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The Character and Design of the Masonic Institution
THE FREEMASONS' MONTHLY MAGAZINE , NOVEMBER 1841
"To enlarge the sphere of SOCIAL HAPPINESS, is worthy of the design of a MASONIC INSTITUTIONS; and it is most fervently to be wished, that the conduct of every member of the Fraternity, as well as those PUBLICATIONS that discover the PRINCIPLES which actuate them, may tend to convince mankind, that the brand object of MASONRY, is to promote the happiness of the human race." Letter of Gen. Washington to the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, 1792.
THE character and design of the Masonic Institution have seldom been more distinctly and accurately set forth, than in the above concise paragraph from the pen of him who was, and will continue through all coming time to be, the "first in the hearts of his countrymen." Few men have understood the nature and tendencies of Freemasonry better; and fewer still have loved it with a more enduring constancy. Washington associated himself with it, while yet a youth; and withdrew only when summoned to take his seat in the Grand Lodge whose convocation is eternal.
He has truly and pertinently told us, that the tendency of all "PUBLICATIONS that discover the PRINCIPLES" of our Fraternity, should be, to "convince mankind that the grand object of Masonry, is to promote the happiness of the human race." And here we take our stand, - pledging our best energies, - all our resources and experience, - not merely to the development and support of the true principles of the Order, - not merely to convince the uninitiated of what Masonry is, - but to the full and entire attainment of the "grand object" it has in view.
We expect opposition. The Masonic Institution in all ages and countries has had to encounter the scoffs and revilings of the base, the uninformed, the prejudiced. Christianity was not without its Judas.
The whole heathen world was thrown into excitement by the promulgation of the sublime principles of our religion. Could Freemasonry - an extensive and powerful institution, exercising a discriminating exclusiveness, and located in the midst of a free-thinking people, ever jealous of encroachment upon their social and political rights, - ask for an exemption that was refused to Christianity?
Popular excitements are incident to every form of government; but in Democracies they are of most frequent occurrence. They may not perhaps properly be said to form one of the elements of the republican system; yet it is undoubtedly true that they occur under that system, more as the consequences of its peculiarities, than as the results of accidental causes. In republican governments, the road to political power is not, as under the monarchial system, obstructed by the artificial dis- tinctions of birth or property. In this respect the plebeian may claim equality with the patrician.
We daily witness the practical operation of this principle in our own government. We see that it is productive of political contentions and frequent popular excitements. But we do not complain of this; for, while kept within proper limits and under wholesome restrictions, these excitements form the surest safeguards of the liberties of the people. They are the heavings of the ocean, by which its purity is preserved. It is from the abuse of them that evil arises. They are dangerous only when diverted from their natural influences. In the hands of reckless and ambitious men, they become instruments of persecution, and subservient to unworthy purposes. But such men would subvert the holy intentions of the Christian religion itself, and be content to register themselves on the universal record of infamous deeds, rather than remain in the obscurity where, by nature, education and habits, they rightfully belong.
It was this class, by whom the late excitement against the Masonic Institution, was fanned into a flame, which spread far and wide, indiscriminately threatening the innocent and the guilty with a common destruction. The political state of the country favored their designs, and they succeeded in turning what ought never to have been more than a temporary local excitement to their own account, by directing it against the whole Masonic family. Proscription became the ruling principle; and all Masons, without distinction, were held up as accessories to crime, and their characters branded with the vilest epithets. It was immaterial how exemplary had been their lives, or how exalted their patrotism - their condemnation was pronounced, if they would not, like the perturbed spirits that surrounded them, discover iniquity where there was none, and evil design in an Institution whose only object, in the language of Washington, is "to promote the happiness of the human race."
There was another class of the community who joined the crusade against our Order, and contributed materially to its support and virulence.
Masonry does not assume to itself the name or the pretensions of a religious association; nor does it, while it entertains a proper and becoming respect for all, manifest a preference for any particular religious creed. The only religious qualification that it demands or inculcates, is a belief in the existence and attributes of God. It regards mankind as bound to each other by natural and indissoluble ties, independently of the artificial distinctions of interest or religion.
This spirit of toleration is adverse to the propagation of sectarianism. Hence it is that among ultra-religionists, Masonry has ever found heart less and un-compromising enemies. Her history is full of instances. Religious bigotry persecuted her in Holland; expelled her from the Ecclesiastical States of Italy; hunted her disciples like wild beasts through Germany; and in Switzerland required them to swear, in the presence of the Almighty, to trample upon those engagements which, before the same Great Being, they had sworn to respect and revere! It brought them to the Auto de Fe in Spain, and to the Rack in Portugal: It excluded them from the Church in Scotland, and shut up the Lodges in England.
In this country, however, though the inclination be as strong as in the Papal States of Europe, the liberal spirit of our laws presents an impassable barrier to any permanent union between religious fanaticism and political intolerance. Instances, nevertheless, frequently occur, where the former may artfully and insidiously give such a direction to the misguided energies of the latter, as to produce results which could not have been effected by any independent action of its own. Religionists may assail and criminate each other, without producing any considerable sensation in the public mind. But when any particular sect manifests a disposition to persecute for difference of opinion, it becomes offensive to the whole community, and is at once driven from its purpose by considerations of personal safety. A purely religious crusade against Masonry, would have produced a re-action disadvantageous to the purposes of the former. And such would have been the result of the late persecution, had ultra- religionists assumed its direction. They understood the matter better, and were content to play a subordinate part.
But thanks to Him who "rides upon the whirlwind and directs the storm," our ancient and honorable Institution has escaped alike the malignant venom of political persecution and religious intolerance. The black and portentous storm, which, for a season, hung over it, threatening it with destruction and ruin, has passed away. In the language of an eloquent brother, "the beautiful and marvellous light is again shedding its rich radiance over portions of the country, where, but a short time since, 'thick darkness' had gathered like a funeral pall, - the Master's mallet is now sounding in Halls that have long been silent and unoccupied, - the good and influential men of society are going back again to their deserted seats, and the 'WHITE BANNER' is floating upon the breeze, honored and reverenced, as in the days of its palmier history." The Rubicon has been passed in safety. The dark cloud has been dispersed. And our Institution is seen standing like some ancient oak, with its many roots rivetted to the soil, and its broad limbs spread in bold outline against the sky. Long will the sun-light of honor and renown linger amid its venerable branches. And when at last the "brave old oak," lashed by the storm and riven by the lightning, shall totter to its fall, around its trunk will the ivy of popular affection, that has so long clasped it, still cling, and mantle with greenness and verdure its ruin and decay.
If any ask the utility of Masonry, in this day of universal intelligence and wide spread Christian benevolence and philanthropy - "when the art of printing has rendered oral learning vain, when science has descended from her pedestal to become the plaything of the child, and the youth of to-day is wiser than the sages of old," - we ask him to read the pages of this Magazine for one year from the present time, and he will find his answer. If he decline to do this, let him ask of the indigent Brother and the sorrowing widow. Let him ask of the hundreds of innocent children in all quarters of the world, "whom Masonic charity hath clothed, whom Masonic virtue hath trained in the paths of respectability and truth." There will he find his answer. Let him seek the proscribed wanderer from distant lands, whose exile hath been cheered by the hand of fraternal fellowship. Ask of the venturous mariner, whose vessel, tossed on the foaming waves, the sport of the tempest and the storm, has cast him helpless on some unknown shore:- faint and exhausted, he finds a home where a home was unlooked for; a means of communication where language would fail-a help when no help seemed near.
But enough. The present work has been commenced in compliance with the wishes of a large number of Brethren in different sections of the country, and in the full assurance that a Monthly Magazine of high and purely Masonic character, will be useful to the Brotherhood, and promotive of the best interests of the Institution. It is designed to be a medium of reciprocal communication between the wide spread branches of the great Masonic family, - the means of bringing the Brethren of our own and of foreign countries into a closer communication; and, by making each more familiar with the transactions of the other, - by creating a sympathy of sentiment and interest, - encourage the hearts and strengthen the hands of all.
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