The Masonic Philosophy of George Washington: Part II Founding Principals

by Midnight Freemasons contributor
James E. Frey, 32º
(This is the second part of Bro. Frey's series--you'll find his first installment here)

The Watson-Cassoul apron given to George Washington (1782)
In August 10, 1782 Washington wrote the earliest surviving exchange of his Masonic correspondents. These early letters were with his Brother and friend Elkanah Watson presenting him with a specialized Masonic Apron symbolizing the union of France and the newly formed republic under the All Seeing Eye of Providence. This apron is now in possession of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 in Alexandria, Virginia.  In his memoirs Bro. Watson states:

“Wishing to pay respect to our beloved Washington, I employed, in conjunction with my friend M. Cassoul, nuns in one the convents at Nantes to prepare some elegant Masonic ornaments, and gave them a plan for combining the American and French Flags on the apron designed for this use. They were executed in a superior and expensive style. We transmitted them to America accompanied by an appropriate address.” (Men and Times of the Revolution, Elkanah Watson,1856, pp. 135, 136)
The Layfayette Apron
This Apron is not to be confused with the apron hand made by Bro. Layfayette Washington received at Mount Vernon in 1784. Along with this apron received from Watson and Cassoul, they included a letter celebrating the Masonic character of Washington and the Masonic destiny of the American Revolution. This Masonic destiny is the product of the enlightenment, which sought to take Europe out of the Dark Ages and into the light of liberty and democracy.

Watson and Cassoul wrote “ In the moment when all Europe admire and feel the effects of your glorious efforts in support of American liberty, we hasten to offer for you acceptance a small pledge of our homage. Zealous lovers of liberty and its institutions, we have experienced the most refined joy in seeing out chief and brother stand forth in its defense of a newborn nation of Republicans. Your glorious career will not be confined to the protection of American liberty, but its ultimate effect will extend to the whole of human family, since Providence has evidently selected you as an instrument in his hands, to fulfill his eternal decrees.” January 23rd, 1782. 

Masonry was the product of the age of enlightenment, an era of political and social upheaval focusing on the things we take for granted today such as inalienable rights, democratic government. This focus on reason rather then religious tradition is based on Alchemical and Rosicrucian teachings which spawned in the dark ages propagating an evolution in science, influencing philosophers such as Francis Bacon, Isaac Newton, and those in German Existentialism.

John Locke
This focus on reason and understand is what transformed a union of laborers and craftsmen into a society that would reshape the face of western culture. The Masonic philosophy was different depending on which part of Europe your lodge was in. This difference in philosophical emphasis is what accounts for the difference in the Masonic character across Europe, this is also what accounts for the main differences between the Grand Lodge of England, and the Grand Orient of France. American Masonry with its emphasis on liberty and individual rights grew out of the Grand lodge of England, which was primarily influenced by the works of John Locke.

Locke is known as the Father of Classical Liberalism and British Empiricism. Locke was one of the most influential of the Enlightenment thinkers. Locke’s theories and contributions to classical republicanism greatly influenced the Declaration of Independence and the structure of the American government. Locke’s focus on western and religious tradition as a detrimental part of who we are as a person and where we are going, is what greatly separated him from the more radical thinkers of the time. This is reflected in the implementation of Greek and Roman mythology in the early artwork and architecture of America.

Locke also introduced the idea of a separation of church and state and its relation to a social contract, which greatly influenced the Founding Fathers. Locke believed that people in a state of nature would defend and care for each other without government protection. But they would have no guaranteed protection of their rights and would live in constant fear, so people would willingly come together to form a state. This state would act to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of those who lived within it. Unlike social contract theories before which claimed the right of the government came from the authority, Locke claimed that the right of government to rule came from the consent of those who were ruled.

Bro. Jean-Jacques Rousseau
These moderate views by today’s standards were revolutionary at the time, and were the main political foundation of American Masonry. This influenced the founding Fathers to create a national character, which respected liberty as well as religious beliefs of others. This Masonic respect of all religion as light was what set American and British Masonry apart from French Masonry. This is primarily because of the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and its influence on the French Revolution and the Grand Orient.

Bro. Rousseau saw the enlightenment period as an overthrowing of the religious establishment. Rousseau had little respect and admiration for traditions and western religious values. He saw the enlightenment as a dramatic change in social consciousness. Rousseau believed liberty was possible only if it were the direct rule of the people as a whole in law making. But Rousseau did not believe people understood their “real will” so they could not rule themselves within the confines of their social consciousness. Rousseau believed that a just society could not come about until a great leader, or “legislator” arose to change the values and conception of the people. He believed a true will of the people cannot exist when focus is placed on the individual. So the people must subjugate themselves to the laws of the “legislator”. By this Rousseau understands that laws and subjecting to laws are an expression of freedom.

“Each of us puts his person and all his power in common under the supreme direction of the general will; and in a body we receive each member as an indivisible part of the whole.” (Oeuvres completes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau)
General George Washington
It is not a stretch to understand how the American Revolution as influenced by individual sovereignty was a just war, which led to a true republic, as opposed to the French Revolution, which was a bloody and violent revolution, which eventually led to the dictatorship and tyrannical rule under Bro. Napoleon Bonaparte.

I believe this is why the Founders would not militarily aid France in the Napoleonic Wars. They saw how Masonry was corrupted from within by radicals which eventually led to the destruction of over half of Europe. Washington addresses tyranny and evil in his response to Watson thanking him for the apron:

“If my endevours to avert evil, with which this country was threatened, by a deliberate plan of Tyranny, should be crowned with the success that is wished. The praise is due to the Grand Architect of the Universe; who see fit to suffer his superstructures & justice, to be subjected to the ambition of Princes of this world or to the rod of oppression, in the Hands of any power upon Earth.” Aug 10, 1782
This trend in the differences of philosophy and political consciousness is relevant to understand the development of the Masonic philosophy. The Original Grand Orient of France claimed responsibility for the French Revolution and enforced an atheistic and secular view of Masonry which led to them being derecognized by the Grand Lodge of England. This is the difference of Rousseau’s influence on Masonry which denounced religion and Locke’s influence which respected all religions. Under the reign of Napoleon not even the Grand Orient was safe as it was institutionalized into the regime only to merge with the Ecossais Rite in 1804.

Washington the Freemason
It is interesting because as was addressed in part one of this article, Washington believed that the American character should be a selfless individual, dedicated to serving humanity and God. This spirit centered approach is what I believe to the foundation of Masonry and America. This foundation is what led to success for the colonies while France fell to tyranny rejecting the spiritual nature on humanity.

To understand the evolution of the Masonic character we must look at the origins of the philosophical foundations of modern masonry. Masonry is referred to as a progressive science, but I beg the question, are we still true to our original intent and mission? George Washington and the other Founding Fathers valued the deep philosophical nature upon which the craft was founded. We have forgotten our roots to Rosicrucianism, Alchemy, and the enlightenment philosophy. In fact most members that we have raised in my lodge in the past few years have been mostly self-serving interested in wearing a ring or making corporate connections. Lodge meetings have become nothing more then a reading of minutes and small-minded bickering.

This new “Corporate Masonry” has watered down the average Mason’s understanding of philosophy, ritual, and the seven liberal arts and sciences. How have we allowed what was once the great influence of the western world be reduced to a marketing tool which raise dozens of Masons who get a ring and never set foot in a officer’s chair.

In my personal opinion, I believe the Founding Fathers would be disappointed by the state of Masonry. There is no focus in finding quality members and to further enlighten them. We have lost sight of our true purpose to make those business connections or pushing an agenda to mainstream a washed down version of the craft? But why, why change years of tradition for this Corporate Masonry. You cannot market Masonry to my generation by what is popular in the media or in movies. Masonry is a calling, in which like-minded men are drawn to a path of light and hope. Men are born Masons we choose to walk the checkered tile when we are ready to emerge from the darkness.

I feel Masonry has lost its mystery and allure and as a younger member I feel my generation is willing to work for our degrees, to learn Latin phrases and memorize their meanings, to discuss the philosophy and origins of the craft, to learn full form catechisms. We wish for a return to tradition of our past brothers. I know a lot of Masons are afraid. There is a lack of membership, lodges are closing, it seems as if Masonry is no longer important to the American Character. But trust me if you focus on the right members, the quality members who are willing to work for their Masonic experience, they will appreciate it more and get active. So let us return to our traditions, let us remember the Masonic character of our Founding Fathers. Let every Mason know that Freemasonry is the foundation for the American character, and the philosophical tool for bringing humanity out of the dark ages and into the enlightenment.

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more then the people of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation… Thus supported by a firm trust in the great Arbiter of the universe, aided by the collected wisdom of the Union, and imploring the divine benediction on our joint exertions in the service of our country,” (Washington, Inaugural Speech, 04, 30, 1789)

James E Frey, 32° is a Past Sovereign Prince and current librarian of Valley of Danville AASR. Founder of the R.E.B.I.S Research Society he sits on two Blue Lodge Education committees as well as a guest lecturer on Occultism and Esoteric studies in masonry. He is also a Member of the Oak Lawn York Rite, Medinah Shriners, and Golden Dawn Collegium Spiritu Sancti. He also works as a counselor with emotionally and behaviorally challenged children. 

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