WASHINGTON AS A FREEMASON
DELIVERED BY ALBERT G. MACKEY, M. D., GRAND SECRETARY AND GRAND LECTURER OF THE GRAND LODGE OF SOUTH CAROLINA; GENERAL OF THE SUPREME COUNCIL OF THE 33D DEGREE, FOR THE SOUTHERN JURISDICTION OF THE UNITED STATES, ETC., ETC., BEFORE THE GRAND AND SUBORDINATE LODGES OF ANCIENT FREEMASONS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, AT CHARLESTON, S. C., ON THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 4TH, 1852, BEING THE CENTENNIAL CELEBRATION OF THE INITIATION OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
One hundred years ago – the day which we are now celebrating with all these public demonstrations of joy and pride – and which tens of thousands of our brethren are commemorating with us, in every city and town and village throughout the length and breadth of this vast empire – was hallowed in the history of the Masonic institution, by the initiation into its sublime mysteries of the Father of his Country.
The scenes enacted on that day in a small and obscure lodge of the Old Dominion were then, while the dark veil of the futurity was still undrawn, supposed to be of an ordinary character. The minute book of the Lodge at Fredericksburg presents no more than the usual record, that on the 4th of November, 1752, George Washington was initiated as an Entered Apprentice. The youth, who, though even then he had been honored by a distinguished appointment in the military service of his native State, had not yet developed the germ of his future greatness, passed undoubtedly through the solemn ceremonies of initiation into our mystic rites, without any suspicion on the part of those who assisted in bestowing on him the light of Masonry, that the transaction then occurring was to become an era in the annals of our institution, and that a century afterwards their descendants would ordain a jubilee, to hail its memory with shouts of joy and to celebrate its anniversary with loud peans of praise. But time, whose lessons are always progressive and often unexpected, has since taught us that the event of that evening was among the most important in the history of American Masonry. It has furnished a topic of angry discussion to the enemies, and of grateful exultation to the friends, of our institution. It has given an abiding testimony of the virtuous principles of that society, among whose disciples “the patriot, the hero and the sage” did not disdain to be numbered. And while time shall last and Masonry shall endure, that old but distinctly legible page in the record book of Fredericksburg Lodge will be pointed to with proud satisfaction by every Mason, as indisputable evidence that the wisest of statesmen, the purest of patriots, the most virtuous of men, was indeed his brother and bound with him in one common but mystic tie of fraternity and love.
In the ancient record book of the Lodge at Fredericksburg in Virginia – a book venerable for its age as a relic of the past -but still more venerable for the pages on which the record is made, will be found the following entries.
The first entry is thus:
No. 4th, 1752. This evening Mr. George Washington was initiated as an Entered Apprentice,” and the receipt of the entrance fee, amounting to 2 pounds 3s is acknowledged.
On the 3rd of March in the following year, “Mr. George Washington” is recorded as having been passed a Fellow Craft; and on the 4th of the succeeding August the transactions of the evening are that “Mr. George Washington,” and others whose names are mentioned, are stated to have been raised to the sublime degree of Master Mason.
These records of the early Masonic career of Washington are inestimable to the Mason as memorials of the first connection of the Father of his Country with our institution. But if the history of that connection had there ceased; if admitted to our temple, he had but glanced with cold and indifferent eye upon its mysteries; and if then, unaffected by their beauty – untouched by their sublimity, and unwakened by their truth, lie had departed from our portals – the pride with which we hail him as a brother would have been a vain presumption, and the celebration of this day, a senseless mockery. But the seed of Masonry which was sown on the evening of that November fell not on a barren soil. It grew with his growth and strengthened with his strength, and bloomed and ripened into an abiding love and glowing zeal for our order, nor ever withered or decayed amid all the trials and struggles, the perils and excitement of a long life spent, first in battling to gain the liberties of his country, and then in counseling to preserve them.
The evidence of all this is on record, and the genuineness of the record cannot be disputed. Whatever the enemies of Masonry may say to the contrary – however they may have attempted in the virulence of their persecution, to insinuate that his connection with our order was but accidental and temporary – first formed in the thoughtlessness of youth and then at once and forever dissolved – there is abundant testimony to show that he never for a moment disowned his allegiance to the mystic art – and never omitted, on every appropriate occasion, by active participation in our rites, to vindicate the purity of the institution and to demonstrate in the most public manner, his respect for its principles.
Years after his initiation, when he held the exalted rank of leader of our armies in those deeply perilous days, which have been so well defined as “the times that tried men’s souls,” notwithstanding his responsible duties, his arduous labors, his mental disquietudes, he would often lay aside the ensigns of his supreme authority, and forgetting for a time “the pomp and circumstance of glorious war,” would enter the secluded tent and mingle on a level with his brave companions, in the solemn devotions and mystic rites of some military lodge, where, under the sacred influence of Masonry, the god of carnage found no libations poured upon his altar, but where the heartfelt prayer for the prevalence of harmony and brotherly love was offered to the Grand Architect of the Universe. We have the authority of a distinguished Mason of Virginia, who has elaborately investigated the Masonic life of Washington, for saying that “frequently, when surrounded by a brilliant staff, he would part from the gay assemblage and seek the instruction of the Lodge.” And there was actually living in Ohio a few years ago a revolutionary veteran, Captain Hugh Maloy, who on one of these occasions was initiated in the marquee of Washington, the Commander in Chief himself presiding at the ceremony.
In scenes like these the great Napoleon has been known to appear, and the lodges of Paris have more than once beheld the ruler of the empire mingling in their labors, a willing witness of the great doctrine of Masonic equality. But in the founder of a new dynasty, such condescension might -and possibly with some truth – be attributed to the policy of winning popular applause. In our true-hearted, single-minded Washington, no such subservience to man-worship could be suspected. His only motives were deep love for the institution, and profound admiration of its principles.
Permit me, before we proceed to a review of the later portions of Washington’s Masonic life, to invite your attention to one, other revolutionary incident, reflecting equal honor upon the subject of our address, and on the order of which he was so illustrious a member.
A distinguished brother who faithfully and valiantly served his country, in the last contest in which it has been engaged, once remarked, in an address delivered by him before the Grand Lodge of this State, that much as he admired Masonry it was only on the field of battle that he had really learned to love it. Wisely and truthfully were those words uttered. For it is there, amid loud hosannas to the god of slaughter, when “Men with rage and hate Make war upon their kind, And the land is fed by the blood they shed, In their lust for carnage blind,” that the voice of Masonry speaks in tones that are heard above the dull booming of artillery, and the shrill blast of the bugle. It is there, when the utterance of humanity is hushed -when language, created by its beneficent author, to express man’s wants and man’s affections, is exchanged for the clashing of steel – when the plunge of the bayonet or the thrust of the saber is too often the only reply to the cry for mercy – and when human sympathy has been driven from its throne in the human heart – it is there that the whispered word may make its strong appeal, and the mute yet eloquent sign, will paralyze the uplifted arm, converting by its hidden necromancy, hate into love, and binding in a moment the conqueror and the conquered with these strong cords of fraternal affection which will withstand the utmost strain of national enmity to snap asunder.
Scenes and events of this kind were of course occurring in our revolutionary war – for there is no contest among civilized nations in which they are not present. But one in which Washington was more particularly and immediately engaged may serve to show how perfectly he understood and appreciated this beautiful feature in the Masonic system.
In the 46th regiment of the British army there was a traveling Lodge, holding its Warrant of Constitution under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ireland. After an engagement between the American and British forces, in which the latter were defeated, the private chest of the Lodge, containing its jewels, furniture and implements, fell into the hands of the Americans. The captors reported the circumstances to General Washington, who at once ordered the chest to be returned to the Lodge and the regiment, under a guard of honor. “The surprise,” says the historian of the event, himself an Englishman and a Mason, “the feeling of both officers and men may be imagined, when they perceived the flag of truce that announced this elegant compliment from their noble opponent, but still more noble brother. The guard of honor, with their music playing a sacred march – the chest containing the Constitution and implements of the Craft borne aloft, like another ark of the covenant, equally by Englishmen and Americans, who lately engaged in the strife of war, now marched through the enfiladed ranks of the gallant regiment that, with presented arms and colors, hailed the glorious act by cheers, which the sentiment rendered sacred as the hallelujahs of an angel’s song.”
When the contest which secured the independence and freedom of his country was terminated, Washington, covered with the admiration and gratitude of his fellow-citizens, retired like another Cincinnatus to the shades of private life. But he did not abandon then his interest in the institution of which he was an honored member.
In 1788 he united with others in presenting a petition for the formation of a new Lodge at Alexandria, and the Warrant of Constitution, as the instrument authorizing the organization is technically called, is still in existence, preserved in the archives of that Lodge, and has been seen by thousands.
That Warrant commences with these words – words which now cannot be altogether heard with cold indifference:
“I, Edmund Randolph, Governor of the State, and Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, do hereby constitute and appoint our illustrious and well-beloved Brother George Washington, late General and Commander-in-Chief of the forces of the United States of America, and our worthy Brothers Robert McCrea, William Hunter, Jr., and Joseph Allison, Esq., together with all such other brethren as may be admitted to associate with them, to be a just, true and regular Lodge of Freemasons, by the name, title and designation of Alexandria Lodge, No. 22.”
The Lodge is still in existence and in active operation, but in 1805 it changed its name in honor of its first Master to that of “Washington Alexandria.”
No one acquainted with the character of Washington – with his indomitable energy, his scrupulous punctuality, and his rigid adherence to method in business, will for a moment suppose that he would ever have engaged in a labor which he did not ardently strive to accomplish, or have accepted an office whose duties he did not conscientiously discharge. But his general and well known reputation for these virtues is not all that we possess as a testimony of the mode ;n which he met the responsible cares of presiding over the Craft.
The Hon. Timothy Bigelow, in an eulogy delivered before the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, two months after Washington’s death, when there were still living witnesses of his Masonic life, with whom the speaker had conversed, supplies us on this point with the following evidence:
“The information received from our brethren who had the happiness to be members of the Lodge over which he presided for many years, and of which he died the Master, furnishes abundant proof of his persevering zeal for the prosperity of the institution. Constant and punctual in his attendance, scrupulous in his observance of the regulations of the Lodge, and solicitous at all times to communicate light and instruction, he discharged the duties of the chair with uncommon dignity and intelligence in all the mysteries of our art.”
Incidents like these, interesting as they may be, are not all that is left to us to exhibit the attachment of Washington to Masonry. On repeated occasions lie has announced, in his letters and addresses to various Masonic bodies, his profound esteem for the character and his just appreciation of the principles of that institution into which, at so early an age, he had been admitted. And during his long and laborious life, no opportunity was presented of which he did not gladly avail himself to evince that he was a Mason in heart as well as in name.
Thus, in the year 1797, in reply to an affectionate address from the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, he says: “My attachment to the Society of which we are members will dispose me always to contribute my best endeavors to promote the honor and prosperity of the Craft.”
Five years before this letter was written, he had, in a communication to the same body, expressed his opinion of the Masonic institution as one whose liberal principles are founded on the immutable laws of “truth and justice,” and whose “grand object is to promote the happiness of the human race.”
In answer to an address from the Grand Lodge of South Carolina in 1791, he says: “I recognize, with pleasure, my relation to the brethren of your Society,” and “I shall be happy, on every occasion, to evince my regard for the fraternity.” And in the same letter he takes occasion to allude to the Masonic institution as “an association whose principles lead to purity of morals and are beneficial of action.”
In writing to the officers and members of St. David’s Lodge, at Newport, R. I., in the same year, he uses this language: “Being persuaded that a just application of the principles on which the Masonic fraternity is founded must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother.”
And lastly, for we will not further extend these quotations, in a letter addressed in November, 1798, only thirteen months before his death, to the Grand Lodge of Maryland, he has made this explicit declaration of his opinion of the Institution:
“So far as I am acquainted with the doctrines and principles of Freemasonry, I conceive them to be founded in benevolence, and to be exercised only for the good of mankind. I cannot, therefore, upon this ground, withdraw my approbation from it.”
If I have paused thus long upon these memorials of the past, and if I have borrowed thus largely from these evidences of Washington’s opinions, it is that, so far as this audience at least is affected, the question of his attachment to our Order may be forever put to rest, and that the falsehoods and forgeries of our enemies may be detected by a reference to the authentic expressions in our favor of the very man whom they have published to the world as the enemy of Freemasonry. Henceforth the words which have been uttered here to-day – to some of you undoubtedly familiar, but by many now heard for the first time – will stand as incontrovertible evidence that Washington was, in very truth, a Mason – in heart, in affection and in allegiance. Not merely in name and in outward bearing, but one who wrought with us in our hours of labor, and whose visits to our temple were prompted by no idle curiosity, but by a warm devotion to the interests of the Craft, and a philosophical admiration of our mystic system.
And is it not a noble eulogy of our institution that it should have numbered among its faithful disciples one so stainless in morals, so devout in religion, a patriot so pure, a statesman so virtuous, that his life was the admiration of the world – his death, the desolation of his country?
There is, indeed, in the whole pervading spirit of Freemasonry something of that “beauty of holiness” which must have been congenial to the character of such a man as he. His heart was irresistibly drawn to it by the purity of its principles, and the sublime beneficence of its design. He could not but love, because it was holy, and he could not but admire it, because it was intellectual.
Though I will not undertake to say that Washington was indebted for any of those beautiful traits which adorned his character, to the influence of Masonic teaching (because I know that he derived them from a diviner school), yet there was undoubtedly such a similarity in the most prominent virtues that illustrated his life to those which constitute the very ground work of the Masonic system, as must have readily won from him respect and esteem for our institution.
Unfaltering Trust in God – an humble dependence on the wisdom and power of the Supreme Controller of the Universe – is the first as well as the most indispensable moral qualification of every candidate for our mystic rites. And this virtue, the foundation and suggester of every other, was a distinguishing feature in the religious constitution of Washington. In all his private and public letters, in his official correspondence with the government, and in his orders to the army, this firm reliance-this trustful dependence on Divine Providence is prominently and frequently referred to as though it were a topic on which he could not too often dilate.
Of Charity, which has been aptly called the cap-stone of the Masonic edifice, and which, like the virtue already spoken of, is taught in the most important ceremonies of initiation, Washington was an illustrious example. Throughout his life he sought rather for opportunities of discharging the claims of his virtue than for apologies for its neglect, and he uniformly acted whenever the poor and the deserving were presented to his notice under the influence of that great doctrine of our Order, which teaches us “to soothe the unhappy; to sympathize with their misfortunes; to compassionate their miseries, and to restore peace to their troubled minds.”
And again, Brotherly Love, that sublime principle of philanthropy, by which, as it is defined in our ritual, “we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family; the high and low, the rich and poor; who, as created by one Almighty Parent, are to aid, support and protect each other” – was admirably exemplified in his humanity to the prisoner, his condescension to his inferiors, his warm friendship, his general benevolence, and his uniform urbanity and gentleness of manner to all who approached him. His was indeed the character to win kindness from an enemy, or to secure fidelity in a friend.
The Cardinal Virtues, too, so beautifully inculcated in the lectures of our system, were eminently prominent in the character of our beloved brother. And when the neophyte of our order, standing before the Pedestal of the East, is receiving from the Master of the Lodge those deeply significant symbols by which these virtues are to be impressed upon his mind and heart, I know not where better the teacher could seek for a bright example of Temperance than in him who ever placed a due restraint upon the passions of his humanity, and whose mind was thus proverbially freed from the allurements of vice – or of Fortitude, than in him whose noble purposes of soul enabled him to undergo for the good of his country every peril, pain and danger that beset his path – or of Prudence, than in him whose whole life was regulated by the dictates of reason and who was not more a Fabius in the field than he was a Solon in the cabinet – or of justice, than in him who, in the administration of both private and public affairs, always accorded to every man his just due, without distinction of rank or person.
And lastly, as to that other great Masonic virtue, Truth, the “divine attribute,” which, as Masons, we are taught constantly to contemplate, and by which we are directed to regulate our conduct – where or when lived the man who, from his very infancy, was more influenced than he by this holy principle; or of whom we might more truthfully say that his soul was its throne – his whole life its active embodiment?
But why extend the catalogue, or why protract this eulogium of him whom now to praise were indeed “to paint the lily or to gild refined gold.” If on the tomb of the great architect of St. Paul’s, lying beneath the magnificent dome of that proud temple which his own genius had created, it was thought all sufficient to inscribe this epitaph: “If you would seek his monument, look around!” – may we not, viewing this goodly audience and this large assemblage of the members of a mystic fraternity, offering up the holocaust of their whole heart’s veneration – and that, too, not here alone, but in all the widely separated segments of this vast empire – in the North, in the South, in the East, and the West – all animated by one common feeling of joyous exultation that the most loved and honored of our might dead – was with us and of us – bound willingly and cheerfully to himself in our bond of fraternity – looking thus at all that is around us, in this public display, and all that is in us and about us, in the sentiment of honest pride, that as Masons warms and animates us – may we not point to this day and to these services as a “monument more perennial than brass” of our own – our venerated brother.
The fact that Washington was an active and devoted member of our fraternity is in itself a source to us of gratulation, because it furnishes unanswerable testimony (as one of the ablest of our opponents has candidly admitted) that “there is nothing in the institution at war with our duties as patriots, men and Christians.” But, while we thus peculiarly honor the greatest man of his age, and assert that in uniting with us he vindicated by his own virtue the purity of his principles, we may be permitted to indulge in the consoling consciousness that such a vindication was not altogether wanting; but that both before and since the connection of Washington with the Craft the history of Freemasonry has presented a catalogue of glorious names inscribed upon its proud escutcheon. It is indeed with truth that the ritual of our Order declares to each initiate that “the greatest and best of men in all ages have been encouragers and promoters of the art, and have never deemed it derogatory to their dignity to level themselves with the fraternity, to extend their privileges and to patronize their assemblies.” Without directing our researches into that remote antiquity whose consideration would involve us in too elaborate an inquiry, I may be permitted to remind the scholar and the antiquary that during the medieval ages the art of ecclesiastical architecture was carried by the Freemasons to that state of classic beauty and scientific perfection that has never since been equaled by the builders of succeeding times – that the invention and the most gorgeous examples of the pointed gothic are attributable to our Masonic ancestors – and that throughout the whole of Europe, from the south of Italy to the north of Scotland, cathedrals, abbeys and churches lift their tall and graceful spires as monuments of the skill and ingenuity of the fraternity – or in their magnificent ruins, still “beautiful in death,” continue to extort the admiration of modern taste or to defy the rivalry of the modern art.
It was then that Popes and Bishops, Kings and Nobles, lavished their patronage on our Order, and vied with each other in the protection and encouragement of the institution. And although at a subsequent period the church, from motives into whose character I will not now stop to inquire, withdrew its friendly countenance, and in still later years commenced a series of unsuccessful persecutions, many nothwithstanding, of the good and wise, the great and the powerful in every age and country, have been found among the disciples of our mystic school.
It is indeed with somewhat more than ordinary pride and gratulation that we claim as our brethren, among a host of others, such men as Sir Christopher Wren, the builder of St. Paul’s – and Sir Thomas Gresham, the founder of the Royal Exchange, the princely gift to London of one of London’s merchant princes – and Elias Ashmole, one of the most learned of English antiquarians – and Helvetius, the profound philosopher and mighty thinker – and Lalande, the celebrated astronomer of France – and Goethe and Schiller, the immortal masters of German poesy – and Sir Walter Scott, the great magician of the North – and Horsely, the distinguished Bishop of Rochester, who boldly stood up in the British Parliament to defend, when assailed, that fraternity of which he proudly announced himself to be a member – and Sir William Follet, the learned and exemplary lawyer and the late Attorney General of England, who did not hesitate to declare his attachment to our institution, and to assign, as a reason for that attachment, “the kindly sympathy and widespread benevolence and cordial love” its system created.
And the potentates of earth have knelt at our altar and breathed forth our vows. Frederick the Great of Prussia, and George IV of England, with all his uncles and brothers, and Oscar of Sweden, and Christian of Denmark, and Ernest of Hanover, may be named among the many kings and princes who have not only been the patrons, but the disciples of our art.
And Napoleon, with every marshal and general of Napoleon’s camp; and Nelson and Wellington, whose ashes are not yet inured, and Collingwood and Napier, and every distinguished leader of England’s army and navy, have worn the Mason’s badge, and learned the Mason’s sign.
In our own country the roll of distinguished Masons is not less honorable to the fraternity. In the revolutionary war all the generals of the American army, both the children of our own soil and those noble and kindred spirits who came from France and Germany and Poland to assist us, were bound together, not only by the glorious bond of common struggle, but by the additional cords of Masonic fraternity. And when in after days, La Fayette, that patriot of two hemispheres, had returned to the home from which for our cause, he had so long been an exile, he could find no more appropriate token of his grateful recollection to convey to Washington, his venerated father in arms, than a Mason’s scarf and a Mason’s apron, and which, wrought by Madam La Fayette, a Mason’s wife, were long treasured and worn by him to whom they were presented, and are now preserved as sacred relics by the Lodge at Alexandria.
In civil life we claim an equally noble catalogue. More than fifty of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, several of our Presidents and judges, and many of our most distinguished statesmen, have been initiated into the rites of Masonry.
Franklin, the chief of our philosophers, and Griswold, one of the most pious of our prelates, and Clinton, the purest of our patriots, showed by their steadfast attachment to our institution their just appreciation of its principles; and Henry Clay, that man of immoral mind, whose death his country is still lamenting, is recorded in our annals as a Mason of unfaltering devotion, who, years ago, sacrificed the aspirations of ambition to his love of the Craft and refused a nomination for the Presidency by what was then supposed to be a powerful party, when the price of his support was to be a renunciation of Freemasonry.
To men, to minds, to hearts, like these coming up in their devotions to our altars from all times and from all countries, Masonry may proudly point, as Cornelia did of old to her children and say, indeed with truth, “These – these are my jewels.”
One hundred years have elapsed since George Washington knelt at the sacred altar of Masonry, as an humble thirster after knowledge, and then and there imposed upon himself those solemn vows of obedience, and fidelity, and fraternity, which entitled him to the reception of our mystic light. A century has, since then, been irrevocably absorbed in the measureless abyss of time – and a century, how full of wonderful events. How many old empires have passed away, and how many new ones have been ushered into existence – how many dynasties of kings and Kaisers have been blotted from the herald book of history, and how many others have been inscribed upon its pages of mundane glory! How many of the wise and the good, the noble and the great, have drifted in the shattered bark of life to the “shores where all is dumb!” How in that great century, now forever gone, has “Man put forth His pomp, his pride, his skill, And arts that made fire, flood and earth, The vassals of his will.” How many hearts that then beat with all the hopes of youth, or with all the ambition of age, have ceased to pulsate – and all their throbs of love and joy, or hate and grief, been stilled in the silence of the tomb! What millions of that busy throng who then peopled the earth’s surface have buried all their struggles and found a certain rest for all their varied labors in the grave! What revolutions have there not been in nations; what changes in art and science; how many old theories have been proved to be fallacious; how many new ones invested with truth, since that memorable evening, when George Washington was initiated into our sacred rites!
And he, too, with all his energy and endurance; with all his wisdom and purity; with all his power and popularity – even he has passed away – has gone from us forever, leaving his glory and his virtues as a legacy to his country.
But time, which has thus drawn into the vortex of its mighty gulf, the perishable fabrics of man’s device, and buried in one common wreck – the inventors and their inventions – the players and the stage on which they strutted their “brief hour,” has beaten in vain, with all its rolling billows against the impregnable rock of Masonry.
Though other things have passed away, that still remains; now as it has ever been indissoluble immutable – no landmark subverted-no fragment dissevered from its perfect mass; its columns still standing in strong support; its lights still burning with undiminished splendor; its altars still blazing with their sacred fires; its truth still pure as in the day of its birthhood; and when the cycle of another century shall have revolved, and you and I, and all that are elsewhere meeting on this festival day, shall have gone down to the dust from whence we sprung – another generation will be here – again to meet upon a second jubilee, and with like hopes and joys, and with like words of granulation and songs of triumph, to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of that day which gave to Masonry the noblest of her sons, in him who was “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
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