Freemasonry in North and Spanish America

Freemasonry in North and Spanish America
Freemasonry in North and Spanish America
The specific origins of Freemasonry cannot be determined with clarity. Freemasonry is a fraternal organization, and, because of the secrecy of its rituals and the influence of its members, is thought by some to be either subversive or bent on world domination. There do not appear to have been any permanent lodges or Masonic fraternities in America until the Grand Lodge of London was established in 1717.

English Masons then turned their eyes to the colonies, establishing the first provincial Grand Master to govern and control the initiation and granting of degrees in American territories in 1730. The first American lodges were founded in Boston and Philadelphia and were of the York (American) rite.

The York rite consists of 13 degrees, 10 above the “blue,” or required three of Entered Apprentice, Fellow craft, and Master Mason. The higher 10 are grouped into three divisions: Royal Arch Masons, Royal and Select Masters, and Knights Templar. The York rite would dominate Freemasonry in the Americas until the latter part of the 19th century.

Freemasons were important to the growth of the United States, as York rite lodges were easily formed, even in frontier areas, and provided important social and fraternal benefits to members. The United States was unique, however, in that it did not have one overarching Masonic governing body; there was no grand lodge for the United States.

Instead, each state had its own grand lodge, exercising complete control and authority over the territory within its jurisdiction. There was an attempt to establish a general (national) grand lodge after the American Revolution, but it failed when George Washington turned down the job of general grand master.

While there were some minorities to be found in individual lodges, African Americans founded their own Masonic organization, the Prince Hall lodges, named after their founder. Along with the Christian Church, the Prince Hall lodges would grow in importance during the 19th century and provide crucial avenues of mutual support and interstate connections.

Freemasons in the United States almost disappeared during the 1820s and 1830s in response to the disappearance, and probable murder, of Henry Morgan. Morgan had attempted in 1826 to publish an exposé of Masonic activities and rituals in New York but disappeared after being removed from prison by known Freemasons.

The public outcry resulted in the formation of the Anti-Masonic political party and also forced the closure of numerous lodges throughout the states. Some states saw all of their lodges close within the next decade.

The furor would not last, however, and by the time of the American Civil War, the Freemasons had regained their influence. The American Civil War would provide new challenges, however, as most southern lodges withdrew from fellowship with northern lodges, declaring them un-Masonic.

While there have been many stories told of kindnesses shown on the battlefield between Masonic enemies, there is little doubt that the Masons back home, in their meetings, felt little love for the Masons on the other side of the war.

This newfound tension helps to explain the rise of Scottish rite Freemasonry in the United States. This rite had 33 degrees (as opposed to the York rite’s 13) and was more influenced by French Freemasonry of the Grand Orient lodge than by the English model.

The Scottish Rite was filled with more pageantry than the York and because of the greater number of degrees required more members before higher degrees could be granted.

While it had been established in the United States in the early 1800s, it did not rise to prominence until after the Civil War, thanks to the work of Albert Pike.

His books, particularly the Morals and Dogma of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, provided a new way for Freemasons to join together, and many York rite lodges either converted to the Scottish rite or joined with them.

In addition to the Scottish rite, the years after the American Civil War saw an explosion of other fraternal organizations: the Elks, Grotto, Shriners, and the Order of the Eastern Star (for women), as well as groups for children.

The history of Freemasonry in Mexico and South America is more difficult to separate from the politics of the time. Spain showed a great deal of hostility to Freemasonry, as it was often connected with revolutionary movements in Europe and often expressed anticlerical positions.

This ensured that Freemasonry in Spanish colonies would often be limited and oppressed, ironically making it a revolutionary force. Many revolutionary leaders were members of the Lautaro lodge—Spanish Freemasonry.

However, there can be little doubt that some of the more famous revolutionaries—Carlos María de Alvear in Argentina, José de San Martín in Chile, and José Morelos in Mexico were masons. The pageantry of Scottish rite Freemasonry became prevalent during the 19th century and dominates the South American landscape of Freemasonry to the present day.