Freemasonry has done more for the world in which we live than most people – even Masons — realize. Historians have generally paid little attention to the Fraternity in the past. In the last few years, however, academics and historians have begun to realize that Freemasonry runs as a thread through many of the events which have shaped the political, economic, cultural and social world we know today. An exciting story is unfolding.
For the most part, the men and women quoted here are not associated with the Masonic Fraternity. Rather, they are historians, sociologists, cultural anthropologists, professors of architecture and music, and representatives of other disciplines. Their studies in their own areas of research have led them to the Lodge as a “major player” in shaping the world.
Historians now realize that Masonic Lodges in Europe served as the first models of democracy, models which later spread to governments. Members in Lodges made their own by-laws and elected their own leaders. No place else in society was that true. The very idea of elections, unsupervised by religious or civic authority, was unheard of — except in the Lodge. It is not too much to say that the model of democracy which was finalized in the United States and now exists in many nations of the world was an invention of the Masonic Lodge.3
Masonry came to North America in the early 1700’s. Many of the political debates about America’s future took place in Masonic Lodges, involving such Masons as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, and Joseph Warren.4 Those men were not only involved as individuals in the founding of America, but their Lodges were deeply involved in creating the new nation, ratifying the Bill of rights and establishing democracy as we know it today.5
Rights of Workers
If you enjoy working an 8-hour day rather than a 16-hour day, thank Masonry. Earlier, workdays were from sunrise to sunset, and were extended even further when gaslight made it possible to artificially illuminate the workplace. But the Masonic ritual taught another revolutionary concept — that men and women were entitled to part of the day as their own. It taught that the day should be divided into 3 8-hour parts, with 8 hours going to work, 8 hours going to their service of God and others, and 8 hours for rest and relaxation. Masons like Samuel Gompers helped to make that a reality. The Masonic author Albert Pike taught in the rituals of the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry that an employer had responsibility to employees to see them well housed and well fed, that exploitation of workers or paying the lowest possible wages was morally indecent, and that the exploitation of women and children in factories was criminal.7
Education has always been important to the fraternity. In the Middle ages, Masons trained in geometry and architecture using an apprenticeship system. Masonry was on of the very first occupations in which literacy was required, and apprentice masons were taught reading and writing as well as arithmetic and geometry.
At the founding of America, Masons helped to establish the first non-sectarian public schools and worked for tax-supported, compulsory education for all children. The movement grew and strengthened throughout the 1800’s. There are many cases on record in which the local Lodge built the schoolhouse, bought the school books, and paid the teacher’s salary until the community could organize to take over. In 1808, the Masons, under Grand Master DeWitt Clinton, helped to organize and educational system for the city of New York. When a bill was first introduced in Congress to establish land-grant colleges, it failed to gain support. The bill was reintroduced, and letters were sent to Masonic Lodges across the United States, asking Masons to contact their Senators and Representatives and urge support of the bill. At the official signing ceremony, the Masonic Fraternity was credited with securing passage of the legislation which today is helping to bring higher education within the reach of all Americans.10
Some of the first hospitals and the first programs to provide income for families whose breadwinner was killed or disabled arouse among the masons of the Middle Ages (building sites give rise to many accidents!). In the United Stated, Masonic Lodges started many hospitals, most of which were later turned over to communities as the population grew large enough to support them without Masonic assistance. Today, of course, Masonic involvement in health, especially the health of children is well known.
3 Margaret Jacob — Living the Enlightenment
4 Allen Roberts — Freemasonry in American history (Macoy Pub.)
5 Steven Bullock — Revolutionary Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730-1840 (University of North Carolina Press)
7 Albert Pike — Morals and Dogma (Supreme Council, Scottish Rite)
10 Robert Shipe — “Freemasonry and Public Education”
The preceding were excerpts taken from “What has Masonry done for the World?” published by the Masonic Information Center.