Perhaps it takes a Frenchman to explain American Freemasonry. Certainly Alain de Keghel knows the subject well, both its history and its contemporary situation. It helps that he has lived in the United States and has studied its general history. This book accepts the challenges posed by American Freemasonry, by its piety about God and country and its refusal to entertain foreign influences. The British origins are clearly important, and the association of the lodges with the American Revolution gives a respectability that few other forms of civil society can claim.
Yet even that association could not save the lodges from a virulent anti-Masonry faction that emerged in the 1820s as a result of the Morgan Affair. The account de Keghel gives of it is balanced and fair and rightly links the notion of there having been a Masonic conspiracy to a mind-set that reappeared after 1945 and is generally labeled as “McCarthyism,” named after the vociferous, Communist-hunting U.S. senator Joseph McCarthy.
This book is also about Freemasonry in Canada and contains a very helpful section on French American Masonic relations, which have often been tumultuous. Members on either side of the Atlantic will recognize many elements in these ruptures, among them the issue of God’s existence and the presence of many women in the French lodges. Perhaps hardest of all to understand is the split in American Freemasonry between lodges for blacks and those for whites. Anyone who has ever addressed lodges in the American South will have witnessed that sad reality. One of the earliest members of a Paris lodge is described in the letters as “a Negro trumpeter in the King’s Guard.” French Freemasonry has a great deal to be proud about in its history. As Freemasonry has reached the three-hundredth anniversary of the founding of the Grand Lodge of London in 1717, the American lodges have found a charitable and wise interpreter.
MARGARET C. JACOB, PH.D., is a professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles. One of the world’s foremost Masonic scholars, she is considered a pioneer in the field of the history of civil society, with emphasis on Masonic history. Her work in the early development of Freemasonry documents connections between early European Freemasons and the Craft as we know it today. She is the author of The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons, and Republicans; Living the Enlightenment: Freemasonry and Politics in Eighteenth-Century Europe; and The Origins of Freemasonry: Facts and Fictions.
The history of Freemasonry in general and American Freemasonry in particular receives less attention than the practice of the rites, on which authors more often focus their studies. This should be seen as most likely responding to the primary interests of their readers. They are seeking first and foremost access to knowledge about the Masonic initiatory path. The rarest works are those seeking to shed light on and decipher the developments of the Masonic order from its beginnings, with an eye to their interaction with contemporary challenges. Both of these approaches are of equal importance to the grand archivist and grand historian of the Southern Jurisdiction. The articles published in the magazine Heredom attest to this reality.
Relatively few in number in comparison to the members of the lodges are those Freemasons who belong to the research societies, but far rarer are the French Freemasons who have been consistently involved over a long period of years with studies of this nature in the United States. The authentic knowledge that can be found in the depths of the archives is capable of providing a solid foundation for positions. The library of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, housed in the House of the Temple in Washington, D.C., figures at the very forefront of the world’s collections of Masonic documents. It contains a wealth of information and documentation that begs to be used. It was at this already mythic site that the noted Masonic writer Albert Pike labored at the end of the nineteenth century. He has left us an invaluable legacy on which researchers are still tirelessly working. But there is also the legacy of Albert Mackey and many other major figures of our Masonic history.
Alain de Keghel has been a lifetime member of the Scottish Rite Research Society of the Southern Jurisdiction since the 1990s. He did not content himself with the title alone but instead used this membership to cultivate sustained, friendly, fraternal, and studious relations with the large family of American researchers. People will remember that it was he who, in 1999, carried out research with Pierre Mollier, the director of the Library and Archives of the Grand Orient of France, and myself on behalf of the French Masonic magazine Renaissance traditionnelleby consulting documents of the highest importance at the site of our library of the Southern Jurisdiction. The results were seen in the April 2000 issue, no. 122, of this magazine. The article focused on the beginnings of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in France. It was structured around the discovery of an exceptional document: the first book of the architecture of the original French Supreme Council, from 1804 to 1812.
Nor was it any accident that Alain de Keghel took part in the commemoration festivities of the bicentennial of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in Charleston, South Carolina, in September 2001, as his involvement far surpassed any particularisms. We are familiar with his Masonic eclecticism, his participation in the American society of the Philalethes, as well as in that of the research lodge Quatuor Coronati no. 8 (Bayreuth, Germany), and in the famous first International Conference on the History of Freemasonry, held in Edinburgh in 2007. These conferences have been highly successful, and one was even held in Alexandria, Virginia. The 2015 conference was held at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris.
This openness to the diversity of our Order is also the fruit of Alain de Keghel’s long experience as a Mason, which has been quite varied, geographically speaking, and even includes Japan, where the author served as a career diplomat. In addition to fifty years steeped in the ideals of the pastor James Anderson’s tradition, he has acquired an exceptional range of knowledge, which he is sharing with us today. It is most definitely the case here for the United States, where, during the time he was posted here as a diplomat, he forged fraternal relationships to which he remains ever faithful.
This book devoted here to the challenge of American Freemasonry will assuredly hold the attention of both American and French readers. It retraces the lines that are essential for a good understanding of the American Masonic era. The precocious and close ties between French and American Freemasons are put into perspective and offer us a golden opportunity to recall the wealth of our shared legacy, particularly the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, which is naturally Franco-American, strictly speaking. Avoiding all clichés, the author offers a path that permits us to move closer to the actual realities. He even goes so far as to indulge—perhaps this is a professional quirk—in a speculative and prospective study that offers evidence of a protracted observation of the American Masonic and sociopolitical stage.
The reader will also note the author’s stab at an outline for the future of new and exogenous French experiences in North America. Although this aspect remains a marginal one in comparison with the essential examination of the American Masonic entity, it is not lacking in interest. In fact, it offers evidence of the enduring nature of the effort put forth by French and American Freemasons in the quest of a shared fraternity, although we are also all well aware of its limits. History teaches how these paths are sowed with pitfalls. Indeed, here is where we find the weight of history, that of cultural differences as well as those of religion and tradition. The major figures that he invokes will stick in the mind, however: the Marquis de Lafayette and his close friends George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Franklin was the elder of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters (les Neufs Soeurs) in Paris and a friend of Voltaire. But we also have Alexandre François Auguste de Grasse-Tilly, who played a major role in the spread of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite through Europe upon his return from America.
However, we all know that institutional Masonic relations obey rules that do not always encourage relationships. France, the sole European power to have never been engaged in armed conflict against the United States, is also the power that came to the aid of the American revolutionaries, albeit not always as a forgiving partner. France does figure, however, among the ranks of loyal allies, and, during this current period of centennial commemoration of the First World War, this Franco-American fraternity has been warmly celebrated in Normandy. Alexis de Tocqueville was among the first to take it upon himself to explain America to France. This is exactly what Alain de Keghel is doing today to make the reality of American Freemasonry better known.
In our now globalized world, the stakes are necessarily different from those in play at the birth of the Masonic order, which will soon celebrate its three-hundredth birthday. By giving his book the title American Freemasonry: Its Revolutionary History and Challenging Future, Alain de Keghel has chosen an approach that draws from the wellsprings of our history, which he marches forth with the intention of projecting it into the future, where new stakes will be in play. His cautious but insightful judgments are not without value for an American researcher, who will most likely see it as a mirror carried by an initiate offering this reflection.
ARTURO DE HOYOS is the grand archivist and grand historian (director of the museum and library) of the Southern Jurisdiction of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite in the United States.