Volume LIIIAugust 2006Number 3

Bestowing Masonic Honors on Bro. Benjamin Franklin
by Andrew A. Zellers-Frederick, Executive Director, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

On Saturday evening, April 17, 1790, the world and Freemasonry lost one of its greatest members, the illustrious Bro. and Dr. Benjamin Franklin, at the advanced age of 84. Known to some as simply the man who dared the lightning because of his renowned experiments with electricity (a French diplomat said, "He snatched the lighting from the skies and the scepter from the tyrants"), Bro. Franklin could also list among his many accomplishments and triumphs that he was a statesman (a signer of both the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution), diplomat, government official, military leader, scientist, inventor, postmaster, author and a printer. Bro. Franklin was also a dedicated Freemason.

Excerpts from the Eulogy for Bro. Benjamin Franklin, given by Bro. and Rev. William D. Hartman, P.M.,
Lodge No. 9, Grand Chaplain, during the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania Memorial Service
on April 17, 2006, at Christ Church in Philadelphia:

"We are gathered here this day to remember our brother, Benjamin Franklin, who was born 300 years ago. But it was on this day, 216 years ago, that Bro. Franklin entered that Grand Lodge above; that temple, not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. As the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, Free and Accepted Ancient York Masons, we are gathered here now to memorialize our brother and to make restitution for the neglect of that duty back in 1790.

"Benjamin Franklin was an active Mason, and proud of this fraternity. He served as Grand Master and promoted Freemasonry on many occasions, often participating in Masonic meetings while abroad. Freemasonry has always been a fraternity of vision and charity; a force for good in a world that would rob us of our dignity and worth. While the forces around us in our society would denigrate personal integrity, private and public morality, friendship and brotherly love, Freemasonry has always held these to be the cement that bonds any free society together.

"Benjamin Franklin made this clear when he said, 'Freemasonry has tenants peculiar to itself. They serve as testimonials of character and qualifications, which are only conferred after due course of instruction and examination. These are of no small value; they speak a universal language and act as a passport to the attention and support of the initiated in all parts of the world. They cannot be lost as long as memory retains its power. Let the possessor of them be expatriated, shipwrecked or imprisoned; let him be stripped of everything he has in this world; still, those credentials remain and are available for use as circumstances require. The good effects they have produced are established by the most incontestable facts of history. They have stayed the uplifted hand of the destroyer; they have softened the asperities of the tyrant; they have mitigated the horrors of captivity; they have subdued the rancour of malevolence; and have broken down the barriers of political animosity and sectarian alienation. On the field of battle, in the solitudes of the uncultivated forest, or in the busy haunts of the crowded city, they have made men of the most hostile feelings, the most distant regions and diversified conditions, rush to the aid of each other, and feel a special joy and satisfaction that they have been able to afford relief to a brother Mason.'...

..."As we memorialize our brother, Benjamin Franklin, this day, remembering his many virtues and skills among us, may we seek to follow him by lives of virtue and benevolence, until that day when we shall rise to greet him in the celestial kingdom above."

To venerate Bro. Franklin, his adopted home of Philadelphia rendered him one of the largest funerals in the city's history. The funeral procession numbered over 20,000 people from all walks of life, and many honors were offered to his memory. They included a commemorative resolution in the House of Representatives by James Madison, with a decision that the Congressmen would wear mourning for a month; public demonstrations and eulogies were also received from the Pennsylvania Supreme Executive Council and the American Philosophical Society both in which Bro. Franklin served; and in France the Assembly declared three days of public mourning. However, Bro. Franklin did not receive Masonic honors at his death due to Bro. Franklin being a "Modern" Mason and the Grand Lodge being "Ancient;" a slight that R.W. Grand Master Ronald A. Aungst, Sr., decided to correct this year during the Tercentenary Celebration of Bro. Franklin's birth.

This past April 17, nearly 300 Pennsylvania Freemasons, their family members and individuals associated with Franklinaffiliated organizations, led by the Grand Master, formed a procession from the American Philosophical Society, founded in 1743 by Bro. Franklin, who served as this scientific organization's president until his death, to historic Christ Church where Bro. Franklin attended worship. During the six-block procession, the bells of Independence Hall (formerly the State House of Pennsylvania) and more than a dozen churches tolled as they did 216 years ago. Within the historic 1729 church, the Grand Master and the Rev. William D. Hartman, Grand Chaplain, conducted a special service and bestowed the Masonic tributes Bro. Franklin did not receive in 1790. Following the event, a luncheon was held at the Masonic Temple with tours conducted of this very special building. We believe Bro. Franklin would have approved of this event, as he once said, "Life should have a dramatic ending like a stage piece."

Left: American Philosophical Society, Right: Christ Church
Photography by Dennis Buttleman, Curator,
The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania

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