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The history and impact of Freemasonry in the United States has always been surrounded by controversies and conspiracy theorists have always come in handy to provide different accounts of the role played by Masons in the foundation of the country. While conspiracy theorists may be blamed for this widespread misinformation on Freemasonry in the United States, the mystery surrounding the history and the impact the organization had on the foundation of the country is sustained by the Freemasonry’s once secretive membership rolls. A number of the American founding fathers were either known or associated with the Freemasonry, which is believed to have impacted greatly on how they envisioned America as a nation. Despite the speculation and what conspiracy theorists would have us believe, the real impact of Freemasonry on the foundation of America is quite significant in understanding the history of the nation. This paper highlights the impact that Freemasonry had on the founding fathers and consequently how they laid the ground for the building of America as a nation.
Masonic scholars have varied accounts on how and when Freemasonry (Masonic Fraternity) started. However, it is widely believed that it emerged sometimes during the Middle Ages from the guilds of the stonemasons. It is noted that the symbols and language used by Masons in their rituals originated from this period. In addition, the oldest document that is used by the Masons as a reference is Regius Poem and was printed in 1390s. More complete records were to be documented later on in 1717 when four lodges were opened in London forming the First Grand Lodge of England. Within a span of thirty years, Freemasonry spread rapidly across Europe and into the American colonies. The fraternity reached America during the Revolutionary era and has become synonymous with that era. While today Freemasonry has gained worldwide recognition as an organization that emphasizes on self-improvement, personal study as well as social betterment through philanthropy and individual involvement, the 1700s fraternity was associated with the spread of the Enlightenment ideals. Such ideals included individual’s right to worship, human dignity and individual liberty, importance of education, and creation of more democratic governments. The ideals were seen through the words and deeds of the Masons as was the case with the support which was extended to the first public schools formed in America and Europe.
The fact that the fraternity had an instant impact on the politics and ideologies of the ruling elites in the American colonies was no doubt. This was clearly evident in the number of patriotic Americans who opted to join or were identified by the fraternity. Consequently, the ideals of the fraternity had an impact on how the founding fathers viewed the foundation of the nation. The membership of the Freemasonry during the Revolutionary era had also signers of the American Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Notable members of Freemasonry included George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Warren, and Paul Revere. Other members of the fraternity who were also involved in the founding of the country included John Sullivan, John Hancock, John Paul Jones, Nathanael Greene, Baron Fredrick von Stuben, and Lafayette. While historical accounts have differed on the extent of involvement of the founding fathers with Freemasonry, there is consensus that most of signers of the constitution were either sympathizers or members of the fraternity. For instance, it is believed that at least fifteen out of the fifty six signers of the Declaration of Independence were acknowledged as members of Freemason whereas twenty eight out of forty signers of the American constitution were members of fraternity. In addition, the influence of the fraternity and its ideals was felt in the Colonial Army. It is noted that out of the seventy four generals in the army, more than 50 percent were members of the Masonic fraternity.
After Freemasonry had permeated the American politics during the Revolutionary era, it is hard to separate the ideals of the founding fathers from those of the Freemasonry. Various historical accounts argue that the Freemasons singled out the founding of America’s nation as one of the important events and perhaps pre-destined. Indeed this sense of destiny has been described by many Masonic scholars as somewhat true among the colonists prior to the Declaration of Independence. At a time when Freemasonry was permeating most cultures in the West, the ideals of the Freemasonry were critical in enlightening the colonists on the nature of society America should take. Freemasonry helped to instill in the founding fathers the importance of American independence as well as the realization of that independence. It has been disputed that the significance of the independence of America was more defined within the fraternity and its members than was the case among the American public.
While the country was capable of defining its own political and religious destiny since science and reason had emerged as the cornerstone of Western culture, the founding fathers could not resist the blossoming ideals of Freemasonry. At the time, Freemasonry was considered a growing, democratic and a morally responsible society that shaped the founding fathers’ beliefs not only on the importance and attainment of the country’s independence but also on the moral pillars that should build American nation. Freemasonry had a democratic system and membership where anybody including a security guard could rule as a leader of the Lodge while other elites (such as nobles) would go through mandatory initiations at the tail end of the hierarchy. This democratic practice within Freemasonry in which most founding fathers were members, helped to instill the ideals of a democratic society in the founders of our nation. In addition, as one of the rules of Freemasonry, most of the world’s religions were tolerated by the Masons and this was important in influencing the American constitution. It is imperative to realize that there was no distinct western government known at the time to actualize the ideals of religious tolerance or status equality. Thus, it was not surprising to see the American constitution recognizing all religions as well as individual’s liberty to worship as they wish. Indeed this has been one of the great pillars of the American constitution that has stood the test of time.
The earlier influence that Freemasonry had on the foundation of American and the dominance of the Masons in the American political arena has led to a number of conspiracy theories. Largely, the theories do not recognize the importance of the fraternity in shaping America as a republic but find fault in how the members of the organization have dominated the American politics. Generally, conspiracy theorists have always associated Masonic fraternity with the Illuminati and the New World Order. They state that members of this organization are secretly plotting to dominate the world or are already controlling the world’s politics. Since the founding of the nation, Freemasonry in American (like in other western country), has always attracted criticisms from all quarters. Wilson particularly perpetuates this conspiracy in his book Everything is Under Control: Conspiracies, Cults, and Cover-Ups by arguing that since the Revolutionary era, Freemasons have dominated American presidency. He states that Freemasons have controlled America from the beginning and this is evident in the manner in which the ideals of this organization were used to create America. To support his theory, he argues that most of the U.S. presidents (before Jimmy Carter) were either Freemasons or were relatives of Freemasons.
Whether it is a conspiracy or not Freemasonry played a critical role in shaping the foundation of America as a nation. While conspiracy theorists find fault in the number of the founding fathers who were connected to the Freemasonry, there is no improbability that the influence of the Freemason’s ideals was essential in informing the founding fathers on how America should look like. From the nature of government, religion, to individual liberty, Freemasonry provided the building blocks of American constitution and inspired the founding fathers to see the importance as well as realization of American independence. Freemasonry may be regarded today as a quieter organization that contributes to charitable rather than religious or political causes; however, historically, its principles and ideals have helped to strengthen the country’s founding commitment to Americans’ pursuit of meaning. It is not farfetched to suggest that Freemasonry helped the founding fathers to build a nation that protected individual’s spiritual search from international interference, sectarian restriction, and majority rule. Beyond today’s fascination with secrecy and symbolism of Freemasonry, the highest contribution of the organization to Americans national life is represented in that ideal.