Question: 1 Did Freemasons hold Enlightenment ideals?
Yes, The two central tenants of Enlightenment philosophy are:
- Faith in reason above all things... The reason that is discovered through human experience. Reason over religion, customs, laws and the government..... what have you.
- Pursuit of knowledge to improve the human condition. Valuing practical vs esoteric knowledge.
To that end the Free Masons had core Enlightenment properties. They promoted skills and knowledge grounded in practical use.
Freemasons also took a pledge to respect all religions and were against religious persecution. This made them enemies of the Catholic Church and its inquisition; but it was also a core belief of such age of Enlightenment philosophers like Spinoza and Locke.
Question: 2 I was doing research on early US presidents and read that men like George Washington probably were attracted to the Masonic Lodge due to the Lodge aligning well with popular Enlightenment ideas around the time of the French and American Revolution.
Probable not the case. At least with regard to George Washington.
Washington became a Master Mason Aug 4, 1753, when he was just 20 years old. Just before receiving his first military commission. Washington with his 4th grade education, was probable less attracted by the Enlightenment ideas of the Freemasons and more molded by them. Washington had just lost his primary benefactor in 1752 when his elder half brother Lawrence Washington died. Lawrence had taken his younger half brother under his wing when their father had died when George Washington was just 11 years old. George's side of the Washington family was impoverished by the loss of his father, thus explaining why George had not received a more extensive education. Why George was not sent to study abroad as his elder half brother Lawrence had been.
George had been introduced into Virginia Gentry class through his association and patronage of his brother and his brother's in laws; the powerful Fairfax family. George Washington as a young man did not have the wealth, education or connections to attain this social status without the support of his older brother.
Washington probable joined the Freemasons after his brother died to broaden his social and business connections. It was more likely a practical consideration about expanding his network of acquaintances of the right kinds of people, rather than being attracted by higher ideals. George Washington frankly did not have the wealth or breeding to indulge impractical impulses as this stage in his life. At this time in Washington's life he was highly motivated to make a name for himself and remain in the social class his brother had introduced him too. This required George to develop a formatable network of allies.
George could only accomplish his goals in securing a commission, a favorable career and a favorable marriage with connections. Primarily the continued patronage of the Fairfax family, or in developing new patrons through professional organizations like the Freemasons.