Neither Franklin, the history of the American Revolution, nor eighteenth century Freemasonry, fall into those ready and simple categories many would desire for them, yet each can help to explain the other. In particular, by considering the religious and moral outlook espoused by
Fortunately, despite the ideology spun about him, much of
In truth, despite the high regard in which
What does single
The ability to reconcile and overcome competing claims and, where necessary, to strike out on a different, if lonely course, was shared by both Benjamin and his son.
The stress on the use of an individual’s reasoning abilities as opposed to the mere acceptance of external authorities challenged church and government, but was not seen as something which in itself damaged belief in God. There was, as Stromberg points out, too much confidence in the perceived harmony between reason and religion for reason to be considered inimical to religion.
Reason and understanding, as seen in the sense of eighteenth century English political philosophy, drew heavily upon the formulations provided by John Locke (1632-1704), following England’s own Revolution of 1688. Locke’s two Treatises on Government (1689), his three letters on Toleration (1689, 1690, and 1692), and his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) provided Englishmen at home and in
The American colonies had been founded by individuals and trading companies rather than the Crown. Whilst the governors of the colonies were appointed by the Crown, their powers were nothing like as great as is often assumed, and were in fact focused upon trade and defence. In any case, any despotic governor would have been confronted by the powers of the elected assemblies which were responsible for legislation and taxation.
Contrary to the deliberately anti-British sentiment of films such as “The Patriot,” directed by Roland Emmerich, it is not fanciful to suggest that in some ways the American Revolution was the English Revolution fought overseas. The substantial degree of support for the American cause amongst Englishmen is evidenced by the speeches of politicians, and the conduct of military officers who shared something of the colonists’ sense of grievance. Of the many Englishmen and English groupings of this persuasion who can be quoted, mention of Admiral Howe, Lord Amherst, Lord Chatham, the Duke of Richmond, and Edmund Burke, together with the Rockingham group of Whigs, and the Lunar Society will suffice here. Burke made the most obvious point when he said, “An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery”.
A vital point often glossed over or else entirely neglected by those who seek to present the American Revolution as being a war between American settlers and English oppressors, is that the cause of the war was largely to do with the refusal of the authorities in England and America to encourage the development of what can be termed English Liberty. Thomas Hutchison, when Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts had called for an “abandonment of what are called English liberties”. It is not to be supposed that the development of liberty in
We know that
During his second, and prolonged, six year visit to
It is now impossible to ascertain with certainty when Freemasonry was first introduced into the American colonies. However, it is conventional to accept the existence of Masonic structures known as “time immemorial lodges”, those organizations of British origin which lacked, and indeed, did not require, a warrant or grant from any Grand Lodge in order to practice Freemasonry. Indeed, the speculative and philosophical aspects of Freemasonry of the period seem resistant to the constraints inherent in any form of Grand Lodge regulation, and the concept of Masonic independence is discernable not only in America but in Masonic institutions such as the Time Immemorial Assembly at Cork, and in the private lodges of Munster. In this respect, the Grand Lodge of Munster itself has an independent history going back at least as far as December 1726.
The regulatory nature of Grand Lodges was, of course, unknown in the early part of the eighteenth century. In this context it is helpful to note, as Jeremy Pemberton did in his 1984 Address to the Grand Lodge of South Australia that the first Annual Assembly of the four
The Freemasonry Franklin first engaged in was of this independent type. Even prior to his entry into Freemasonry,
As with other aspects of eighteenth century Freemasonry, radical changes were being effected as to the religious context of Freemasonry. The subsequent determination of the Duke of Sussex to complete the de-Christianization of the Craft and Royal Arch following ratification of the Articles of Union in 1813, for whatever purpose is ascribed to this radical development, represents the continuing questioning of the role of theology and religiosity within Freemasonry. It is impossible to disguise or ignore the overtly religious and Trinitarian connotations within Craft Freemasonry, and the overtly Christian nature of the Royal Arch prior to the changes introduced by the Duke of Sussex and the introduction into English Freemasonry of the concept of the Great Architect of the Universe. This latter title or designation of God is intriguing not only because of the liberal notion of the Godhead which it implies, but because of the Rosicrucian elements it incorporates.
Whilst this is not the place to discuss Blake’s concept of Urizen, or of possible Rosicrucian influences upon Blake’s work, it is helpful to recognize the Rosicrucian notion of God as the Architect of the Solar System, and the connections between Rosicrucianism, Alchemy and Freemasonry. For the Rosicrucian Michael Maier, the hermetic philosophers attempted to “reach the intellect via the senses”. This does not seem far from the aims of Masonic ritualism of the eighteenth century, or indeed, of today. However,
The possible Rosicrucian connections with eighteenth century Freemasonry are worth considering. This is made more relevant because of
It is in the combination of esoteric religion, ethical teaching and philanthropy that Yates finds the greatest similarity between Freemasonry and the Rosicrucian Brothers.
The degree to which Franklin’s notion of Freemasonry coincides with Rosicrucian thought, and the extent to which eighteenth century Freemasonry considered Deity involved with human life is of relevance to any consideration of the significance of religion within Freemasonry. With regard to the status of religious thought as opposed to mundane rationality, David Shugarts has pointed out that, in respect of the second sentence of the Declaration of Independence, beginning “We hold these truths…” Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration, whilst drawing upon Locke, George Mason and others, passed the draft on to
Shugarts suggests that one of the grounds for
It is in this context that the views of Benjamin Franklin are so enlightening. Any assessment of
His involvement with the Lunar Society at Soho House, Birmingham, whose membership was drawn from scientists, inventors and natural philosophers, and who wished to bring about by the use of scientific advance the betterment of mankind, indicate how far reaching and intense his interests were. However, at base is found
NOTES ON THE AUTHOR: Richard Martin Young is a Writer, Historian, and a retired Law Lecturer. Richard is currently Grand Chancellor of The Grand Lodge of All England, at