George Washington as an Active Mason
By Bro. CHARLES H. CALLAHAN,
Grand Master, Virginia
Since the work on the great Washington National Memorial at Alexandria, Va., has been begun the question has frequently been raised, Was George Washington an active Mason, or was he merely, like a few other illustrious men, contented to have his name on the roll?
This question has been answered once and for all, one may believe, by the one man who knows most about the subject, Bro. Charles H. Callahan, author of “Washington, the Man and the Mason,” in an address delivered before the Grand Lodge of South Carolina, held at Charleston, S.C., March 14, 1923. A part of that address is given below.
SOME of our friends have said that George Washington was a very poor Mason, if a Mason at all; that if he presided over a lodge it was because the lodge wanted to honour itself. Perhaps this is true. And some of our Masonic friends have asked me, why erect a memorial to Washington at all, and if so, why erect it at Alexandria? Now, let us see just for a minute what was the condition of Masonry in Washington’s day. He got his degrees in 1752 and 1753. He took up a military career, and was engaged in the army until 1758, away from Mt. Vernon. He returned in 1758 and married the widow Custis, and installed her and her children in Mt. Vernon at the mansion, and for fourteen years he led the quiet life of a farmer, fifty miles from the nearest lodge, which was at Fredericksburg. It would have been a physical impossibility to have any record of his visitations to that lodge for the very sufficient reason that the records were lost from 1755 to 1790. If he ever attended that lodge we could find nothing recorded of the fact because of the destruction of the records.
The Revolution came with all of its harrowing consequences, and Washington and the whole country was dragged into the struggle for American independence, he to lead the forces. Commissioned as Commander-in-Chief in Philadelphia, he wended his way to Cambridge and took command of the Army, and almost immediately after he assumed command a military lodge was organized in the Connecticut lines, and before the Revolution had half closed there were ten of those militant organizations in the Continental Army alone. Each province had its own soldiers, and those soldiers were not required to go beyond the borders of that province.
And then there was a general army called the Continental Army, and it was in that Continental Army that ten lodges were organized. The records have been picked up and patched together as best could be done, and there has been brought to light by the patching together of these destroyed records the fact that Washington, immediately after the beginning of the Revolution, became a zealous and active Mason. The Revolution closed, and he returned home on Christmas Eve, 1783, and the records of old Alexandria, No. 39, showed that two days afterwards he accepted an invitation to attend a banquet given by the lodge. The records show that he did attend that banquet, that he attended five times later, before he was made Master of No. 22. Immediately upon his installation he was called away to preside over the new Government. And it was during that period of his life from the time that he installed that untried government institution which today influences the political virtues of the world that Washington became most active and stands out as one of the most potential figures in Masonry.
We must judge not from his activities in the lodge, not from his activities in the Masonic bodies, but from the deference which was shown to him by the leading Masons of that day. Upon the conclusion of the Revolutionary War the provincial Grand Lodges were conducted on the elective system. Gen. John Sullivan, Major General in the Revolutionary War, became the first Grand Master of his lodge…. Robert Livingston, who swore George Washington in as President of the United States, became Grand Master of New York and presided over its destinies for fifteen years, to be succeeded by General Martin. Col. Aaron Ogden became Grand Master of New Jersey, and R.B. Marshall of Maryland. He had been the Worshipful Master of the first army Union Lodge organized at Cambridge, moved from Maryland to South Carolina during this period and returned to organize and became the second and third Grand Master of your Grand Jurisdiction under the independent system. Edmund Randolph became the first Attorney General in Washington’s administration while he was Grand Master of Virginia and Governor of the Commonwealth as well.
General Jackson became Grand Master of the first Grand Lodge of Georgia; North Carolina had four Generals and three Governors as their first Grand Masters, and each had been ranking officers in the Revolutionary War; each and every one of them fought side by side with Washington and each and every one of them in the transition from the old to the new system of lodges deferred to Washington as the Freemason. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts dedicated its first constitution to him; the Grand Lodge of New York did the same; the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania followed suit; the Grand Lodge of North Carolina did the same thing; and the Grand Lodge of Virginia, having first elected him its first Grand Master, which he declined, also dedicated their constitution to him. Wherever he journeyed, whether in the north or south, whether as a private citizen or public functionary, he was tendered all the horrors of a Mason, and was recognized as such by the greatest Masons in the Grand Lodges of this country in that or any other time, and I challenge contradiction. Is it conceivable that these men who bad organized these Grand Bodies would cater to a man who was not a zealous Freemason? Were they of that type? The Revolutionary War was won by red-blooded, live Americans, and Washington stands out as the greatest figure in the fraternal world of that day, and be stands out as the greatest figure in the political and military world of that day.
That is the reason why we should build a memorial to Washington, the Mason. But, brethren, in the last analysis, it is not a memorial to Washington, the Mason, alone. It is a memorial to every Mason whose Grand Jurisdiction deems worthy a place in that Temple, and that is a part of the Constitution. In this Hall of Fame, says that Constitution, there shall be set apart a space which shall be allotted to each Grand Jurisdiction identifying itself with the Constitution, upon which to erect memorials to their illustrious dead. There is not a man in this hall, there is not a man under the sound of my voice that this Grand Lodge could not honour if they want to honour with a place in the Memorial to your own Washington. It is your temple, for your people. It belongs to no section and shall be confined to no age or specific purpose other than to honour worthy men of our Craft.