Washington and Freemasonry
by James Parrish Hodges
The United States Senate, shortly after Washington's death, issued this official statement: "Let
his countrymen consecrate the memory of the Heroic General, the Patriotic Statesman and the
Virtuous Sage. Let them teach their children never to forget that the fruits of his labor and
example are their inheritance."
We as Master Masons are even further compelled to honor and to emulate our dear departed
Brother. The ideals of Masonry, which attracted him to the craft, had a profound impact on his
life. His exposure to Masonic philosophy helped frame his ideas of life, both personal and
professional. He took its teachings seriously, its apron and trowel, all its symbolism and ritual.
Eventually he would become the best known and respected Mason in America. He would bring
to the Fraternity unparalleled dignity and prestige.
Several incidents from his illustrious career indicate the degree to which the Masonic principles
of leadership, service to man, integrity, honesty, virtue and resolve shaped his life and
influenced others. On December 4, 1799 in Morristown, New Jersey, a Masonic convention was
held with more than 100 Masons from various lodges in attendance. The establishment of a
United Grand Lodge was proposed with George Washington as Grand Master. The idea was
rejected by the spirit of localism from a number of regional Grand Lodges. Their action
paralleled the earlier rejection of a strong, central government by prevailing political
regionalism. Later, George Washington's beliefs and attitudes of a strong, central union were
instrumental in changing the "localism mind set" of citizens to have them adopt the new
In the two years interim between the victory at Yorktown in 1781 and the British evacuation of
New York City in late November 1783, General Washington established his military
headquarters at Newburgh, New York. The troops constructed a 20 ft. by 60 ft. building called
the "Temple of Virtue" for the combined purposes of holding religious services and acting as a
lodge for the Masons. It was in this temple on March 15, 1783 when George Washington,
through his impassioned speech to the officers about their shared vision, saved America from
the tyranny of a military dictatorship. Some officers had suffered without pay and allowances
for up to six years and were incensed to the point of mutiny by the report that Congress was
going to disband the army without pay. The fact that Washington was a Mason, most of his
officers were Masons, and that they were assembled in the Temple of Virtue, no doubt,
influenced them in overwhelmingly rejecting the mutinous plan to march on Congress and take
over control of the civilian government in a coup d'etat.
And George Washington, as noted previously, in order to establish a strong, central
government, was instrumental in calling for a Constitutional Convention. Of the 55 delegates to
the Convention, 33 were Masons. Presiding as President, Washington took his responsibility
so seriously that he never missed a single minute of the sessions. The delegates often looked
at him for his nod of approval or frown of disapproval as they debated issues. No doubt,
Masonic brotherhood within the ranks smoothed the path for compromise and agreement.
George Washington's character and presence commanded the respect and confidence of
both Americans and foreigners. Sol Bloom, in his Masons and the Constitution, stated that
Washington had, "imbibed the wisdom, strength and beauty of Masonry. It exerted a profound
influence upon his career, from the time he was raised a Master Mason in 1753, through all the
vicissitudes of war, peace, and nation building. In him the sublime truth of the order found
practical expression in shaping the character of the United States of America."
President William McKinley, a Brother Mason, said about Washington's accomplishments on
the centennial anniversary of his death in 1899, "The nation is his best eulogist and his
noblest monument." William Duke, Grand Master of Virginia said about Washington in the
same year, "If we catch the inspiration of his great life, the dignity of his manhood, and the
simplicity of his character, we can come to learn how man can achieve greatness without
sacrificing himself to ambition."
If Washington could be asked today, he would probably say that his greatest memorial would
be in the lives of those citizens who sought to emulate in their daily lives those principles that
guided his own life. I believe he would be most proud of us if we learned to keep bitterness out
of our society and spread brotherhood and tolerance.