|Volume LIII||November 2006||Number 4|
Benjamin Franklin: Freemason for All Reasons
By Glenys A. Waldman, Librarian, The Masonic Library and Museum of Pennsylvania
This title, used in the exhibit mounted in 1990 in the Masonic Temple to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Bro. Benjamin Franklin's death, is still applicable. Having the quick wit and native intelligence it demanded, he was a true son of the Enlightenment, as Freemasonry is its daughter. In addition to his printing and literary pursuits, which assured him of a good income, Bro. Franklin became involved in politics.
A very socially conscious man, Bro. Franklin was interested in the improvement of the lives of others, as well as his own. During his long political career, he signed the Declaration of Independence (1776); served as Minister to France from 1776 to 1785; signed the Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the Revolution; and returned to be a delegate to the Constitutional Convention and signed the Constitution in 1787. He also founded or co-founded many kinds of groups from fire fighting to library and philosophical companies. In addition, because of his astounding contributions to knowledge of especially the physical sciences, Bro. Franklin was the recipient of honorary degrees from Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, St. Andrews and Oxford. He was just "cut out" to be a Mason.
Bro. Franklin probably heard of Freemasonry soon after he arrived in Philadelphia in 1723. Two years later, he left for England to gain more experience in printing. Presumably, he learned more about Freemasonry during his two years there (ca.1725-1726). In his Pennsylvania Gazette for Dec. 5-8, 1730, Bro. Franklin made the first known reference to Freemasonry in Pennsylvania: "As there are several Lodges of Free-Masons erected in this Province, and People have lately been much amus'd with Conjectures concerning them; we think the following Account of Free-Masonry from London, will not be unacceptable to our Readers." About two months later (February 1731, having reached the then minimum age of 25), Bro. Franklin was initiated into Philadelphia's St. John's Lodge No. 1. His rise in the fraternity might be termed meteoric: in 1732, he drafted by-laws for St. John's Lodge and became Junior Grand Warden of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania. 1734 saw him publish the first Masonic book in what is now the United States, the first American edition of Anderson's "Constitutions of the Free-Masons." He was elected Grand Master on June 24 of that year. Bro. Franklin also served as Secretary of St. John's Lodge (1735-1738). Then, in 1749, he was appointed Provincial Grand Master, thus twice serving his beloved fraternity in its highest office. However, even after his second term as Grand Master, he served as Deputy Grand Master (1750, 1755, 1757).
Later, during his long years serving his country in Europe, Bro. Franklin joined or visited many lodges in Scotland, England and France, including serving as Master of the Lodge of the Nine Sisters [Muses] - whose members were the intellectuals - in Paris (1779-1784). Bro. Franklin helped initiate François Marie Arouet, a.k.a. Voltaire, into the Lodge (and took part in the Lodge of Sorrow upon his death later that same year). Thus, his French and Masonic connections played no small role in winning support for American independence.
After Bro. Franklin returned from France at the advanced age of 79, he was not involved in the Craft. However, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania never completely forgot him. There was a splendid celebration at the time of the 1906 Bicentenary Celebration of his birth, with an exhibition of the finest Frankliniana mounted in the Masonic Temple and figuring prominently in the inaugural speech of then-Grand Master George W. Kendrick. Another special commemoration took place in 1981, the 250th Anniversary of Bro. Franklin's Initiation into the Craft (as well as of the formation of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania).
Of the five Franklin-related pieces from your Library and Museum collections that were in the international exhibition, "Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World," which opened at the National Constitution Center on Dec. 15, 2005, and is now traveling to four other cities in the United States and to Paris, one has returned: the sash. Two "Fugio" (for tempus fugit - "time flies") coins, designed by Bro. Franklin; his calling card; and a snuff box on which Bro. Franklin is pictured with his contemporaries, Voltaire and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, both philosophers and authors; are still en route. The coins and the calling card will return at the end of next year; only the snuff box will go to Paris, where additional European pieces will be shown.
For more information, including activities and exhibits connected with Bro. Franklin's 300th Birthday celebration, see the Web site www.benfranklin300.org.
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