Freemasons were originally skilled workers in stone who, in the Middle Ages, travelled from site to site and developed a set of secret signs and passwords for private identification. Later they ceased to have much resemblance to craft guilds and became prosperous social clubs, which claimed to do much charitable work. Lodges were better organized, with regular meetings after 1691, and admitted broader social ranks; the first grand lodge was founded in 1717. The movement prospered, with many lodges owning their own premises, and in 1802 they established themselves as a national organization. Largely because of their secrecy, freemasons attracted much criticism, particularly from the Roman catholic church, which believed freemasonry to be a cover for free-thinking; others suspected secret political influence or accused members of promoting each other's interest by stealth.
1. Craftsman capable of hewing, dressing, and setting freestones.
2. Person ‘Free’ of the Masons' Guilds, i.e. a Freeman.
3. Itinerant mason, emancipated, so able to travel widely to carry out work, enjoying an élite status among craftsmen.
4. Member of a secret or tacit Brotherhood organized into groups (Lodges) as a system of morality illustrated by symbols, allegories, and rituals, probably originating in the late C16 in Scotland.
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This international quasi-religious fraternity is properly called the Ancient and Accepted Order of Freemasons. The number of freemasons in the United States crested at four million around 1960. In terms of freemasons as a percentage of the population, their popularity was greatest in the United States from after the Civil War until the 1920s. Freemasons traditionally were white, native-born, and Protestant. The primary purpose of the freemasons is to meet the social and personal needs of their members. An important activity of freemasons is the performance of various secret rituals, held within Masonic temples. Symbolizing the temple of King Solomon, the temples are usually located in prominent places within urban areas. Freemason rituals are infused with religious allegories that emphasize the omnipotence of God, the importance of a moral life, and the possibility of immortality. Over the course of the twentieth century, in an effort to respond to younger members' interests as well as reverse declining membership, free-masons have increasingly emphasized community service over religious symbolism. Today there are perhaps slightly more than three million freemasons in the United States, distributed among some fourteen thousand Grand Lodges.
The term "freemason" dates from the fourteenth century, when stonemasons in Europe bound themselves together for their mutual protection and training. During the Reformation freemasonry became open to men other than stonemasons. On 24 June 1717 a group met in London to found the first Grand Lodge. The first freemason to live in the British colonies in America was Jonathan Belcher, who joined the freemasons in England in 1704 and later became the governor of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The first lodge in the United States was established in Philadelphia in 1731, and in 1734 Benjamin Franklin became its Grand Master.
Freemasons were prominent during the revolutionary and constitutional periods, and have held important positions in modern politics. Fourteen presidents have been freemasons, most recently Gerald R. Ford. George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and Benedict Arnold, all generals of the Continental Army, were freemasons, and it is possible that Washington selected his generals partly on the basis of their freemason status. Before the Revolution Franklin represented colonial interests in England, and after the war he was the American minister to France, and as he undoubtedly consulted with other free-masons in both countries, his fraternal standing could have served his diplomatic purposes. Franklin's efforts to expand the U.S. Constitution's protection of religious belief also accord with his freemasonry background.
While an important principle for freemasons is the acceptance of all religions, they have been denounced by the Catholic Church, in part because at certain periods they were involved with anti-immigrant or racist causes, for instance that of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The greatest controversy in freemason history, however, involved one William Morgan of Batavia, New York. In retaliation for the order's refusal to permit him to form a local lodge, in March 1826 Morgan contracted to publish a pamphlet that revealed the secrets of freemasonry. In September Morgan was abducted and probably drowned in the Niagara River. His pamphlet, Illustrations of Masonry, was published in October 1826. Because of its exclusive membership (perhaps 32,000 members in 1820) and its secrecy, freemasonry was already suspected as anti-democratic. Morgan's pamphlet, and the alleged cover-up of his abduction by judges and jurors who themselves were freemasons, greatly galvanized anti-Masonic feeling across the country. In 1828 Thurlow Weed, a prominent newspaper publisher, organized a political party known as the Anti-Masonic Party. The party was the first to hold a convention for the nomination of a presidential candidate. In 1832 William Wirt, a former U.S. attorney general, headed the ticket. Anti-Masonic political activity spread to New England and the Northwest, but by the early 1840s there was little national interest in the party's agenda.
The Masonic affiliation of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon Church, was perhaps the most long-lived, if incidental, legacy of this controversy. Smith, a freemason, founded his church in 1830 in Palmyra, New York, and was murdered by an anti-Mormon mob on 27 June 1844. While freemasons may have taken part in the crime, Smith's successor, Brigham Young, also a freemason, held the Order of Freemasons blameless. The influence of the rituals of freemasonry upon the ceremonies and rites of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still apparent today.
Another incidental consequence of the practice of freemasonry was the rise of Negro freemasonry. A black man named Prince Hall founded a lodge in 1775. Due to racist resistance by white freemasons, Prince Hall Masonry did not gain general acceptance as a legitimate order until the 1960s. Thus the exclusivity of white free-masons was possibly an important factor in the forging of the group self-consciousness of middle-class blacks.
Especially in the twentieth century the freemasons have undertaken important reform and charitable causes. The widespread illiteracy of American men became apparent during the World War I era. As a result freemasons began lobbying for a federal department of education, which eventually came to fruition. Over their history the freemasons have spawned close to one hundred affiliated groups that emulate the freemason's secret rituals and modern commitment to public service. The first large-scale labor organization, the Knights of Labor, adapted many Masonic motifs and phrases. The most prominent affiliated groups today are the Knights Templar, the Scottish Rite, and the Shriners. The last group has raised millions of dollars for medical treatment of children.
Carnes, Mark C. Secret Ritual and Manhood in Victorian America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1989.
Demott, Bobby J. Freemasonry in American Culture and Society. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1986. A revealing but often excessively favorable account.
Dumenil, Lynn. Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880–1930. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984.
Kutolowski, Kathleen Smith. "Freemasonry and Community in the Early Republic: The Case for Antimasonic Anxieties." American Quarterly 34 (1982): 543–561.
Muraskin, William Alan. Middle-Class Blacks in a White Society: Prince Hall Freemasonry in America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975.
Additionally, various state Grand Lodges publish annual Journals of Proceedings that contain administrative, charitable, and historical information.
—Timothy M. Roberts
A secret fraternal order.
Drawing on guild practices of the masons and deriving its "oriental" origins from the period of Solomon's temple in Jerusalem, the order of Free and Accepted Masons recognizes some six million members worldwide. The order's first Grand Lodge was organized in London in 1717. Incorporating a complex system of secret rituals, rites, and decrees, the society admits members who profess a belief in God, but keep the particulars of their faith private. Members include Muslims, Christians, and Jews. There is no central authority. Freemasonry advocates religious toleration, fellowship, and political compromise, and members work for peace and harmony between peoples.
Freemasonry in the Middle East is traced initially to individuals, most notably Iranians who, serving as diplomats, were invited to join lodges by Europeans and upon their return disseminated the ideology. Masonic lodges in the region were established by Europeans in areas they influenced and were used by the French and the British to cultivate local individuals. Lodges in Calcutta (founded in 1730) attracted Hindus and Muslims, and the philosophy probably entered Iran at this time with Iranian merchants who lived in India.
The establishment in the Middle East of masonic lodges affiliated with the European movement, however, dates from Napoléon's invasion of Egypt, when French soldiers established chapters in Cairo (1798) and in Alexandria (1802). Italian émigrés, after their abortive revolution in Italy (1830), set up Italian lodges, and the British and the Germans became active in the 1860s. In Iran, the first lodge (a nonaffiliated one) was set up in 1858 by an Armenian convert to Islam, Mirza Malkom Khan, and was short lived. The French masonic lodge in Istanbul, L'Union d'Orient, dates from 1865. During the Ottoman period, there were lodges in Beirut and Jerusalem, and the society flourished under the Palestine mandate. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim members support a mutual insurance fund, an oldage home, a library, and masonic temples in Israel. There have been lodges in most Middle Eastern countries at one time or another, depending upon the regime in power.
Although it never attracted many members on the popular level, freemasonry in the Middle East was a significant component of Middle Eastern reform politics during the latter part of the nineteenth century until World War I. Because it incorporated unique rites, a clandestine apparatus, and a select membership - features familiar in Sufi, futuwwa, and other Islamic movements - and was a convenient vehicle for the dissemination of European ideas, it drew Islamic modernists and political activists such as the Egyptian Muhammad Abduh, the Iranian Jamal al-din al-Afghani, and the Algerian Abd alQadir.
Masonic lodges were convenient covers for clandestine activities. Because they were, by and large, Western institutions protected under the capitulations, governments could not penetrate them or monitor their activities. Members were also able to draw upon the support of European masons in defense of local members. During the 1870s, the movement was used as a tool by Prince Halim of Egypt who was denied succession and conspired to rule. Khedive Ismaʿil and his successor, Tawfiq, banished a number of prominent members who were also active in reformist political activities - Yaʿqub Sanu and Afghani, among others. Ottoman modernists of the Tanzimat period were responsible for Ottoman Sultan Murat V's brief rule in 1876. In Iran, lodges existed sporadically in the nineteenth century and were allowed under Mohammad Ali Shah until 1911 and the end of the constitutional movement. Iranians, Egyptians, and Ottomans met at lodges throughout the Middle East when they traveled, but there is no evidence that any unified political actions emerged.
For the Young Turks, exposed to freemasonry largely in the Balkans and Constantinople (now Istanbul), the lodges were convenient meeting places to bring together Christians and Muslims, and to plan the overthrow of the regime of Sultan Abdülhamit II. The existence of so many Freemasons in the large secular leadership of the Committee for Union and Progress generated polemical literature of a conspiratorial nature against the regime just before Turkey's entry into World War I on the side of Germany.
Algar, Hamid. "An Introduction to the History of Freemasonry in Iran." Middle Eastern Studies 6 (1970).
Hanioğlu, M. Sükrü. "Notes on the Young Turks and Freemasons, 1875 - 1908." Middle Eastern Studies 25 (1989).
Kedourie, Elie. "Young Turks, Freemasons, and Jews." Middle Eastern Studies 7 (1971).
Landau, Jacob M. "Prolegomena to a Study of Secret Societies in Modern Egypt." Middle Eastern Studies 1 (1964).
— REEVA S. SIMON
The Masonic movement was founded in England in 1717. Jews were admitted to its English lodges by 1732, and later on in the Netherlands, Germany, France, and other European countries. The lodges were open to Jews until the 1870s; with the advent of political Antisemitism in the 1880s, Jews were forced out. This led to the growth of Jewish fraternities such as BÕnai BÕrith. However, the association between Jews and Freemasons was already being touted by right-wing organizations in Germany as early as the 1840s. Soon the notion of their alliance spread to France, and then throughout the world.
Catholic groups strongly believed that the Masonic lodges were a cover for a Jewish plot to eradicate Christianity. An anti-Masonic world congress met in Trent, Italy, in September 1894; it was supported by Pope Leo XIII.
After World War I anti-Jewish literature, such as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, repeated these false claims of Jewish-Masonic brotherhood. Freemasonry was considered an enemy of Nazi ideology, so a special section of the Security Service was designated to deal with it. Some Masons were sent to Concentration Camps.