There’s no doubt about it: From George Washington to Mark Twain to Louis Armstrong to Cy Young, Masons have contributed mightily to American culture. But the most lasting contribution of these Masons—and countless others—is the Masonic values that helped govern their lives, and which, in turn, helped shape the great nation whose story they are such a part of. Let’s take a moment to explore just how Masonic values have impacted our beloved country.
Foundation Values for the American Colonies
Though national bestsellers such as Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol have spun fanciful versions of Masons’ contribution to American history, the actual impact has been much richer. As a values movement that emerged from the Reformation, Freemasonry was the first highly influential organization to espouse religious toleration and liberty—core Masonic values that Masons helped spread throughout the American colonies.
“Yearning to Be Free”
Even prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Masonic values were fully taking flight—in ways that often were impressively ahead of the times. To cite just one example: Freemasons in Boston in 1775 were part of a British garrison that granted local Black freemen the right to affiliate as Masons under the banner of African Lodge No. 1. Its leader, a freed slave named Prince Hall, later signed some of the nation’s earliest anti-slavery petitions. In this way, African Lodge No. 1 represented the first black-led abolitionist movement in American history. Nearly two centuries later, Masonic values and membership were embraced by both the father and grandfather of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as the quest for civil rights in America deepened.
Masonic Values of the Founding Fathers
It is no coincidence that some of America’s greatest Founding Fathers—including not only Washington but also Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and seven other signers of the Declaration of Independence—were Freemasons. All these heroes rejected the European notion that one overarching authority should dominate the exchange of ideas.
To this day, this revolutionary new outlook is found in one of the greatest symbols associated with Freemasonry: the eye-and-pyramid of the Great Seal of the United States, as seen on the back of the one-dollar bill. Begun on July 4, 1776, The Great Seal’s design commenced as an order from the Continental Congress. Its Latin maxim—Annuit Coeptis Novus Ordo Seclorum—is commonly translated as “God Smiles on Our New Order of the Ages.”
An Enduring Legacy and Impact
The Masonic values that served as such a profound influence on our Founding Fathers and our early republic have endured and been strengthened by later Masons–who became everything from Presidents of the United States to musical giants to great athletes to great writers and thinkers. Just as they all owed a debt to the Masonic values that helped shape their lives, we now owe a great debt to them for the ways in which their values helped forge and shape America.
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