Did George Washington Break His Obligation?

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
Robert H. Johnson, PM

You hear the term "Ancient Charges" much of the time within the fraternity. Mostly it is in reference to research in regards to our origins. These "charges" as they are called largely echo many of the items contained within a Mason's Obligation. One of the "Ancient Charges" that had always grabbed my attention involves the art of secrecy and treason. In essence, you can only give away a secret if it involves Murder or Treason, those being "excepted".

I was curious about the use of treason specifically in the charges because quite frankly, if our Masonic forefathers, who were many of the founders of this country had taken these Ancient Charges, they all broke their Masonic Obligations. Let me explain.

Duncan’s Masonic Ritual, published in 1866 uses “excepted” when describing when you can break secrecy and it’s widely written that way everywhere. So how many Brothers broke their obligations in general? And more interestingly, who committed treason? In our degrees we are told never to commit treason, keep no secrets regarding it and that we should “…pay due allegiance to the country under who's protection we live.” What did the obligations of 1752 (the year Bro. George Washington received his first degree) say? We can assume since at that time we were happy Loyalists, for the most part and if the charges were the same, did not George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere and John Hancock commit treason? Did they not break their Masonic Oaths? 

And if they did, how do we justify it? The greater good? When are we allowed to make this decision? When are we allowed to break an obligation? When is it acceptable? You might say that when deemed appropriate and by consensus of the fraternity, it’s time to break the obligation....maybe.

Let us examine some texts from some of our earliest sources.

According to “Edwine’s Charge”, located in the Alnwick Manuscript (1701) pg. 72/73

“…Also, you shall be a true liege man to the King without treason, or falsehood, and that you shall know no treason, but that you mend it and you may, or else warn the King of his council thereof…”

“The Antiquity Manuscript” of 1686 contains much the same verbiage. Pg 67, located under the second charge. 

“The Macnab Manuscript” says in the 2nd charge,  “…I am to admonish you to be true to our Sovereign Lord ye King committing no treason [unintelligible] of treason or felony & if any shall commit treason ye now you know of you shall give notice to his Majesty
his privit councellors or some other that hath commission to enquire thereof…

In the truest sense of the word, our first president, our countries “greatest” Mason, George Washington himself was guilty of a seemingly unforgivable Masonic offense, treason and so are the rest of our Masonic brothers of the era. Digesting that, I began to ask myself another question,  "Are our charges still relevant?"

I guess sometimes, stuff happens and you have to do, what you have to do. 


Bro. Robert Johnson, PMis the Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the First North-East District of Illinois. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge No. 78 and is Education officer for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois as well as a member on the Grand Lodge Education Committee. He is also a member of the York Rite bodies, AMD, The Illinois Lodge of Research and a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago as well as a charter member of the Society of King Solomon, a charity organization run by the Grand Lodge of Illinois. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focus on topics relating to Freemasonry. In addition, he produces video shorts focusing on driving interest in the Fraternity and writes original Masonic papers from time to time. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of three. He works full time in the safety industry and is also a photographer on the side as well as an avid home brewer. He is currently working on a book of Masonic essays.


  1. Good catch let's dig him up and punch him in the face.

  2. HAHAHAHAHA! Best comment ever!!^^^

  3. Hmm. I had made an observation comparing the Founding Fathers actions in the American Revolution with Confederate Freemasons' actions in the American Civil War and briefly exploring the history of the concept of "nation", but it appears to have been deleted. I guess a one-liner is more appropriate than a considered response.

  4. Jim, I moderate this. I haven't deleted anything. Perhaps repost it?

  5. I think our elders have seen a development like that of G.W. as a possibility. The Konstitution of Rev. Anderson says in 1723: " Of the Civil Magistrate Supreme and Subordinate.
    A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern’d in Plots an Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates; for as Masonry hath been always injured by War, Bloodshed, and Confusion, so ancient Kings and Princes have been much dispos’d to encourage the Craftsmen, because of their Peaceableness and Loyalty, whereby they practically answer’d the Cavils of their Adversaries, and promoted the Honour of the Fraternity, who ever flourish’d in Times of Peace. So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State, he is not to be countenanc’d in his Rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy Man; and, if convicted of no other Crime, though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible."

  6. I've been pondering this for quite some time, and I believe the oath needs to be updated to better reflect the morality of the craft. Something such as "abide by all moral laws." Of course, then who determines what laws are moral? We need to able to apply common sense to the oath. Otherwise, Freemasons would be forced to do horrible things according to the laws of their country.


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