Across the Seas and Down the Centuries

The Irish Grand Lodge was formed in 1725 and the Scottish the following year. The Scots proved at least as fervent missionaries as the English. As already mentioned, the movement had spread to the Continent at least by the third decade of the eighteenth century, often in very high society. Frederick the Great of Prussia is claimed to have been initiated in 1738, although one must be careful of accepting masonic claims of membership by the illustrious. There is no proof, for example, that Christopher Wren, often hailed as one of the brethren, was ever a member. Masonry, its undefined Deism so close to that of Voltairean rationalism, was soon the rage among the pre-revolutionary freethinkers in France: ironically, it may have been planted there by Jacobite exiles around 1725.

Freemasonry remains a power to be reckoned with in many European countries, France and Germany in particular. The French Grand Master today is Air Force General Jacques Mitterand, the President's brother, and Free-masonry's influence in politics is profound. Francois Mitterand owes much of his success in the 1981 election to influential Freemasons. Masonry has been closely identified with the Socialists for most of the last seventy years. According to Fred Zeller, Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France in 1971 and 1973, the 1974 presidential election would have been won by the Socialists had Valery Giscard d'Estaing not become a Freemason and colluded with sympathetic forces in the Brotherhood, which eventually persuaded French Freemasons that it was in their best interests to vote for Giscard. He was initiated into the Franklin Roosevelt Lodge in Paris the year of the election.

Italian Freemasonry, later to play a significant role in the unification of the country (Garibaldi was a Freemason), was established in Rome by Jacobite exiles in 1735 and was already a force by 1750. Masonry among Roman Catholic prelates was one reason for the repeated papal condemnations.

No country was too small for attention: Holland, Switzerland and Sweden all had keen and influential memberships in the eighteenth century. Continental Masonry reached as far as Russia: Tolstoy in War and Peace describes the different motivations of upper-class Masons during the Napoleonic Wars.

Freemasonry crossed the Atlantic to the colonies of the old empire very early on: George Washington's initiation was in 1752. Today, the dollar bill bears not only Washington's likeness but also the all-seeing-eye symbol of Freemasonry. Washington refused to become head of Masonry for the whole of the newly formed United States, and US Freemasonry came to be organized on a state-by-state basis. Today, each state has its own Grand Lodge. Royal Arch Chapters come under state Grand Chapters, the first mention of Royal Arch appearing in Virginia records of 1753. A few states followed the British lead and spread the Brotherhood abroad. For example, before the Second World War there were Lodges in China under Massachusetts jurisdiction, and it was Massachusetts that warranted the first Canadian Lodge in 1749.* No fewer

*The oldest masonic Lodge room in the USA dates from 1760 and is at Prentiss House, Marblehead, Massachusetts.

than nine Canadian Grand Lodges were eventually formed. The United States proved a home from home for the Brotherhood. Eight signatories to the Declaration of Independence - Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Joseph Hewes, William Hooper, Robert Treat Payne, Richard Stockton, George Walton and William Whipple - were proven Masons, while twenty-four others, on less than certain evidence, have been claimed by the Brotherhood. Seventeen Presidents have been Masons: Washington, Madison, Monroe, Jackson, Polk, Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Garfield, McKinley, both Roosevelts, Taft, Harding, Truman, Lyndon Johnson, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan. Seventeen Vice-Presidents including Hubert Humphrey and Adlai Stevenson have also been brethren.

But the British - the founders of Masonry - remained throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries the chief propagandists for the movement. Undaunted by the loss of the first empire and with it direct control over American Masonry, the British took Masonry with the flag as they created their second empire - the one on which the sun never set. For some years membership of the Lodges set up in the empire (grouped in 'Provinces' under English, Scottish or Irish jurisdiction) was confined to Europeans, apart from a handful of Indian princely exceptions. But after 1860, at first Parsees, then other Indians were brought into the Brotherhood. In British West Africa and the West Indies there were 'black' Lodges as well as 'white' Lodges (as in the USA), and eventually mixed Lodges were formed.

Associating the native upper and middle classes on a peculiar, profitable and clandestine basis with their white rulers, some historians believe, did much to defuse resentment of imperial domination. Despite his colour, any man rather better off than the mass of the people - who were not sought as members - could, by being a Freemason, feel that he belonged in however humble a way to the Establishment. Just how far Masonry reached is shown by the fact that on the small island of Jamaica there were no fewer than twelve Lodges, some in townships of little more than a couple of streets.

Freemasonry of itself is simply a secret environment tended by its various Grand Lodges, an exclusive society within society, there to be used by its members largely as they wish. Hence its influence, political and social, can be quite different at different times and places. In the eighteenth century Masons were thin on the ground, but enough aristocrats, men of fashion and influence, were Masons to give the top Masons influence disproportionate to their numbers. And of course royal involvement ensured, as it does today, the impression of total reputability. Because of this, Freemasonry has been able to ignore all legislation dating from 1797 concerning secret societies and illegal oaths. Although regarded as subversive in some countries where the environment was less amenable, in eighteenth-century Britain the Brotherhood had the effect already alluded to - of reinforcing the development of constitutional monarchy under which its own Establishment could thrive.

Among the middle classes, though, Masonry was then too sparse in most areas to play any crucial role in local affairs. There was none of the tight-lipped apprehensive silence so common today. People could afford to ridicule the movement, and there was a lively trade in anti-masonic pamphlets. In fact, ‘masonic 'exposures' may have done much to develop and harmonize the still unprinted rituals.

But the advantage of Masonry, in terms of cult, diversified friendships and straight worldly interest, had become evident to many. With the Union of 1813 the movement began to snowball: for the more Masons there are in any area or profession the more important it is to be a Mason if one is not to risk losing out, as a non-member of the 'club', in one's business, one's profession and one's preferment.

Another factor was important: with the Industrial Revolution, social mobility began to increase. And Masonry, providing a ladder extending from the lower middle class to the Royal Family itself, offered great advantages to those who could learn how to climb it. There was also the loneliness of the new urban way of life: Freemasonry provided an enormous circle of instant acquaintances in most walks of life. Then too, the English public schoolboy could continue to be a public schoolboy in the intimacy of the Craft.

At the end of the eighteenth century only about 320 English Lodges had been warranted. About twice as many more were formed in the next half century, No 1000 in 1864. This number was doubled in the next twenty years, No 2000 being warranted in 1883. The next twenty years maintained this rate of growth with Lodge No 3000 opening in 1903, in which year Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill, the MP for Oldham, was initiated. All this nineteenth-century explosion resulted essentially from recruitment from the middle and professional classes.

With the First World War, which led to so many of quite humble background seeking better status, the rate of growth speeded dramatically. Lodge No 4000 was formed in 1919, and No 5000 only seven years later in 1926. The Second World War, for similar reasons, led to another such period of extraordinarily rapid growth - Lodge No 6000 being formed in 1944 and No 7000 in 1950.

In 1981, Lodge No 9003 was warranted. Even allowing for Lodges that have been discontinued, taking average Lodge membership at around sixty men, a membership of at least half a million can reasonably reliably be estimated for England alone. Official masonic estimates, as already stated, put the total for England and Wales at around 600,000.

As the recruiting ground for Freemasons is primarily the not directly productive middle and professional classes, it is clear that a very high proportion of these people, occupying key roles in British society - lawyers, Civil Servants, bank managers and so on - are Freemasons. In many fields nowadays the disadvantages of being left out of the 'club' are perceived as being too serious for a great many people to contemplate, whatever they may feel personally about the morality of joining a secret society, or about the misty tenets of speculative Freemasonry.

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