American brethren. Please read on…]

 

 

Freemasonry and Its Effects on the First War of American Independence

 

By Bro. Ryan H. Driber

 

 

Freemasonry, a fraternity based on ideals such as Liberty, Equality, and Fraternal Brotherhood is a surprisingly broad subject in American history, having its origin in Great Britain (Newton 211). It is an old craft, and the first fraternity to be present in America. Masonry was first introduced in North Carolina in the year 1680 by an Englishman named John Moore (Newton 191). The first official Lodge was chartered in 1730 and held jurisdiction over New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania (Newton 191). To better understand the workings of the fraternity in the few years prior to the Revolutionary War and its effects on certain influential  persons, one must understand the nature of Freemasonry as a whole.

 

Freemasonry is a Fraternity that incorporates ideas of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth into its teachings that stem from the ancient account of Hiram Abif, the chief architect of King Solomon’s Temple (Lipson 34-36). In order to become a Freemason, a man must believe in a Supreme Being; a God of one form or fashion (Robinson 175). The religion of the man does not matter, and Masonry, in fact, accepts men of all monotheistic religions (Robinson 175). The central theme of Masonry is that of instilling a moral code to govern behavior, ideas of constant self-improvement, and a dedication to acts of charity (Robinson 175). All Masons (then and now) share in common rituals that are designed to build a strong sense of brotherhood and spiritual understanding (Lipson 8).  With these characteristics and a fostering of open-mindedness, Freemasonry provided a solution to some of the problems Colonial American men faced such as a need for new social classes, new scientific development, and religious diversity (Lipson 36). This change in early American society had a noticeable impact on certain men, most of whom are known as America’s Founding Fathers.

 

The number of Freemasons who played a role in the Revolution is staggering. Such well-known patriots of the American cause include General George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Edmund Randolph, John Hancock, and 11 other known signers of the Declaration of Independence (Newton 213-214). As history teaches us, the contributions of these men significantly changed the face of early American society and set the pace for American political development.

 

George Washington, in addition to being the first President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, was also the Worshipful Master of his Lodge in Virginia at the time of his inauguration as President of the United States (Baigent and Leigh 260). Washington attended his inauguration in full Masonic regalia and was sworn in by a fellow Mason (Baigent and Leigh 261). He played a vital role in the Constitutional Congress, being one of the “five guiding spirits” of it (Baigent and Leigh 259). He so ardently adhered to his Masonic beliefs that it could be argued that he let those beliefs serve as a model which he used in order to help create the United States Constitution (Baigent and Leigh 259). In addition to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin displayed just as much fervor for his Masonic beliefs.

 

Benjamin Franklin is arguably one of the most important characters in the Revolution. His insight into politics (both European and American) and his respected status among American dignitaries is renowned in history. He published the first American book regarding Masonry (Haywood 189). In addition, he was the Grand Master of Pennsylvania for a term, he was heavily involved in a spy network for the Americans that used Freemasonry as a way to gain information from the British, and he served as American Ambassador to France (Baigent and Leigh 207, 233). It becomes clear when presented with the magnitude of services that Franklin gave to America that he was instrumental in defining a part of the fledgling nation. Even more apparent is the distinct possibility that his Masonic beliefs heavily influenced his actions, thus influencing another factor in the War for Independence. Franklin and Washington were not the only men whose roles as Founding Fathers were influenced by Freemasonry. Edmund Randolph and John Hancock were also among the notable names.

 

Edmund Randolph was the first outspoken voice in the Constitutional Convention in 1787 (Baigent and Leigh 256). He was George Washington’s aide-de-camp, became Attorney General, was the Governor of Virginia, Grand Master of Masons in Virginia, and the first Secretary of State (Baigent and Leigh 256). In addition to Randolph’s signature being found on the Declaration of Independence, a few other names were Masonic as well, those including John Hancock and Benjamin Franklin (Newton 214). When a person stops to think about the sheer influence that these men had on early American society, he is forced to wonder about exactly how much influence Freemasonry had on the War for Independence and the Constitution of the United States. The fact remains distinctly possible and, more likely, probable that these men exacted strong Masonic influence on the actions around them and attempted to model their fledgling nation in a way that resembled Masonry itself. Of course, various figureheads of society did not by any stretch comprise the full bearing that Masonry could have had on America during the times prior to, during, and shortly after the War. There are military factors that play into this picture as well. 

 

Though military actions and tactics do not seem to lend themselves relevantly to the subject matter of this essay, it is imperative that they should be addressed so that the reader understands the reasons behind some of the actions of both armies on and off the field of battle. The British Army comprises the first of the military aspects of the War. As a student of history would know, the British Army was, at the time of the American Revolution, the most formidable fighting force in the world. Their cruelty and willingness to fight for their empire is well documented all the way back to the 12th Century (Baigent and Leigh 24-27).

 

The American Continental Army has been compared to Russia during Napoleon’s invasion or Hitler’s with an entire people “passionately united” in order to repel the aggressors (Baigent and Leigh 213). This is not exactly the way events transpired. 38% of the Colonists held either a neutral position or remained loyal to the Crown, leaving only 62% of the Colonists in support of Independence and even less of a percentage of those people were actually in favor of war (Baigent and Leigh 213). This is a far cry from an entirely united people. Also, the Americans never really attained a decisive battle along the lines of Waterloo or Gettysburg (Baigent and Leigh 213). At the end of the War, the majority of British regiments was still intact and had strategic positions against the Continentals (Breeding 127). It seems that both sides merely became tired of fighting, gave up and went home (Breeding 127). Why would the British Army, an Army renowned for their military strength, merely pack up and go home? The answer may never be clear, but one could argue in light of certain facts relating to Masonic military commanders, that Freemasonry had a significant role in why the British surrendered.

It is widely known in historical circles that a many British Commanders were Masons along with much of the British nobility. It has already been established that many American commanders and politicians were Masons as well. This becomes a very interesting correlation when it is placed in light of the Masonic obligations. All Masons are required to swear an obligation to each other that they will uphold even through the worst of times or face very drastic penalties, even death (Robinson 216-217). In light of this fact, the intent of the British military officers who were supposed to fight their American counterparts with the knowledge that they were fellow Masons becomes very questionable. The moral aspect of the situation would most likely dictate that Masons on either side would help, aid, and assist their needy brethren in keeping with their obligation which, in a wartime environment, would probably result in a stalemate of sorts (Robinson 216-217). In addition to these stalemates, the War gained immense unpopularity in Britain. The British citizens wanted no part in American affairs, preferring to handle their own matters. Also, many of the British noblemen who were Masons saw what the Colonists were trying to do, were sympathetic to their cause, and put pressure on the King to end the war (Robinson 133). The impact that Masonry had on the War itself can in no measurable way  be determined, yet there are too many interwoven facts and issues that are altogether too closely related to be completely coincidental. While not being able to know exactly what the Craft did for the War, it’s obvious that it played a large role in it. Not only did it play into the War, but it seems that it had an impact on American government as well.

 

American Government was a system of government unseen in the world prior to 1776. As all Americans should know, this country is a Republic with a large measure of power given to the people. In principle, no one man or woman is greater than any other man or woman. In standing, everyone is equal. It is this way too with Masonry. Once a man is raised to the degree of Master Mason, he is the equal of every other man in the Lodge from the Tiler (gatekeeper) to the Grand Master of his State (Robinson 17). Officers of the Lodge are elected by their peers, serve a term, and can be impeached if their job is unsatisfactory (Baigent and Leigh 257). Understanding this, it becomes obvious that the correlation between Lodge elections and public elections in America are distinctly related, as if the latter came from the former.

 

It is not only the structure of the Lodge political system that has had an impact on American Society, but also the basic principles on which Freemasonry is built. Those are Liberty, Equality of all, and Fraternity (Newton 213). Also, Masonry played a large role in the wording and structure of the Constitution (Baigent and Leigh 259). “…[T]he Federalism established in the civil government of the Constitution created is identical to the Federalism of the Grand Lodge System of Masonic government,” said an unnamed diplomat regarding the Constitution of the United States (Baigent and Leigh 258-259). It seems apparent that Masonry has contributed something to the overall structure of American government, though exactly what it is and the extent of it may never be known (Baigent and Leigh 256).

 

The correlation between the Lodge and the Constitution is too much to ignore as mere happenstance. The evidence suggests that Masonry is probably one of the biggest if not the biggest variable in the American equation. It is directly responsible for the existence of such patriotic groups as the Sons of Liberty. Masonry gave a common bond of brotherhood to a multitude of American dignitaries, politicians, generals, soldiers, and common men. This craft, as it is called, is a real American phenomenon and should be studied thoroughly by scholars of history. It is a piece of Americana of which few people are aware, but has obviously played a very important role in defining our identity as American people.

 

Cited Bibliography:

 

Haywood, H.L., The Newly Made Mason, Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply, Inc., Richmond, Virginia, 1973

Lipson, C., The History of Freemasonry in Connecticut, A Published Doctoral Dissertation, (Believed to be University of Connecticut Press) original text lost

Baigent, M. Leigh, R., The Temple and the Lodge, Arcade Publishing, New York, 1989

Breeding, R., A Survey of the History and Mysteries of Freemasonry, Thriftecon Publications, Knoxville, TN 2000

Newton, J.F., The Builders A Story and Study of Freemasonry, Macoy Publishing, Richmond, Virginia, 1979

Robinson, J. Born in Blood, M. Evans & Company, New York, 1989

 

 

The author is the worthy son of a great father and a Masonic writer in the making. His father W.Bro.Dr.Thomas J. Driber is an erudite Masonic scholar and a prolific writer and a regular and significant contributor to the Tennessee Research Lodge. Brother Ryan was raised a MM on May 22nd, 2003. He is a Knight Templar and a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason in the Orient of Tennessee, Valley of Nashville, Southern Jurisdiction. He is a charter member of the Knights of Saint Andrew of the Scottish Rite. He is an excellent ritualist in the Blue Lodge, Royal Arch Chapter, and works in the Scottish Rite degrees. Brother Ryan is a Broadcast Journalism major at Middle Tennessee State University. Brother Ryan is sharing his research with the brethren. Bro.Ryan has been contributing articles. In fact this article has appeared in the Proceedings of Tennessee Research Lodge. We are very thankful to the author and for permitting us to post this article in this site.


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