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Franklin And Freemasonry :
Blog 4365 :
It's probably wise advice to stay away from religion, since it provokes such strong and often irrational feelings on all sides. But it is impossible to avoid it when discussing Ben Franklin's role in 1775-76 without discussing Franklin's relationship to the Masons. Franklin became a Mason in 1731, at the age of 25,and worked his way up to Grand Master of the American Masons. His portrait hangs next to that of George Washington in the Masonic Temple across from Philadelphia's City Hall. Dr. Warren and nine signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons. Let's begin with a short history of the oldest international secret society in continuous existence.
The Masons claim to trace their origin back to the building of Solomon's Temple, and many of their rituals have an oriental flavor. A more plausible history traces their origin to the medieval stone mason guild which built the cathedrals, and uniquely acquired the right to travel freely between countries. The Knights Templar returned from the Crusades rich, and attracted the attention of the French king. On one notable Friday the Thirteenth, the French King arranged a one-day coordinated a takeover and assassinated every knight they found. Whatever the association between the two, the Masons took over most of the abandoned property, and their subsequent desire for secrecy is understandable. There are differences between the European and the American ones, for example the Europeans admit women members, the American ones are all-male, although the wives of members are eligible for the Eastern Star. In Europe there is a stronger Germanic and pro-Jewish slant. Petain, for example, made it illegal to be a Mason in France, and it is hard to imagine that happening in America. One gets the impression there are other issues, now shrouded in secrecy.
One sees an ebb and flow to the American Freemasonry, somewhat reminiscent of American politics. But there has been a more or less continuous discord between the Scottish Masons and American Catholics. This traces back at least as far as the time of William Penn, when European ships were required to stop in England to remove any Catholics, before sailing for America. A succession of Popes gradually forbade Masonic membership on pain of excommunication during the nineteenth Century. This allows the Masons to claim the animosity is entirely on the Catholic side, but the Scottish hatred of the Irish around Pittsburgh is something to behold, allegedly tracing back to the "Mollie Maguires". In spite of William Penn, Philadelphia is now one-third Catholic, so the traditional hostility of the two ends of the state persists in its Masonic as well as its political forms. Freemasonry reached its peak in 1826, when just about every male who wanted a governmental job was a Mason seeking the job. And then came Morgan.
Skipping the details, four men were accused of murdering Morgan, but his body was never found. The masons undoubtedly put on a campaign to persuade juries and judges that you can't convict for murder without proof that the man is dead by finding a corpus delicti. The anti-Masons trivialized such fancy legalisms, and demanded justice for an obvious murder. The men were acquitted, the anti-Masons demanded justice, the anti-Masons got 8% of the next presidential election, and the Masons nearly fell apart. The Masons regained most of their stature during the nineteenth Century, by reason of their enormous charity work, amounting to millions of dollars per year but the anti-mason feeling was unpacified and seems to continue to this day. There are over two million Masons in America, but never to the stature they had in Franklin's day, when forty percent of the Revolutionary officers including Dr. Warren and Paul Revere, Von Steuben, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe and most Scotch-Irish were both Revolutionaries and Masons. With Ben Franklin and George Washington fervent Masons, it is fair to suspect the Masonic pattern for Revolution. To say nothing of the influence of Free masonry on the nations capital, and the Masonic symbolism on the back of its dollar bill. Even the membership of Isaac Newton, Voltaire, Mozart, Hume and fourteen Presidents of the United States (including FDR) counts for something in this dispute.
Originally published: Wednesday, September 16, 2020; most-recently modified: Thursday, September 17, 2020