Masons, also known as Freemasons, comprise the oldest philanthropic, community-oriented fraternal organization in the world. Masonry is not a religion, but its members must express a belief in a Supreme Being, and each Mason is encouraged to practice the religion of his choice. Freemasonry stresses building of character, knowledge, patriotism, brotherhood, family involvement and community service among its members.
The Masons trace their origins back to the Middle Ages, when operative stonemasons, responsible for the construction of majestic castles and cathedrals, organized themselves into guilds. The earliest known documented appearance of the Masons was in The Regius Manuscript Cerea, a “poem of moral duties,” written in approximately 1390. some Lodges in Scotland are reported to have minutes dating back to the 1600s, and the first formal association of Masons was the formation of the Grand Lodge in England in 1717.
During the 1700s the Masons became established in Colonial America. Several Lodges came into existence across the Colonies, and in 1731 Benjamin Franklin joined St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia. Nine of the fifty-six signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons; thirteen of forty signers of the Constitution were Masons. Fourteen presidents of the United States were Masons: George Washington, James Monroe, Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, James Garfield, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Warren G. Harding, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman and Gerald R. Ford. To date, five U.S. Presidents have taken their Oath of Office on New York’s historic St. John’s Lodge bible – including George Washington, who took his oath as the nation’s first President at New York City’s Federal Hall on April 30, 1789. George Washington is the only Mason to serve as President of the United States and the Master of his Lodge simultaneously. Masons are organized into Lodges, the leaders of which are called the Worshipful Masters.
A Grand Lodge comprises local Lodges on a statewide level. Each Grand Lodge in each state remains sovereign and independent. There is no national Grand Lodge. Nationwide, Masons contribute over $2 million daily to charitable causes across the United States.
(Please note that customary usage calls for the capitalization of the first letter of the following words generally associated with Masonry: Mason, Master, Grand Master, Lodge, Grand Lodge, and the titles for Masonic leaders Worshipful, Right Worshipful and Most Worshipful. It should be noted that the word “Worshipful” is taken from the old English and denotes respect for authority; it bears no religious significance.)