Vol. XLII No. 6 — June 1964

Let Freedom Ring

Eugene S. Hopp, M.D.

Brother Eugene S. Hopp, M.D., is Grand Orator, Grand Lodge of California; P.M., King Solomon's Seaport Lodge No. 260, San Francisco; P.M., Northern California Research Lodge; and former chairman, Masonic Education Committee, Grand Lodge of California

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said: ‘Let there be light; and there was light.’” (Genesis 1:1-3)

If we were to seek for a single phrase to uniquely characterize Freemasonry, we could make no better choice than “Let there be light!”

Futhermore, we are told that on the last day of creation “God created man in His own image.” This was the fruition of His effort. To man, therefore, He gave the task of completing the work of creation by achieving order and beauty, peace and harmony, in his own personal life as well as in his relations with his fellows.

Freemasonry rejects those forces that prevent the attainment of that order and harmony. The evils of injustice, oppression, and constraint are well known to Masonry. Those who would follow our ageless principles are constantly urged to break these shackles.

But we live in a period when men seem to weary of the eternal struggle with their problems. Reasoning becomes too great an effort; it is easier to seek the protective embrace of some “total” creed or philosophy that provides ready answers to “all” our troublesome doubts.

The most important message our ancient Fraternity can have for us today is to warn of these ever-present dangers to the mind and the spirit, to encourage us to re-employ reason, based on fundamental Masonic truths. Freemasonry teaches us to have faith in man’s mind and confidence in his capacities where he is free to exercise them.

Our freedoms are being challenged today from many and oftentimes unsuspected quarters. There are those who would require civil conformity to their personal religious beliefs. There are those who would destroy the right of the minority to be heard.

Therefore the proclamation of California’s grand master in 1963, M.W. Ira W. Coburn, assumes great importance. “Let Freedom Ring” says his Proclamation:

July of 1776, 187 years ago, saw the Declaration of Independence approved by the Continental Congress. This is democracy’s greatest proclamation.

The Masons of California, proud of their heritage, join with all citizens of the United States of America in observing the anniversary of signing the Declaration of Independence by

  1. Ringing of bells in our respective communities and cities throughout California at the hour of 2:00 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time, on the Fourth of July, and
  2. To call upon civic and community leaders to take appropriate steps to encourage public participation in such observance.

In this spirit, I call on every lodge to arrange a suitable observance of the anniversary of Independence Day, including (but not limited to) the reading of the Declaration of Independence at the July stated meeting.

This Proclamation is to be read at the June stated meeting.

Dated: May 10,1963.
[signed] Ira W. Coburn, Grand Master

To understand the forces that led to our independence we must have a clearer knowledge of the thinking of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The term revolution implies a lawless uprising against duly constituted authority, a subversion of a political entity. The struggle in America was, on the contrary, an attempt to secure a return to the moral law. Before 1689 Lord Coke, England’s great Chief Justice, was writing decisions in which he proclaimed limitations on the crown and the government by citing the natural moral law. This body of law was a legally enforceable limitation on the British government before 1689. All the American colonies with the exception of Georgia had been established by that year. And so the law as applied by early American judges was Coke’s natural or common law, together with the moral law and the Masonic law.

In 1689 the supremacy of Parliament was established in England. After that, the British Parliament could do almost anything to or with the English people or their property. The tyranny of a majority had been made possible. A study of the literature of pre-Revolutionary times clearly demonstrates that our colonial ancestors were striving to preserve their inherent natural rights as Englishmen. For example, in trying his cases, George Mason, author of the Bill of Rights in Virginia, used decisions made according to natural law, which were really limitations on government.

It was only when Parliament made known to us that as British subjects we had no rights it was bound to respect, only when colonial freedom was threatened by the “unconstitutional” policies of a muddle-headed German king and the short-sighted pohcies of a blundering ministry, in fact, only when these latter resorted to force, that the colonists took up arms.

Few men played a larger part in shaping public opinion or more ably enunciated the principles at stake than did R.W. Joseph Warren of Massachusetts, a skilled physician who became provincial grand master of America under the Scottish Constitution. He earned the respect and confidence of the people of Boston, who viewed him as a disinterested, civic-minded man who participated in public affairs with no selfish motives. His gentleness, charm and oratorical persuasiveness won him many friends and political supporters.

The Stamp Act crisis of 1765 crystallized Joseph Warren’s activity with the Liberty Party. In three years he and Samuel Adams became the outstanding spokesmen and leaders of that group. Cary states that Warren’s influence stemmed as much from his leadership of Boston Masons as from his activity in political clubs.[1]

Warren played a leading role in the events leading to the Boston Tea Party. St. Andrew’s Lodge canceled meetings on the night the first tea ship arrived and on the night of the famous Tea Party.

After the Battle of Lexington, Joseph Warren wrote his many friends throughout the colonies to warn of the imperative need for immediately raising an army. He was chosen president of the third provincial congress. On June 12, 1775, in one of his finest state papers, he recited the grievances of Massachusetts Province and concluded:

We trust, that the God of Armies, on whom we rely for a blessing upon our arms, which we have taken up in support of the great and fundamental principle of natural justice and the common and indefeasible rights of mankind, will guide and direct us in our designs; and at last, in infinite goodness to this His injured people, restore peace and freedom to the American world.

It was the veteran Colonel William Prescott who commanded the one thousand men fortifying the area of Bunker Hill. Prescott and Warren in their redoubt on Breed's Hill fought so bravely with the Americans that they forced Gage’s Light Infantry, the best troops in the British Army, to retreat. The British finally broke through when the defenders’ ammunition ran out, with the Americans hurling stones and using guns as clubs to hold their crude fort. Warren, among the last to leave the redoubt, was killed in action and thus became the first prominent Mason to give his life for his country.

One of the wealthiest merchants in New England was John Hancock, Warren’s Masonic brother, and one of his closest associates. Hancock was made a Mason in Merchant’s Lodge No. 277, Quebec, Canada, in 1762 and that same year affiliated with St. Andrew's in Boston. He was president of the provincial congress at Concord in 1774 and the following year served in the Continental Congress, where he was the first to sign the Declaration of Independence. John Hancock continued to serve his fellow-man by becoming the first Governor of Massachusetts in 1780.

The greatest patriot statesman and probably one of the greatest geniuses of all time was Brother Benjamin Franklin. Twenty large pages are required merely to catalogue the inventions, discoveries, accomplishments, and events with which he was intimately concerned. He wrote intelligently on a treatment for gout, lead poisoning, and learning to swim; he made bifocal glasses, lightning rods, and stoves; he proposed daylight saving time, and growing Indian corn; he drew designs for a musical instrument, the first hydrogen balloon, mathematical squares, and many more things than can be listed here.

Initiated in St.John’s Lodge in Philadelphia in 1731, he maintained an active and devoted interest in Freemasonry throughout his life. In 1734 he was elected grand master and in 1749 provincial grand master of the Moderns.

He was elected to the General Assembly in Pennsylvania in 1750 and appointed deputy postmaster general in 1753. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1775, served as a member of the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence, and in 1787 served as member of the convention that formulated the Constitution of the United States. In between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitutional Convention, Franklin served as Minister to France, where he was made a member of the Lodge of Neuf Soeurs. He is regarded as chiefly responsible for negotiating our alliance with King Louis XVI. Benjamin Franklin also served as one of the commissioners negotiating the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain and concluded treaties with Sweden and Prussia. On his return to the United States, Franklin was unanimously elected President of Pennsylvania.

Great as they were, Franklin’s services to his country were surpassed by Brother George Washington’s, who was made a Mason in Virginia’s Fredericksburg Lodge in 1752, receiving the Master Mason Degree in August 1753. He was elected an honorary member of Alexandria Lodge No. 39, on June 24, 1784, and served as its first master when that Pennsylvania chartered lodge became Virginia’s No. 22 in 1788. George Washington was actually serving as master of this lodge when elected and installed President of the United States, the only Chief Executive ever to do so.

It has been said that Washington rendered three distinct services to his country, any one of which would have insured his immortality in the founding history of these United States.

First, he won for us, as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, our independence. Although there were other able officers in that army, it was the quality of Washington’s leadership and his knowledge of military tactics that turned the tide. Frederick the Great of Prussia, certainly well-qualified to judge things military, regarded Washington’s New Jersey campaign as the most brilliant military exploit of the century.

Thirty-three of the generals in the Continental Army are known to have been Masons; an additional fifteen may have been. Among these Masonic military leaders were Major General Israel Putnam, the only senior officer to serve throughout the war in that grade; Major General Richard Montgomery, killed at Quebec, whose name with Warren and Wooster became a standing Masonic toast during the war, commemorative of their virtues as patriot Masons who fell early in their country’s defense; Major General Arthur St. Clair, first governor of the Northwest Territory; Major General, the Marquis de LaFayette; Major General John Sullivan, later the first grand master of New Hampshire and governor of that state; Major General Baron Von Steuben, chief of staff and inspector general; Major General Samuel H. Parsons, provost marshal general and master of American Union Lodge and St. John’s Lodge No. 2 in Connecticut; Major General Henry Knox, chief of artillery, who became commander-in-chief of the Army in 1783 and secretary of war in 1785; Brigadier General Mordecai Gist, made a Master Mason, April 25, 1775, in Lodge No. 16, Baltimore, first master of Army Lodge No. 27 under the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and in 1791 grand master of South Carolina; and Brigadier General Rufus Putnam, master of American Union Lodge, who in 1808 was elected first grand master of Ohio.

But it was Washington’s genius for handling men, his unswerving faith in the American cause, and his capacity to engender confidence that held the Continental Army together even when, as at Valley Forge, it was unfed, unclothed, and unpaid. It was Washington alone who could command the loyalty of thirteen divided colonies and bring the war to a successful outcome.

When the war was finally won, Washington gladly retired to private life. He was soon recalled to public service as president of the Constitutional Convention, and here rendered his second great service to his country. The Articles of Confederation had not proved a unifying influence nor an effective framework of government. National currency was so inflated that the expression used even today, “not worth a Continental,” had wide usage in the colonies. There was every prospect that the union, torn by internal dissension and jealousy, would disintegrate; and the enemies of America looked on with glee at the impending failure of the American experiment. Thanks again to Washington’s leadership, to the devotion of the members of that Constitutional Convention, and to the leadership of the Masons who occupied so many places in that group, the convention did not fail.

As Dr. James Carter, Masonic historian, has so ably pointed out, many of the fundamental principles of our country’s Constitution were contained in earlier Masonic constitutions. The basic principles of government employed in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1732 were popular sovereignty by majority rule, government limited by constitution, local lodges self-governing, grand lodges supreme in a federal system, a type of judicial review by grand lodge, implied powers existing in constitutional provisions, and individual rights protected by constitutional safeguards.

More than any other factor, the Constitution of the United States has been responsible for the growth and development of the American republic. It contains fundamental principles whose applications are timeless, even though frequently attacked today.

Such distinguished Masons as Gunning Bedford, Jr., first grand master of Delaware; John Blair, first grand master of Virginia; David Brearley, first grand master of New Jersey; William Richardson Davie, grand master of North Carolina; Benjamin Franklin, past provincial grand master of Pennsylvania; and Edmund Randolph, grand master of Virginia, all served with distinction as members of that immortal Constitutional Convention.

Washington returned to Mount Vernon after the Convention, but was soon summoned by the unanimous vote of the electoral college to be the first President of the United States. In this capacity he rendered his third service. His administration gave stature and substance to the office. He established a sound national currency, adopted a wise and conservative foreign policy, and upheld the majesty of the law.

With his two terms as President at an end, Washington declined a third term and again returned to his beloved home. His Farewell Address should be re-read in every city and hamlet, in every school and home, today, next year, and every year.

What is the distinguishing characteristic of all the great Masons who have served their country and their Fraternity so well? Is it not just that — their overwhelming desire to be of service to their fellow man and their Freemasonry?

These illustrious Masons understood that rights and privileges always carry with them corresponding duties and obligations. They truly valued their own freedom of speech, their own freedom of thought, their own freedom of conscience, so they were bound to understand and respect the right of other men to those same freedoms.

To preserve these freedoms for their children’s children, they set up safeguards for them in our Constitution. Whenever, then, these freedoms are transgressed, the fundamental law of the land is transgressed. Certainly men are not identical. They differ in heredity, in environment, in abilities and in opportunities. Before the Supreme grand master of the Universe, however, all are on equal footing.

We must take heed of the challenge offered by a great Masonic scholar:

To attain Truth and to serve our fellows, our country and all mankind — this is the noblest destiny of man. Hereafter and all your life these are to be your objects. If you wish to fulfill your destiny, gird up your loins for the struggle. For the way is long and toilsome. Pleasure will beckon you on one hand and indolence will invite you to sleep among the flowers on the other. Prepare to resist allurements of both.[2]

And so it has been well said, that truth and service are to be the objects of our lives — first to our fellow Masons, to aid, strengthen and support one another; second, to our institution, service from the heart and hand; third, to our country, service in its best interests by standing firmly for the principles that our forefathers laid down for us, for to the extent that we depart from those principles, to that extent do we do our country harm.

There is a destiny that makes us brothers,
None goes his way alone;
All we send into the lives of others,
Comes back into our own.

This is the road to freedom. Let freedom ring!

⁎  ⁎  ⁎

  1. John Cary, Joseph Warren: Physician, Politician, Patriot (University of Illinois Press, 1961).
  2. “A Sublime Prince of the Royal Secret,” “The Ceremonies, Ritual, History, and Lectures of the Higher Degrees of Masonry of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite as Promulgated in the Southern United States,” The American Freemason's New Monthly Magazine, 6:31 (July 1860), 15.

The Masonic Service Association of North America