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.

However I was curious if the Masonic Lodge had always held similar Enlightenment ideals or if the society had adopted many of them to "stay current with the times"? And if they adopted them, would American Freemasons have ideals closer to their revolution and the French theirs?

I do know the beginning of the Free Masons (about 1646) and start of the Age of Enlightenment (1685) were pretty close together but am sure they each evolved their own philosophies by the time French and American revolution occurred.

3 Answers 3


The key role of Freemasonry in America, appears to have been the establishment of a connection, or "brotherhoood" between e.g. George Washington and a number of fellow officers in the Revolution. Although the official purpose may have been to discuss enlightenment philosophy, the discussions soon took a more practical turn, about how to deal with British rule.

Jefferson, on the other hand, declined to join the Free Masons after the Revolution because he felt that the purpose (a successful Revolution) had been served. He also feared that it would become an old boys's network, and the foundation for a new nobility, which would defeat the purpose of the Revolution.

The above was, in fact, the French model, and while some individual nobles joined the French Revolution, the connection of the group with Revolution was tenuous at best.

  • 1
    Tom you've done it again. Aug 27, 2017 at 3:51
  • The French (or Cntinental) Model of Grand Orients - with political and religious discussion welcome in Lodge - is very different from the Anglophone Grand Lodge model of Freemasonry that strictly prohibits both. Oct 29, 2019 at 18:08
  • You have also ignored completely the rivalry between the Ancients and Moderns Freemason Grand Lodges that ran from 1751 until 1813, the Ancients being much more welcoming to workmen than the Moderns were. Oct 29, 2019 at 18:14
  • This is horribly inaccurate. The first American Grand Lodge of Freemasonry was established in Boston in 1733 - more than a generation prior to the Revolution. George Washington was raised a Master Mason in 1752, 24 years before the Declaration of Independence and even before the Seven Years War (the subsequent financing of which sparked so much unrest in the Thirteen Colonies) started. Oct 29, 2019 at 18:15
  • 1
    @Pieter Geerkens The answer doesn't try to state when the organization started. It skips straight to the action.
    – John Dee
    Oct 30, 2019 at 3:49

Question: 1 Did Freemasons hold Enlightenment ideals?

Yes, The two central tenants of Enlightenment philosophy are:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


Freemasonry in the sense known today has (and had during the American Revolution) only existed since the founding of the Grand Lodge of England in 1717. That was just two generations prior to the American Revolution. If one accepts that the ideals of (Anglophone "Grand Lodge" as opposed to Continental "Grand Orient") Freemasonry are roughly the same now as 240 years ago, on what basis does one expect them to have changed substantially in the first sixty years of the fraternity's existence.

Certainly in medieval times there were free masons - honourary non-mason members of Masonic Guilds - and we have records of such:

Elias Ashmole recorded his initiation with these words:

'October 16, [1646] 4.30pm - I was made a freemason at Warrington in Lancashire with Colonel Henry Mainwaring [a Roundhead parliamentarian friend related to his father-in-law] of Karincham in Cheshire. The names of those that were then at the Lodge, Mr Richard Penket Worden, Mr James Collier, Mr Richard Sankey, Henry Littler, John Ellam, Richard Ellam and Hugh Brewer.'

The precise relationship between those free masons and modern Freemasons is lost to history, but it is generally assumed that some, perhaps all, of the founding gentlemen of the Grand Lodge of England were first free masons, and then Freemasons.

So when you inquire "if the Masonic Lodge had always held similar Enlightenment ideals" to what time period prior to say the Raising to Master Mason of George Washington in 1752 you are referring? Freemasonry is only 35 years old at that time, only fifteen years older than George himself.

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