Gordon Wood on freemasons
From Gordon Wood’s The Empire Of Liberty: this innocent passage from the well-known historian’s new book on American history jolted me from my scoffing impatience with the garbage that has taken over the issue of freemasonry: it is Wood’s simple insight that this social/cultural form with an occult aspect emerged in relation to the emergence of democracy!
No wonder the sufi gangsters and Gurdjieff types have taken over the field and corrupted it with reactionary revisions.
What to say of Idries Shah’s claims of sufi influence, very doubtful.
It might help to restudy the subject in thelight of Wood’s intellient and very plain vanilla approach.
The passage from Wood:
THE INSTITUTION that many Americans believed best embodied
these cosmopolitan ideals of fraternity was Freemasonry. Not only did
Masonry create enduring national icons (like the pyramid and the all-
seeing eye of Providence on the Great Seal of the United States), but it
brought people together in new ways and helped fulfill the republican
dream of reorganizing social relationships. It was a major means by
which thousands of Americans could think of themselves as especially
128. David Ramsay to John Eliot, 11 Aug. 1792, in Robert L. Brunhouse, ed., David
Ramsay, 1749-1815: Selections from His Writings, American Philosophical Society,
Trans., n.s. 55, pt. 4 (1965), 133•
129. Crevecoeur, Letters from an American Farmer, Letter III, 80.
130. Donald J. D’Elia, “Dr. Benjamin Rush and the American Medical Revolution,”
American Philosophical Society, Proc., 110 (1966), 100.
Freemasonry took its modern meaning in Great Britain at the begin-
ning of the eighteenth century. The first Grand Lodge was formed in
London in 1717. By mid-century English Masonry was strong enough to
provide inspiration and example to a worldwide movement. Although
Masonry first appeared in the North American colonies in the 1730S, it
grew slowly until mid-century, when membership suddenly picked up.
By the .eve of the Revolution dozens of lodges existed up and down the
continent. Many of the Revolutionary leaders, including Washington,
Franklin, Samuel Adams, James Otis, Richard Henry Lee, and Hamilton,
were members of the fraternity. 131
Freemasonry was a surrogate religion for enlightened men suspicious
of traditional Christianity. It offered ritual, mystery, and communality
without the enthusiasm and sectarian bigotry of organized religion. But
Masonry was not only an enlightened institution; with the Revolution, it
became a republican one as well. As George Washington said, it was “a
lodge for the virtues.”132 The Masonic lodges had always been places
where men who differed in everyday affairs-politically, socially, even
religiously-could “all meet amicably, and converse sociably together.”
There in the lodges, the Masons told themselves, “we discover no estrange-
ment of behavior, nor alienation of affection.” Masonry had always sought
unity and harmony in a society increasingly diverse and fragmented.
It traditionally had prided itself on being, as one Mason put it, “the Cen-
ter of Union and the means of conciliating friendship among men that
might otherwise have remained at perpetual distance.’U!
Earlier in the eighteenth century the organization had usually been
confined to urban elites noted for their social status and gentility. But in
the decades immediately preceding the Revolution Masonry began broad-
ening its membership and reaching out to small village and country elites
and ambitious urban artisans without abandoning its earlier concern with
genteel refinement. The Revolution disrupted the organization but revi-
talized the movement. In the decades following the Revolution Masonry
exploded in numbers, fed by hosts of new recruits from middling levels of
131. Catherine L. Albanese, Sons of the Fathers: The Civil Religion of the American
Revolution (Philadelphia, 1976), 129-30; J. M. Roberts, The Mythology of the Secret
Societies (St. Albans, UK, 1974), 37; Conrad E. Wright, The Transformation of Charity
in Postrevolutionary New England (Boston, 1992); Steven C. Bullock, Revolutionary
Brotherhood: Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order,
1730-1840 (Chapel Hill, 1996).
132. Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood, 139.
133• Charles Brockwell, Brotherly Love Recommended in a Sermon Preached Before the
Ancient and Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons in Christ-Church,
Boston (Boston, 1750), 14.
the society. There were twenty-one lodges in Massachusetts by 1779; in
the next twenty years fifty new ones were created, reaching out to embrace
even small isolated communities on the frontiers of the state. Everywhere
the same expansion took place. Masonry transformed the social landscape
of the early Republic.
Masonry began emphasizing its role in spreading republican virtue
and civilization. It was, declared some New York Masons in 1795, designed
to wipe “away those narrow and contracted Prejudices which are born in
Darkness, and fostered in the Lap of ignorance.”l34 Freemasonry repudi-
ated the monarchical hierarchy of family and favoritism and created a
new republican order that rested on “real Worth and personal Merit” and
“brotherly affection and sincerity.” At the same time, Masonry offered
some measure of familiarity and personal relationships to a society that
was experiencing greater mobility and increasing numbers of immigrants.
It created an “artificial consanguinity,” declared DeWitt Clinton of New
York in 1793, that operated “with as much force and effect, as the natural
relationship of blood.”l35
Despite its later reputation for exclusivity, Freemasonry became a way
for American males of diverse origins and ranks to be brought together in
republican fraternity, including, at least in Boston, free blacks.P” That
strangers, removed from their families and neighbors, could come
together in such brotherly love seemed a vindication of the enlightened
hope that the force of love might indeed be made to flow outward from
the self. A Mason found himself “belonging, not to one particular place
only, but to places without number, and in almost every quarter of the
globe; to whom, by a kind of universal language, he can make himself
known -and from whom we can, if in distress, be sure to receive relief
and protection.” This was the enlightened dream of people throughout
the world being gently bound together through benevolence and fellow-
feeling. And it seemed to many Americans that the nation now responsi-
ble for fulfilling that dream was the new United States.!”
134. Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood, 48.
135. Ann Lipson, Freemasonry in Federalist Connecticut, 1789-1832 (Princeton, 1977), 40;
Josiah Bartlett, A Discourse on the Origin, Progress and Design of Free Masonry (Boston,
1793),15; DeWitt Clinton, quoted in Steven C. Bullock, “A Pure and Sublime System:
The Appeal of Post-Revolutionary Freemasonry,” ]ER, 9 (1989), 37l.
136. Bullock, Revolutionary Brotherhood, 109-33-
137. John Andrews, A Sermon on the Importance of Mutual Kindness (Philadelphia,