FREEMASONRY IN THE AMERICA
FREEMASONRY IN THE AMERICA OF PIONNEERS
There is no scientific evidence in literature, which would allow asserting that any Masonic Lodge was established in America before 1730. Reason for that is that all documents of the first Lodges got lost or destroyed. So we have today to rely on the registers of Saint-John Lodge of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) to find a first evidence for a Lodge having been mentioned around 1729-1730. Benjamin Franklin was incidentally initiated in this Lodge. Anyway some sources are speculating about other Lodges having been operating earlier by English, Scottish or Irish Immigrants serving the Crown abroad. As a matter of fact it seems that no structured Masonic activity was rune before 1730 in America. Some scholars have stressed that at this time even in England Freemasonry was still at its primitive starting point.
Single Lodges operating in the “New World” were often quite far from each other and the need to get them under the jurisdiction of a Provincial Grand Master reporting to the Grand Lodge of England soon appeared as evidence. The first Grand Master may have been Colonel Daniel Coxe, an officer of His Majesty the King. His jurisdiction covered the States of New-York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. But we do not have any reliable report before July 30, 1733. The Register of Saint John Grand Lodge, Orient of Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) reports about the appointment by Viscount Montague, Grand Master of England, of Henry Price as the Provincial Grand Master of North America. This event occurred about one year before Benjamin Franklin edited the first American translation of James Anderson’s Constitutions, the first Masonic book ever published in America. Franklin eventually became himself Grand Master in Pennsylvania. Only a few days later he wrote to the Grand Master to express the wish of Masons of his jurisdiction to elect themselves their own Provincial Grand Master as well as Grand Officers. And he simultaneously claimed the right to have an autonomous Grand Master for America. This step may have been ahead of ideas of this time. But in claiming this new right American Masons anyway made clear that they very early considered getting one day emancipated from Europe. History tells us that they were patient and waited until 1778, two years after the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 before breaking officially the direct link with the Grand Lodge of England.
At this time the Grand Lodge of England had already lost its exclusivity of Masonic jurisdiction in Boston and in America. Since 1752 Saint Andrews Lodge was challenging this rule in reporting to the Grand Lodge of Scotland also operating in the Sate of Massachusetts. It decided eventually to become autonomous under the name of “Independent Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.” This happened to be a turning point: Saint John Grand Lodge, while remaining loyalist was going declining until it was forced to join the Massachusetts Grand Lodge. Like the American civil society to which it was belonging, this first true American Masonic Body soon suffered from hosting Masons who had adverse political or even Masonic preferences. As a result of this situation Members of Saint Andrew Lodge choose in 1784 to turn their back to the conservative stream. And it is not by chance that just this specific Lodge was the first one also to recognize the Masonic African American Lodge founded in 1775 by the former slave Prince Hall, whit the support of an Irish Military Lodge. After the Secession war same Saint Andrews Lodge tried unsuccessfully to found an additional “black” Lodge named “Trestle Lodge”. The emerging American society and Freemasonry appeared soon to have close ties but the war of Independence as well as the Secession war have teach one that Masons were most divided within Lodges developing fast. Military Lodges played also a significant role in the development of Freemasonry in America. The turmoil in which Freemasonry developed in America was merely a handicap for Lodge meetings as one may measure that by accounting their fast growing figures. Lodges expanded at a surprising fast pace all around the country including in the New Territories in the “Far West”.
FREEMASONRY, ESTABLISHMENT AND POWER
A long list of American celebrities having been members of the Craft in early years could be easily established. A true cult of some of these Masons is part of the American Masonic Tradition that is also deeply rooted in Americanism, i.e. related to the Pledge to the Flag and to the Nation. Foreign observers are often surprised as they realize how strong this real American Masonic tradition remains today, in some respect even stronger than in many other parts of the civil society. George Washington benefits of course a quite unique statute in the Pantheon of prestigious ancestors. He is “ The ” Masonic reference at all. Even the Bible he used to be sworn in at his inauguration as the first President of the United States of America, April 30, 1789 is a kind of a “ Book of Sacred Low ”. It is today a relic and such a strong symbol that President George W. Bush jr. while being himself not a Mason used it anyway for his investiture in 2001. Many pictures and paintings show Brother Washington in full Masonic regalia while laying the cornerstone of the Capitol building in 1793. The” George Washington Masonic National Memorial” in Alexandria, Virginia, is as well dedicated to America’s “ most loved and highly honored Masonic Brother”. It has been build to “typify the power and strength of Masonry” and “designed to stand through the ages, carry the message of human brotherhood, and perpetuate the attributes of self-denial, patriotism, love of country and of fellowmen typified by the Master Builder of the Nation”. It is surely the most visible Masonic Monument to Washington in the USA. It stands on a hill and is most visible to every one flying into the Capital City through Ronald Reagan-National airport. To commemorate the 200th birthday of Brother Washington on June 26, 1999 a huge Square and Compasses emblem (60 feet wide and 70feet long) has been displayed in front of this unique Memorial. By its size and situation this Monument is likewise a Temple, a Library which hosts a rich Masonic documentation and research center as well as a Museum with, of course a Gift shop with all kinds of Masonic artifacts. The architecture is supposed to have been inspired by the Light of Alexandria (Egypt) and is one of the most prestigious Masonic buildings in the U.S.A. In the country of superlatives, people like to present it proudly as the” biggest Masonic house in the World”.
Benjamin Franklin is an additional Brother being venerated by American Masons as well as La Fayette. In Philadelphia (Pennsylvania) where the Independence was proclaimed a monument was raised to celebrate the signers of the American Constitution. One third of them appear to have been Masons. This illustrates pretty well the decisive crossed influences of Enlightment and Masonic philosophy in historical events in the early years of the U.S.A. It is well known that many French were part of the American Revolution. Brother La Fayette and his fraternal friendship to George Washington have become a kind of a legend. Masonic Museums in Philadelphia and Alexandria present to their visitors aprons having been embroiled by Mrs. de La Fayette for Brother George Washington. This shows also to which extend both Men, and including their families, had developed a true brotherhood.
Many high-ranking Military dignitaries serving with George Washington were Masons and many of them played a decisive role in the shadow of the Father of Independence. Ronald E. Heaton listed them in his book “ Masonic Membership of signers of the Declaration of Independence” and refers to several Masons who signed the Declaration of Independence, while some others wrote Articles of the Confederation. One assuming that the Masonic Order as such would have played an institutional role would be wrong. Masons did not act in this capacity and never had in mind to do so. A single Lodge may even have included in its membership at a certain point Loyalists as well as Brethren favoring the Independence of America. At the end one may anyway notice that through ought centuries many Masons remain in the memory of the USA as builders of a Nation and account for not less than 14 American Presidents, the last one having been Gerald Ford. This documents that quite a lot American Masons were in the highest political positions until in recent times. But also that it is quite a long time that it is not anymore the case. One may be mislead in interpreting this evolution this way because today the real center of political power has shifted to the Congress. And as a matter of fact many influential Masons belong to the Chamber of Representatives or to the Senate. Thus asserting that Masonry and Politics would be strictly apart would not reflect the reality and needs to be analyzed with the sense of nuances. But it is true that political issues do not belong into American Lodges, while as elsewhere in the world people, including Masons, are lobbying for politics, business or social issues.
AMERICAN MASONS, SOCIOLOGY AND FAITHS
A Member of the Craft coming to the U.S.A. today from outside the country has first to take the specific social-cultural environment in the U.S.A in account in order as to understand American Masons. References for American Masons are in many respects quite different from those for European Brothers. Since their very origins American Lodges developed in New England under the “ WASP ” sign. As a consequence the spiritual legacy of Pastor James Anderson got here a typical “protestant” brand that makes American Freemasons also different from the more humanistic European Freemasonry. May be this strong Christian spirituality of American Masons is even stronger because of historical developments and more specifically of the famous Morgan Affair. In a country whose motto is “ In God we trust ” it was merely impossible to declare himself as a “free thinker” and for sure not as an “atheist”. Some short but very illustrative explanations were recently presented in American Masonic literature on this sensitive topic: “ Our acceptance with most people must be based on trust. No doubt centuries ago our Masonic leaders concluded that an atheist was not worthy of the deep trust which one Mason gives to another. Why should this be so? Because a person lacking belief in God and the possibility of an afterlife and later retribution or rewards for his worldly actions would lack incentive to do the right thing…” No wonder that some Masonic practices on both sides of the Atlantic make quite a difference and that the creed of absolute freedom of thinking remains today a kind of very strange story to American Masons.
It simply does not belong to American culture and only a very tiny organization lacking any serious representativity claims to refer to the so-called “laicism”, a typical Latin value. A pool conducted in 2000 by the Pew Research Center shows that 70% of questioned American people required that the President of the U.S.A. be “profound religious”, while the American Constitution provides the separation of State and Church. And it is only thanks to the provisions of the First Amendment of the American Constitution that guaranties the absolute right of freedom of religion that so many different sects and small religious groups of all kind flourish in the USA more than in any other country elsewhere in the World. It is one of America’s most typical characteristics that always surprises European observers including those going to church. In this respect it is quite interesting that 45 % of people in the above mentioned pool declared that they attend a religious service at least once a week, which is again far above the average in Europe.
Once having taken all this objective elements into account one may easily conceive how Freemasonry and Religions cohabit in good understanding eventually in America. But as things are never as simple as that, the relationships between the Masonic Order and some religious groups did not always develop in total harmony. The separation of State and Church remains also today part of the political debate and Masons feel often challenged.
THE MORGAN AFFAIR AND THE ANTI-MASONIC MOVMENT
A “Christian Party” with declared anti-Masonic goals around 1820 in America. Its candidate running for Governor of the State of New-York, Thurlow Tweed, was merely elected in 1830 and benefited from the support of the former President of the U.S.A., John Quincy, as well as from President Millard Fillmore. This means clearly in which extend American Freemasons at this time were seriously challenged.
In 1826 William Morgan, a Freemason and printer living in Batavia (N.Y.) had been expelled from the Craft, as his Lodge was about to open a Royal Arch Chapter. The story tells he had been in dispute mainly because of his intemperance of speech. As a result of these arguments he was eager and got inspired to edit an anti-Masonic book. And because this “unveiling of Masonic secrets” happened in a context of hostile activities from the side of some Ministers being afraid of getting challenged by a “religion like Craft” a passionate debate resulted from this publication by William Morgan. As he mysteriously disappeared from the prison of Canandaigua, where he had been put after his printer-shop had been burned down, the “ vox populi ” accused the Masons of Batavia of having killed him after an unknown body had been found nearby Fort Niagara on October 1, 1827. No tribunal was ever able to establish the truth but speculations fueled a campaign with merely deadly consequences for the Craft in the U.S.A.
This story needs to be known in order as to better understand American Freemasonry Because this unique trauma eventually was about to have a long lasting impact. At this time, and as a direct consequence of that, the Grand Lodge of New-York got a great amount of its membership lost and the number of Lodges decreased from some 500 to not more than 65. This reflects how efficient this crusade was. The Masonic Order was really at risk. A wide scale anti-Masonic action included the obligation to hand over all Grand Lodge documents to public officers and expanded soon to the States of Ohio and Pennsylvania. President Andrew Johnson, a well-known Mason was himself eventually victimized.
As far as we know, and may be only with the harsh exception of the Nazi Germany and Vichy Regime in France, any similar wide systematic action was never conducted against Masons elsewhere in the world.
Looking backwards to this hectic and turbulent period of time one may conclude that the final result of these events was a reinforcement of an American Freemasonry having gone successfully through a kind of exorcism. Because the unfounded harsh treatment and the systematic enquiries had proven not founded as no evidence of guilty appeared. It may have been just because of that a real turning point. Innocent and freed from inhibition, America ’s Masons became suddenly very active in constructing overall Masonic Temples. Like pioneers they reacted positively in showing up that they had no fear because for sure nothing to hide. Likewise any other community they were claiming the right to conduct their activities without discrimination and as a fully recognized part of the American society. The anti-Masonic crusade had worked like a catharsis and resulted in a most flourishing and creative time for the Craft in the U.S.A. Starting from 1840 everything got structured the American way. As Mr. M.S. Brent Morris perfectly documented America was experiencing a true “ Masonic Renaissance ” mainly thanks to the Morgan affair. This may also explain how it came that the religious and deist references became even stronger in the American Craft. Masons were eager to protect themselves proactively against possible new Christian hostility. This may have allowed more conservative Masons to get a grip on the Masonic Order and to give it their imprint in America. This reality prevails still today and explains how the principle of theism has become their a Masonic dogma that even James Anderson did not seem to have conceived in a such restrictive way as he wrote the Masonic Constitutions of 1722 including a the definition of the “ Great Architect of the Universe ”.
THE CRAFT, CHURCHES AND RELIGIOUS SECTS
Masonic spirituality as described is not the kind of a guarantee for peace and serenity American Masons should have expected. Arguments with some of the established Churches and religious communities confirm that Masonry remains for them a target. They dare to claim they are doing the work of God while suspecting the Craft to be “ the Garden of Evil ” because of their fear to be spiritually challenged. And indeed the Masonic initiation as it is performed in America with its extensive deist definition may appear to some Ministers as being competing with religion.
The turbulent relationship between Masons and Mormons is a perfect illustration of a long lasting ambiguous antagonism. A study presented by Brother Glenn A. Cook (Philalethes August 1995) reminds us the story of a “struggle for power” starting in early years. The Mormons were often suspected by Masons to have tried to get themselves introduced into the Order with possible unfriendly ambitions. This may explain that until 1984 members of this sect were barred from entering into Lodges of the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Utah a State where in Salt Late City the “Church of the Saints of the Last Days” has its seat. But the Mormons were ambiguous since including until 1983 in their “General Instructions” a provision recommending preventing of becoming a member of “ secret societies requiring an oath”. This sounded like a reminiscence of the Morgan affair. Today the situation has changed after Grand Commander Clausen of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction lifted the decision of barring Mormons to be admitted in Lodges. But some distrust remains on both sides. It is humoristic enough to realize that in the early nineties a Mormon managed to climb to the position of Lieutenant Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction. His final goal may have been to eventually become the next Sovereign Grand Commander This originated a great turmoil and a serious crisis inside the Supreme Council from which he was fired. This short story illustrates why the fear of the jurisdictions of getting under the influence of a sectarian stream is not just a mere idea. Whatsoever both institutions have learned through the times that they cannot trust. And just to make things a bit more sensitive one can read in the “ Mormon Encyclopedia ” that Joseph Smith, founder of the sect “ got from the Lord revealed that the true Masonry…is that one actually practiced in Mormon Temples”. One has also to realize that he had been initiated Entered Apprentice in a Masonic Lodge at Nauros (Ill.) where he seems to have found some inspiration for parts of the Mormon liturgy…
But beside of this specific antagonism Millions of Americans belonging to Christian Churches like the Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterians or Episcopalians do not have any problem of compatibility between the Craft and religion many of them adding even: “ Jesus is infinitely more important to me than the Lodge ”.
The relationship to the Catholic Church is quite different and complex. This universal Church that is by the way ranking first by the amount of its memberships in the U.S.A. is less influential than in continental Europe. But its voice counts anyway. Some American citizen had interpreted in a too extensive sense the Encyclica “ Ecclesiam Suam ” from Council Vatican II (August 16, 1964). As American Bishops realized soon that many faithful American Catholics had indeed joined the Craft neither in concluding that they would not be consequently anymore excommunicated nor in “major sin”. As a consequence Bishops decided to adjust their policy to the well known doctrinal and more conservative position on this issue. The result was an “ extra synodal decree ” from March 22, 1996 taken by the Bishop of Lincoln (Nebraska). It states that belonging to Masonry is not compatible with the Catholic faith and conducts to excommunication. Two Decrees had been previously issued in Rome in 1973 and 1983 under the rule of the ultra conservative Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger imposing a hard line towards the Craft. All these texts have been widely circulated on the World Wide Web among others through Internet newsgroups and specifically on anti-Masonic Websites reproducing a letter of Cardinal Bernard Law directed to American Bishops. This has made many American faithful Masons insecure. In June 1996 the “ Scottish Rite Journal ” edited not less than five articles devoted to this perturbing issue. Catholic Masons expressed their personal distress while the jurisdiction tried to play down in opening a window to ecumenism. In more recent times the same “ Scottish Rite Journal ” reported about a visit of Grand Commander Fred Kleinknecht to the Holy Sea during the spring of 2000. This meeting was aimed at normalizing relations. But there is lack of evidence that the high-ranking delegation of the Southern Jurisdiction benefited of much more than polite listening. Some well informed sources reported that the Roman Catholic Clergymen took this opportunity to present a special “ candid ” request to their visitors: why would the “ Mother Supreme Council of the World ” not use its moral authority on “ anticlerical and atheist bodies ” within the Masonic Order, which would allow to start serious talks…The subtleties of embarrassed explanations given by the dignitaries of said Supreme Council failed to convince clergymen who are perfectly aware of the real situation but gloated over a good joke.
MASONIC TRADITION AND SPECIFIC AMERICAN RITUALS
Blue Lodges were introduced in America through European Grand Lodges to which they used to report and their Rituals belong to this Masonic legacy. This explains why before the Independence every one of the single Provincial grand Lodges had its own Ritual. After the American Revolution Grand Lodges took notice of a great diversity of the Masonic liturgy that appeared to evolve in a great disorder. In some cases rituals were just the result of the single imagination or inspiration of Masters of Lodges. This kind of anarchism was in accordance with the time of pioneers working on building a new world. Each Grand Lodge was keen to underline its own specificity, as did civil powers in an effort to preserve their autonomy from an emerging Federal political power in America.
The Masonic Congress of Baltimore (MD) in 1843 made efforts to try to get some discipline in this regard and to standardize the rituals. This effort failed but a typical America compromise was reached. Grand Lodges agreed that each of them would choose for a specific “uniform standard ritual” valid only in the area of the respective jurisdictions. This minimalist formula preserved the freedom of choice of every single Grand Lodge and excluded the opportunity for Masters of Lodges to choose or even create their “own” rituals.
We have seen earlier how the Craft flourished after the Morgan Affair and it was indeed a time for laying new foundations. Numerous American ritualists performed tremendous works that are still today references. The first American Masonic Library was also founded during this period of time. Albert Pike, a retired General, a philosopher, and a thinker having acquired a broad Masonic knowledge wrote himself a tremendous amount of fundamental books. They still remain today as “ the ” references part of a recognized tremendous research work. These impressive works produced by the former Sovereign Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction were handwritten and are safely preserved at the great Library of the Supreme Council at House of the Temple in Washington, DC. Pike mastered several ancient as well as modern foreign languages, including Hebrew and had a great erudition not only in Masonic matters. He was a Humanist even though this qualification needs to be seen while taking into account the segregationist spirit of his time. Without any contest he remains as a “Monument” of Masonic Science. He did not only spend much of his efforts on research about the Scottish Rite but mastered to make out of this Rite the most used Masonic Ritual at all in the world on the long run. This would of course never have been possible without other major contributors to the ritualistic works made also by some prestigious Masons before and after him. Just to mention the most known: Thomas Smith Webb, Theodore Sutton Pavin, Josiah Drommond, John Dove, John Snow, Jeremy Cross, John Barney, Charles W. Moore, Albert Mackey and of course Moses H. Hayes great Scottish Rite mason. Even though some of them are less notorious, each of these single Masons played a role in establishing typically what one may characterize as a true American Masonic “Brand”.
THE INITIATIC PATH
Compared with European Masonic standards and uses the “Masonic Travel” made by American Brethren is quite different. An American Entered Apprentice makes it in most cases within a few month time to the Degree of Master Mason, while European Masons are required to go patiently and step by step through a progressive initiation lasting several years. During this period of time the American Brother is supposed to master the Ritual and to memorize it because it is never printed in explicit form. And as European Masons wonder, American Brethren defend the point of view that they learn the real and profound meanings on the long run…provided they indeed attend tiled Lodge meetings after having been initiated.
High Degrees to which is almost referred in America as Side degrees are also conferred the American way. That means that American Master Masons do not need to work hard and continuously throughout several decades before getting 32° as it is the rule in Europe but for only a tiny minority of well experienced Brethren indeed strongly involved and showing also a real interest for a development of their initiatic path. Side Degree Lodges of the Scottish Rite organize a “ Fall ” and within a weekend all selected Brethren belonging to it are raised from Master Mason to 32° after communication of the intermediary Degrees. But as well as in Europe only “ happy few ” become in America 33° Degree Masons.
The “African American” Masons of Prince Hall or Grand Lodge OMEGA have developed similar systems and specific Masonic behaviors, that differs strongly from European uses.
THE ADMINISTRATIVE BODIES
Like the U.S. Federal State, American Masonic Organizations have structured their administrative Bodies with one Grand Lodge for each State with a single exception for Honolulu. Since 1813 only one Grand Lodge rules in each State including for recognizing or establishing relationships with other Grand Lodges in or outside the U.S.A. Including the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia (Washington, DC) they number 50. The “ white ” jurisdictions rule some 15.000 Lodges claiming a membership of around 1,5 Million members, while six Prince Hall Grand Lodges run more or less 5.000 African American ones hosting some 500.000 Masons.
Accordingly to the American Motto “ E pluribus Unum ” and to the history of the country it would never have been acceptable for American Masons to be run by some kind of a “Federal Grand Lodge”. But in order to manage anyway their relationships the fifty Grand Lodges have joined a Committee that allows them to gather once a year. This is also the formal frame out of which the American Masonic consensus merges.
Beside the Masonic blue Lodges, or also called symbolic Lodges, working in the traditional first Degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow-Craft and Master Mason which is the core of the Craft, several Rites have developed since early times. Some of them are typically and exclusively American. : The Rite of the Crypt, the Knight Templars, the Grotto, the National Sojourners, the High Twelve, the Tall Cedars of Lebanon and the Shriners, but also the York rite and the Royal Arch. The Scottish Rite has a strong “French flavor” but has developed its own American way too.
The true origin of the “Scottish” Degrees has never been explained and Scholars still disagree on the exact interpretation of the name. This degrees used to be part of what was called the Rite of Perfection that emerged in France as soon as 1740.
The Templars legend conducted in the second half of the 18th century to a system of Scottish high Degrees, which was in fact a legacy of the English tradition of the “ Ancients ”. This system was introduced to North America after having going through France. It was indeed the task of French Mason Stephen Morin, to first establish this Scottish Rite in 25 Degrees in Louisiana, playing therefore a major role in the early developments in this field on American mainland after having paved the way in the West Indies.
In 1767 Stephen Morin embarked his English partner, Henri Francken, who also was his Deputy Grand Inspector, with the special task to introduce the Scottish Rite in America. As an author of major papers, which are essential sources for the Order of the Royal secret, Francken made not only a tremendous work of erudition. On December 6, 1768 he undertook the decisive step to issue Patents in favor of two Masons who were about to play later on a decisive role: Kadosh Samuel Stringer and Moses Michael Hayes. Last one appointed John Mitchell as Deputy Grand Inspector. This paved the way to his appointment as the first Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of Charleston.
Count de Grasse-Tilly arrived then in 1793 in Charleston and gave a new and decisive new input for the development of the Scottish Rite in America. Along with six more Brethren from Lodge“ La Candeur “ and bearers of Patents of Royal secret von Morin – Francken, he took part in the foundation of a Kadosh Council on January 13, 1797 and finally of a “ Sublime Grand Council of Princes of Royal Secret “ before joining, in 1798, the Grand Lodge of the “ Moderns “. One year later he went out of this Lodge and founded at the Orient of Charleston, Lodge “ La Réunion Française “ incorporated in the “ Symbolic Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons “. This developments need to be known and referred to because all Masons who eventually founded the first Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite in Charleston on may 31, 1801, along with John Mitchell and Frederick Dalcho were members of this specific Lodge. On December 4, 1802 Brother de Grase - Tilly was one of those signing the famous “ Manifesto “ confirming the establishment of the Body that claims the appended title of “ Mother Supreme Council of the World “.
Back to Europe and specifically in France in 1804 Auguste de Grasse-Tilly remained an extraordinary active Mason involved in the foundation of a Scottish General Grand Lodge from which he was the first president before organizing the French Supreme Council of France issuing the 33rd Degree. This ranks the French supreme Council, Grand College of A.A.S.R. – G. O. D. F to the second oldest Supreme Council in the world.
This for and backwards Scottish movements between France and America were singularized by very specific evolutions on each side of the Atlantic Ocean and would have long lasting influence. Albert Pike has perfectly seized these points in his writings. And it may explain why scholars still today stress likewise the shared roots of a shared patrimony while some shift appears in the interpretation of a Rite combining metaphysic, rationality, tradition and modernity.
THE AFRICAN AMERICAN MASONRY
Only those people ignoring American history and sociology would be surprised to learn that African American and “ white ” Masonic Bodies developed and in most cases still follow separate and distinctive paths.
Prince Hall, a liberated slave born around 1735 had been emancipated after the famous massacre of Boston. An Irish Military Lodge then made him Entered Apprentice, along with 14 additional fellow African Americans. He immediately founded the first “ black ” American Lodge with the distinctive name “ African Lodge N°1 ”. But the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts denied him the recognition he had applied for and he eventually had to get a patent from the Grand Lodge of the “ Moderns ” in England.
One year after the death of Brother Prince, in 1808, the “ African Grand Lodge ” became “ Prince Hall Grand Lodge ”. The same year another “ African American Grand Lodge ” was founded in the state of Pennsylvania. Both Bodies merged in 1847 and became then together the “ Grand Lodge AFAM, Prince Hall “, while numerous African American Lodges reunited under its umbrella.
Today this Masonic Body accounts for 36 Grand Lodges spread over the same number of States. They run some 5.000 single Lodges with a membership of more or less half a million. This administrative structure is similar to the above description for “white” Grand Lodges and appended Bodies. Rituals and requirements are almost the same too.
As a matter of fact African American Masons had quite few opportunities to share any kind of Masonic activities with “Caucasian” Masons in their own country until the end of the 20th Century. But in very recent times some 35 American Grand Lodges as well as both Supreme Councils of the Scottish Rite revised their policy in this regard in a more liberal way. This does by far not mean that it indeed eased the Masonic contacts and exchanges so far and it will for sure still need some more time before all American Masons will share the stated communications without prejudice of color or of origin, as it is the case in Europe.
AMERICAN FREEMASONRY WOMEN …AND THE FAMILY
The American Freemasonry has fundamentally to be considered as one of the numerous “ communities ” of the American Society. But it nevertheless still refuses its membership to women “ because, - as stated in a pamphlet – it is a fraternity, it is therefore limited to men only.” “Other countries, other behaviors “, one may comment.
But a kind of solution of substitution has been found to allow spouses, daughters and sons of Masons to have access to some kind of co-Masonic activities. The best known is the “ Eastern Star ” movement, which is open to females while young boys are admitted to join the “ De Molay ”. This conservative policy in the American Masonic Order stays in strong contrast with the situation in many other countries and dramatically in France where women have their own Feminine Grand Lodge or belong the co-Masonic Grand Lodges like “ Droit Humain .”, or “ Memphys – Misraïm “ The question may be raised sooner or later whether American women will challenge this situation like they did already successfully did with some prestigious clubs previously reserved for men only.
One “ exotic ” exception needs to be referred to. Two French Masons, Brethren Gouziou and Muzareli established the “ Droit Humain-American Federation ” in Pennsylvania as a co-Masonic body as soon as in 1909. Some 20 additional Lodges belonging to the DH Federation followed soon. But a crisis related with the active “ entrism ” of members of the Theosophical Society into this Lodges prevented Droit Humain to conduct a solid Masonic activity on the long run in America. It happens nowadays to have a poor presence in the U.S.A. and is merely able to propose to American Women a serious alternative solution to join Masonry.
Some other foreign, and mostly French Masonic organizations or single initiatives need to be referred to in this context. The Feminine Grand Lodge of France tried but never succeeded in establishing a Lodge in America. After an unhappy experience in New York in the eighties this Body never tried a second effort so far. By comparison the Belgian Feminine Grand Lodge earned success in last years in opening a series of feminine Lodges in New York, Washington, and Los Angeles. American female Masons join these Lodges and seem to have found their way in practicing there the Craft almost in English. Grand Orient of France, the oldest and biggest French Masonic Body ( with a total of 43.000 members ), which is well known in America, while not recognized yet and not seeking any such step from American Grand Lodges has a long history and experience in establishing Lodges in America. In New York the Lodge “ L’Atlantide ” was founded as soon as in 1900 and commemorated recently its Centennial. In the eighties, three additional Lodges from G.O.D.F. were established in the Orients of Washington, DC Lodge “ La Fayette 89 “), Los Angeles ( Lodge “ Art et Lumière “) and San Francisco ( Lodge “ Pacifica “). Including the Lodge “Force et Courage” in Montreal (Canada) G.O.D.F. accounts for a total of five Lodges in North America.
In 1976 the G.O.D.F. supported as well an initiative taken by American Masons eager to found a true American Masonic stream inspired by the principles of absolute freedom of conscience. This small body developed steadily since the seventies but it is certainly too early to predict its future on the long run. As far as now Lodges belonging to this co-Masonic body named “ George Washington Union ” are performing activities in Washington, DC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Ill while one is operating in Canada (Montreal).
A LONG FRENCH AMERICAN MASONIC STORY
French Masons ever felt attracted by America but this does by far not mean that French Masonic so did or that it was reciprocated. No single one of them made so far serious effort in order to act or to develop a strategy. Initiatives were in all cases taken by individual Masons. The final result today is not quite convincing. The Scottish Rite makes an exception through the times and throughout history. Famous names of French “ Scottish ” Masons belong to the deep rooted and specific Masonic relationships between America and France: Stephen Morin, Count de Grasse-Tilly, Delahogue, Clavel, and of course also the two controversial Masons Joseph Cerneau and Antoine Bideaud. All of them belong to the most famous. And today this tradition is kept on track.
But some less known pages of French symbolic Lodges in the early U.S.A. deserve also to be better known also in order to correct some wrong ideas. The first French Lodge in America Masonic literature referred to, was known as “ L’Union Parfaite ” chartered in 1760 in New York. Its activity did not last for long and its membership was mainly made out of Huguenots. Along with Masons having fled from Santo Domingo they founded after a few years the new “ French Lodge ” (1780-85) and La Fayette, offered his sword to the Worshipful Master while spending a visit to this Lodge.
At the same period of time and just because they had to flee from the West Indies, several French Masons founded Lodges elsewhere in cities on the American mainland. Some of the best known were:
Most of these Lodges have since a long time disappeared or got assimilated. While French Masons getting integrated into America their Lodges often simply joined American Grand Lodges. For example Lodge “ L’Etoile Polaire ” still remains in activity in New Orleans but belongs now to the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of New Orleans and works in English. In New York City Lodge “ La Clémente Amitié Cosmopolite N° 410 ” is also part of the New York jurisdiction but still conducts its works in French. Masons still remember anyway that its founder was Master Vatet, a Brother from Grand Orient of France. And it is unquestionable that New York shows proudly up with the longest lasting history of continuous French Masonic activities in America since 1760. The quite chaotic fate of these Lodges has followed the stream of immigrants and pioneers building a new world. In 1793 a Lodge was named in the real spirit of the time: “ La Tendre Amitié Franco-Américaine “. then two years later renamed “ L’Unité Américaine ” and again in 1797 “ L’Union Française ” followed then by several other Lodges among others one becoming affiliated with Grand Orient of France and its sister Lodge in Paris ” La Clémente Amitié ”. Another one had developed a partnership with a lodge of the Grand Orient of Belgium, “ Les Amis du Commerce et de la Perseverance” at the Orient of Antwerp. One good question is why most of this Lodges did not survive on the long run. The insecure situation and political instability at early times of the new American country made it not easy. But even as important as that were the cultural gap, the language and the geographical distance to the home country as well as a very simple factor of integration of French Masons living in America and becoming American citizen. Also as relationships deteriorated between Grand Lodges on both sides of the Atlantic mainly because of the arguments around controversial initiatives from Brethren Cerneau and Bideau, American Grand Lodges decided in 1859 to disrupt any relation with Grand Orient of France, which was then not any more recognized. Since the early 20th Century French Masons belonging to Grand Orient of France have learned to conduct their own autarkic life in an American environment that fundamentally differs from their familiar Masonic stream. The final assault was given after a decisive shift decided by the General assembly of Grand Orient claiming in 1877 the right for each Brother to refer in a true Andersonian way to absolute freedom of conscience and to let it up to the free choice of each single Mason and Lodge whether or not to refer to the “ Great Architect of the Universe “.
Lodge “ L’Atlantide ” was founded in 1900 in such an environment in New York. Today this Lodge is proudly active in Manhattan and enjoys its French-American membership very much. This Lodge works not only under the jurisdiction of Grand Orient but is also a bridge to American Brethren. Masons speak to Masons of distinctive streams and it is as simple as that. It works pretty well and this “ model ” has developed with some success in other American cities without any spirit or intention of challenging American Brethren, Loges or jurisdictions. The contrary, French Masons just because they are living in America and enjoy American hospitality, also enjoy sharing their day-to-day life with American Masons and Citizens. They happen to be best prepared to help building a bridge of Hope, Charity Faith and Fraternity across an Ocean of Masonic Misunderstandings.
AS A CONCLUSION
America’s Freemasonry is questioning its future because of the significant decline of its membership and also because of the lack of interest from too many Masons not attending anymore their Lodge meetings because they quite often do not meet their expectations. No sincere and faithful Mason in the World may have a more sincere wish than to see American Lodges recovering. A weakening American Masonry makes a weaker Masonic Order in the world at all. Time is not anymore to discuss about doctrine and disputes.
A good question may be to ask us why America ’s Masonry is experiencing such a crisis and a lack of attractiveness while by comparison French Masonic Bodies enjoy a strong vitality with more and more young people joining the Lodges? Some people argue that it is because of a society demanding more and more achievements from individuals, more and more dedication for professional aims, more and more involvement in other areas, including more time for the Family. But all these arguments do not fit because operating in a similar environment French Lodges do not face this kind of challenges. The answer could be found in the way most, but certainly not all, American Lodges conceive today their function, their Old Charges, traditions and Landmarks, which may fail to respond to expectations of people at the beginning of the third Millennium. As a matter of fact despite the scare free time French as well as most European Lodges enjoy a rich cultural, philosophical and diversified work which keeps the Lodges attractive enough to catch more and more skilled and young people. They do not simply enter the Lodges but they remain very active members attending the stated communications at least twice a month, taking part in a vivid, open minded and tolerant exchange excluding any partisan neither political nor religious involvement. People escape this way their day-to day life and experiment a dialog beside of any struggle for power. It is may be one of the reasons why French Lodges that are of course not perfect anyway keep their membership which grows with a high standard of requirements. And French Masons knowing best America, having Friends over there realize pretty well that many of their fellows Brethren miss something like this in their own Lodges. French Masons do not pretend to be better. They are simply better off. They respect other identities and choices, specific characteristics of other and different Masonic Streams. But the informal and fraternal dialog, the better reciprocal knowledge, the sharing of experiences may contribute to a certain kind of reciprocal enrichment. On both sides of the Atlantic we have to better know the Brethren, their expectations and perspectives. Working on research, on scientific material on history, on Masonic Traditions and in publications could help all of us in getting inspired. Brothers of good will, having nothing else in mind than to meet together out of the Temple, while aiming at high standards of Masonic achievements may play a decisive role. Let us get rid of the debate about recognition and regularity, which conducts nowhere. Let us are the brave Brethren just modestly trying to help our humankind making progress individually and in our social life. To do so we do not need any “Masonic orthodoxy”. Nobody expects from any one of us perjury. Let us remain faithful to our respective Masonic Obligations but still open-minded and future oriented./.
DE KEGHEL Alain