Freemasonry – What is it?


Masonry is the oldest, and by far, the largest fraternal order in the world. Its Lodges
stretch around the globe and, as with the British Empire, it might well be said that the sun never
sets upon the Masonic Lodge.
Masonry is ancient, having existed in some form for so long that many serious students
have differed as to the time and place of its origin. There is evidence of a basic type of craft
association which antedates the Christian era. It survived various transitions which took place
during the Middle Ages.
The word “free” was prefixed to the name “Mason” during the Middle Ages because,
possessing knowledge and skills not found elsewhere, these men were free agents rather than
bond servants, and they were permitted to travel from country to country. Freemasonry con-
structed the beautiful cathedrals and other stately structures in Europe and the British Isles.
Masons were strictly an operative craft until about the Sixteenth Century, bound together
by the close ties found in the guilds of that day. Then, early in the Seventeenth Century, men
of prominence were admitted as patrons, or “accepted” Masons. Accepted Masons became
predominant in our lodges over a period of time.
Masonry came to American about the third decade of the Eighteenth Century when
Lodges were established in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Virginia, South Carolina
and Georgia. American Freemasons can take pride in the part which the members of this Fra-
ternity played in the history of our Country.
Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons and the same
statement is true of those who signed the Constitution of the United States. Famous Masons
of that era included Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere, Lafayette, James Monroe, Captain John
Paul Jones, John Hancock and James Otis, who coined the phrase “Taxation with Representa-
tion.” George Washington served as Master of his Masonic Lodge while President, and later
Masonically dedicated the nation’s new Capitol Building.
Many Freemasons have served as national leaders, including those who became Presi-
dent in this century: William McKinley, William Taft, Warren Harding, Teddy and Franklin
Roosevelt, Harry Truman (also Grand Master of Masons in Missouri) and Gerald Ford.
Masonry means many things to many people. This is true not only of the person who
is not a Mason, but applies as well to Masons themselves.
It has a different connotation in different situations. Someone has written that Freema-
sonry is honesty in business; fairness in work; courtesy in society; compassion for the sick and
unfortunate; forgiveness for the penitent; love for our fellow man and reverence for God.
Yes, it is all of these, but it is more. Freemasonry is a philosophy to live by.
Today the Masonic Lodge is termed speculative because its emphasis is on the moral
philosophy which is its foundation, rather than the operative art of the Sixteenth and earlier
centuries. The tools of the stonemason are used to symbolize moral virtues rather than to build
Through symbolism and allegories taught by rituals and written word, Masons learn the
principles of Brotherly Live, Relief and Truth. The principles of Freemasonry are based on a
feeling of deep love of country, regard for one’s fellow man and a personal commitment to live
a virtuous life.

West Virginia Grand Lodge