Monday, February 22, 2010

George Washington's Birthday

In 1947, the Grand Lodge adopted the Grand Lodge of Minnesota adopted the following Standing Resolution (Section S1.06):

The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Minnesota designate Washington's Birthday, February twenty-second (22nd) of each year, as a special Masonic holiday and recommend the observance thereof by the Lodges within this Jurisdiction through appropriate open or closed communications.

While most scholarly surveys rank Washington either number one or number two (the other being Abraham Lincoln) as the most admired U.S. President, an ABC poll in 2000 ranked Washington number six, behind John Kennedy, Ronald Regan and No Opinion. One can only wonder who these people were!

Washington was Master of his Lodge, but with all his other duties, it is doubtful that he presided at many communications. He did, however, insert the beautiful Masonic custom of laying cornerstones for the Capitol of the United States.

In reviewing Washington’s life, I am struck with how closely it mirrors our Minnesota Grand Lodge Values Statement, exemplifying Freedom, Integrity and Tolerance.

Freedom. First I look on George Washington, considering his life as exemplifying Political Freedom. In his first Inaugural address Washington stated that “The preservation of the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

Heard in light of the sacrifices that this man made in defense of his country, these words are certainly poignant. Recall that from the time he assumed command of the revolutionary forces in June of 1775 until he resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon on December 24, 1783, his time at his wonderful home at Mount Vernon is measured in days.

Washington served as president of the Constitutional Convention from 1787 and was elected to two terms as President of the United States. His term of president was complete in 1797.

Having had only two years to enjoy Mt Vernon, Washington died December 14, 1799.

Many men, and many Masons have sacrificed to establish and preserve the freedoms we all enjoy. Washington, the man and the Mason, is second to none in his dedication and commitment to our country.

Integrity. It is said that by his own personal character and integrity, Washington almost single-handedly held together the Constitutional Convention and gave the nascent country an opportunity to be established.

Other examples of personal integrity are numerous, including the fictitious cherry tree incident. One further real example example may be sufficient.

The story is told in Christopher Hodapp’s new book, Solomon’s Builders. Congress had no funds, and no way to compel the States to contribute money so that the officers who had served with Washington during the eight years of the Revolutionary War could be paid. The officers met to plot a military coup and to place George Washington as the head of the government. Such ideas had been discussed previously, but Washington had set them down.

On March 15, 1783, the officers met in a church in New York to discuss their plans. Washington entered the meeting, uninvited. He pleaded with them to relent, but without effect.

Washington reached into his coat and withdrew a letter from Congress that he attempted to read to the men. “He stumbled over it at first, squinting, unable to read it, and then he stopped. The room grew quiet as he reached into a coat for a pair of glasses. Most never knew that he needed glasses to read, and to see this man they had followed for eight years suddenly so vulnerable made them pause. ‘Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles,’ he said, ‘for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind in the service of my country.”

Many men began to weep as they listened to the general whom they followed, and respected, and loved read the letter. After finishing the letter, Washington left the meeting without another word. The vote was unanimous to leave the power of government in civilian hands.

Washington did not have a formal education. His father died when he was young, and the family did not have the resources to send him to school. However, he was a lifelong self-taught learner. He had read the classics, and was certainly familiar with the Greek hero, Cincinnatus, who had left his farm and plow to lead the Greek forces to victory, and then, against the wishes of his army who wished to make him king, returned to his plow. Thus did General Washington.

Tolerance. Washington’s Masonic influence was no more evident than in his views on religious tolerance. I had a little piece published in the most recent edition of the Minnesota Mason, quoting a letter from the General to a Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. It is worth repeating here:

“Happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.” Washington closed with an invocation: “May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

It is most appropriate that Masons honor this Country’s founding father, and American Freemasonry’s most eminent member. The Masonic virtues of Freedom, Integrity and Tolerance are seen in their majesty when viewed in the life and character of this most famous Freemason.