Vol. XXXIX No. 5 — May 1961

Freemasonry and Freedom

W. Wallace Kent, GM

This Short Talk Bulletin is a condensation of the address delivered at the Annual Feast of St. John of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, Boston, December 1960, by M.W. W. Wallace Kent, grand master of Masons in Michigan.

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This is a very solemn occasion, one that should be observed more frequently in every jurisdiction. Too often we forget the Patron Saints of Freemasonry. We forget the foundations of our Fraternity and the reasons for its existence. St. John the Evangelist was extremely busy nineteen hundred years ago. He was deeply imbued with a sense of the existence of God. He traveled far and wide to expound his feelings on that subject.

We can learn much from the study of the Gospel according to St. John, but I commend to you especially the opening statement: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) That fits the teachings of our Fraternity as perfectly as anything that I can think of. Freemasons must be evangelists, not only learning the lessons of Freemasonry, but practicing and teaching them eagerly. Here in Massachusetts you sit in the cradle not only of Freemasonry on this continent, but also the cradle of American liberties. That should be foremost in your thoughts at all times.

One of the best expressions of the foundation of our Fraternity may be found in the writings of a professor at the University of Michigan, a historian I might add, who was not a member of the Craft:

Our modern civilization was shaped by the leaders of the seventeenth century. The brilliant minds of that mysterious century were preparing the revolution that, from 1675 on, continually broke out all over the world. New ideas demanded new tools, and Freemasonry was the most powerful of those tools. Freemasonry offered the world a new aristocracy composed of scholars and nobles. It was not a party; it was not a sect; it was not a corporation; it was not an academy — although it was all of those in one. It taught and guided. Through its Constitutions it revealed to the faithful a new historical point of view and united them in a brotherly and philosophical body.

If you trace the history of Freemasonry from the beginning of the eighteenth century up to and including the foundation of the United States of America, you will find that quotation fits exactly what happened in this country. Here in Massachusetts are greater foundations than those of which the author spoke.

Study the Preamble to the Massachusetts Body of Liberties, dated December 10, 1641:

The free fruition of such liberties, Immunities and priviledges as humanitie, Civilitie and Christianitie call for as due to every man in his place and proportion without impeachment and Infringement, bath ever bene & ever, will be the tranquillitie and Stabilitie of Churches and Commonwealths. And the deniall or deprivall thereof, the disturbance if not, the ruine of both. We hould it therefore our dutie and safetie whilst we are about the further establishing of this Government to collect and expresse all such freedomes as for present we foresee may concerne us, and our posteritie after us, and to ratify them with our sollemne consent.

As Freemasons we must remember those freedoms and the lessons they teach. The revolution of which the historian spoke, commencing in the seventeenth century, was not at all times a revolution of guns or butter. It was a revolution of ideas and ideals. It was the teaching of at new way of life and a new freedom for the men of the civilized world. Much progress was made during the latter part of the seventeenth and all of the eighteenth century. The attitude revealed in the Massachusetts Body of Liberties was also expressed in the charters of the other colonies on this continent. It finally culminated in the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and in the Constitution of this country as amended by the Bill of Rights in 1791.

Too often we forget the particular freedoms upon which our country has been founded, and too often we forget that members of our Fraternity were among the most active in creating and leading this country to the pinnacles that it has attained. We cannot claim all the credit; much of it goes to our brethren in England. In 1679 they adopted the Habeas Corpus Act, which was embodied in our Constitution, and in 1689 they established a Bill of Rights that provided the model for the first ten amendments to our federal Constitution. But we tend to forget the things we should remember. We overlook the portions of those documents upon which our freedoms are based, just as we so frequently ignore the particular freedoms themselves.

Within the last sixty days I studied Russian education and religion through the eyes of Dr. John H. Dawson, President of Adrian College, a small but good sectarian college in Michigan. Dr. Dawson says that the basic idea in Russia is: “Our system is better than yours.” They are confident that communism is far superior to democracy and therefore will inevitably conquer the whole world, Dr. Dawson pointed out that in America they could see what private enterprise has accomplished for the varied common man as compared with the rewards their system offered. He says, “I told them that as long as America remains a real democracy, their system can never dominate the world.” This I sincerely believe.

However, if we slip into socialism as proposed by a welfare state philosophy of government, we will have removed the last obstacle to world communism. The communists fear only America. The greatest opposition to their threat is our traditional democratic system of free enterprise, with an emphasis on personal responsibility and initiative. The stronger we maintain and implement this traditional American philosophy, the surer is our continuance as a society of free men.

Throughout the ages it has been demonstrated that no government can endure that does not recognize the inalienable rights of the individual as its foundation. No legislation can last that does not flow from that source. Ours is not the first great civilization. There have been great ones in the past — that of Egypt, the civilizations of Ancient Greece and Rome — but they all broke down, and they broke down in one place. They disintegrated when they became more concerned with man’s material comfort than with his inalienable rights and freedoms.

Our government was founded by consent of those who were to be governed, a concept that is overlooked by some of today’s philosophers. Our country was not founded on the theory that the object of government is to furnish a comfortable living with guaranteed material benefits for those who are citizens of this country. It was founded on the principle that to each of us would be granted the right and the opportunity to make his own way. The acid test of a successful democratic government is the degree of effective liberty it makes available to every individual. That criterion establishes an order of values. The individual is placed at the summit.

Even comfort and security must have less consideration. At intervals throughout the centuries men have been willing to give up all their freedoms for comfort and security, and I sometimes fear that we are now taking that path. Those who are running for office don’t run on the platform of the freedoms that they will maintain for all. They don’t run on the principle that every man is inherently a person of dignity, an individual with the right to continue to be an individual. Too many men are gaining votes with the dangerous promise: “We will give you more benefits of a material nature than you have been able to get from anyone else.”

No state, no government can guarantee to each of its citizens all that is available in material benefits. It isn’t possible. All that can be guaranteed is that there shall be no starvation and that each man shall have the opportunity to demonstrate to his fellow citizens that he is capable and that he is willing to work.

The Masonic Fraternity is founded on the rock of human dignity. That is the basic social concept of all the lessons in all the rituals of the Craft. It is not important whether you use the Michigan ritual, the Canadian ritual, the Virginia ritual, or the Massachusetts ritual. The words may vary somewhat from place to place. They maybe in different languages from country to country. But the basic and fundamental principle of the Fraternity is that man is an individual and should be treated as such. In every man there is an inherent dignity that deserves respect, and every man has certain rights whose bulwark is a constitutional guarantee consented to by all free men.

Freemasonry came into existence with democratic forms of government. It developed with a growing recognition of the freedom of the individual. It is not sufficient for a Mason to have a lodge and to confer degrees. We really achieve nothing by that means alone. It is not sufficient to "wear the purple” of the Fraternity, with our jewels and gold-embroidered aprons. Masonry is not founded on the regalia that we use. Masonry is a thing of the heart and mind. When we forget or ignore the lessons that we are taught and repeat them only as children repeat the pieces they have learned for the Christmas program, we may as well go out of existence.

Can you think of any country where Freemasonry has been able to flourish except in a democracy, whether it be a constitutional monarchy or a federal republic like ours? Our Fraternity has grown only where men are free. The two great obstacles to a materialistic state such as you find in communism or socialism — whether you describe it as Nazi, facist, or communist — are churches that have a fundamental belief in God and the Masonic Fraternity. There are no Masons behind the Iron Curtain. There are no Masons in any country tyrannized by a dictator. There are few Masons left in Cuba. No government of that nature can exist in the light of the teachings of our order. The two are at opposite ends of the pole.

So, my brethren, we have two things to do. We must maintain both our democratic form of society and our Fraternity, because they are the only two that can coexist. If Freemasonry disappears, democracy as we know it in this country cannot possibly survive. And equally, if democracy in this country disappears, Freemasonry cannot survive.

The object of Freemasonry is to teach us to practice the lessons we have learned in the various degrees and thereby to lead others along the trail that is blazed with the ideals of our Fraternity. Our whole object in laboring as craftsmen is to create for posterity a Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God. It has no other purpose. Our lessons are not new. Our beliefs are based upon the Scriptures.

Individual dignity does not derive from a man’s economic situation. It does not depend on his vocation. It does not matter whether he wears a white collar to work; it does not require any other symbol of his status. It rests exclusively upon the faith that the individual is and has an infinite value.

A Russian philosopher, Dostoevsky, summed up the matter in a few words. He held that even tragic freedom is preferable to compulsory happiness. The effectiveness of democracy, the most rewarding but the most difficult form of government to maintain, rests not on knowledge and judgment alone; it rests on character. Only a morally mature individual will be determined to do away with social blight or political corruption, and to help ease the burdens and wants of the poverty- stricken at home and abroad. Masonry stimulates that concern for our fellow-man by which society escapes disintegration, while giving the individual maximum play for his talents, his tastes and interests.

But our association must be something more than the mere sentimentality of brotherly love and friendship. It must be a living active thing, or it will wither from neglect as surely as a plant without water. It must be a practical thing, or it will atrophy from disuse as surely as a paralyzed muscle. That is why the strength and vitality of our common purpose must be constantly applied to the urgent problems of our times.

Just a few months after we first dropped an atomic bomb on Japan, Winston Churchhill warned:

The Dark Ages may return. The Stone Age may return on the grim wings of science, and what might now shower immeasurable material blessings upon mankind may even bring about its total destruction. Beware, I say, time maybe short.

In 1918, when opening the Fourth Liberty Loan Campaign, Brother Theodore Roosevelt reminded us of danger:

Surely all of us . . . ought to realize the need in this country for a loftier idealism than we have had in the recent past, and for the future an even greater need that we should live up in actual practice to the ideals we profess. The things of the body have a rightful place and a great place, but the things of the soul have an even greater place. Materialism in its needs eats like an acid into all the finer qualities of our soul.

The materialism that animates governments behind the Iron Curtain and those others that are most opposed to the freedoms of the Masonic Fraternity has eaten like an acid into all the finer qualities of their souls. They have demonstrated it at the meetings of the governments of the world. It is for us as Freemasons to remember the spiritual foundations of our country and the spiritual aspirations of our Fraternity. The Brotherhood of Man under the Fatherhood of God is not a new concept, but it needs a new demonstration in the lives of men who possess courage and vision. We must make fruitful those words that were spoken centuries ago:

Thou shaft love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shaft love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Masonic Service Association of North America