George Washington Masonic National Memorial
by Sarah Becker ©2017
George Washington Masonic National Memorial
What do George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette; Benjamin Franklin and Amadeus Mozart; W.E.B. Du Bois, Winston Churchill and Harry S. Truman have in common? All are Freemasons. Washington became a Freemason in 1752 at age 20 in Fredericksburg; then Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge No. 22 in 1788. “Brother Washington was, in Masonic terms, a ‘living stone” who became the cornerstone of American civilization.”
“Being persuaded that a just application of principles, on which the Masonic fraternity is founded, must be promotive of private virtue and public prosperity, I shall always be happy to advance the interests of the Society, and to be considered by them as a deserving brother,” President Washington told Rhode Island’s King David’s Lodge in 1790. Stone masons, during the Middle-Ages and after, were among the most ethically correct of the local tradesmen.
Freemasonry is the world’s oldest fraternal order, a brotherhood that combines talent, intellect and virtue. By 1733 the colonies had established at least three Masonic lodges: in Boston, Savannah, and Philadelphia. The order’s ceremonies, as novelist Dan Brown has noted, are shrouded in secrecy.
Freemasonry is not a religion; it is a non-denominational order that borrows from religion. It is coincident with the Age of Enlightenment, a fraternity that emphasizes “personal study; the dignity of man and the liberty of the individual.” Freemasons worship as they choose.
“It has been suggested that [George Washington] learned as a Mason to believe in a ruling Providence rather than an orthodox Christian deity,” biographer John R. Alden wrote.
Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22 meets regularly in George Washington Masonic National Memorial. A National Historic Landmark, the Memorial is located at King and Callahan Streets, atop a high hill. Charles Callahan chose the Alexandria site in 1908; then donated four of the necessary eight lots. The century old Memorial interprets both fraternal and George Washington history.
The Memorial Hall’s George Washington statue stands 17 feet, 3 inches tall and occupies a central space. The bronze statue, delivered in eight pieces, was designed by Bryant Baker as a character statement. Washington stands alone, a symbol unto himself, the wise Master of the lodge. The statue was dedicated in 1950 by President Harry S. Truman, a Mason who credits the fraternal order with his 1948 Presidential win.
“This heroic likeness of our first President makes even more impressive the entrance hall of this temple,” Truman said in his February 22 dedication speech. “It is altogether fitting that this work should stand in the community that Washington did so much to build….”
“George Washington, like ourselves, lived in a period of great change—a period when new forces and new ideas were sweeping across the world,” Truman continued. “Washington was unwavering in his devotion to the democratic concept. He never yielded to those who encouraged him to assume extraordinary powers.”
“The task of Americans today is fundamentally the same as it was in Washington’s time,” Truman concluded. “We, too, must make democracy work and we must defend it against its enemies. But our task [in 1950] is far greater than it was in Washington’s time. We are not only concerned with increasing the freedom, welfare, and opportunity of our people we are also concerned with the right of other peoples to choose their form of government, to improve their standards of living, and to decide what kind of life they want to live.”
“…the Cause of Virtue and Liberty is Confined to no Continent or Climate, it comprehends within its capacious Limits, the Wise and good….,” George Washington wrote in 1775.
Truman’s speech was timely, then and now. “We are convinced of the necessity for an international agreement to limit the use of atomic energy to peaceful purposes,” Truman persisted. For 1950 was post Hiroshima; the year of Senator Joe McCarthy, the Algier Hiss trials, and the onset of the Korean War. North Korea’s Communist troops crossed the 38th parallel and invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950.
When Democrat Harry Truman announced his decision not to run for another Presidential term only 25% of Americans thought he was doing a good job. Truman, who became a Mason in 1909, now is regarded as among the nation’s greatest Presidents. Like most Americans Freemasons believe Truman bettered mankind.
“Probably the most momentous occasion in the annals of Masonry in the United States will pass into history,” The Washington Post reported in 1923, “when the cornerstone of the great granite building being erected as a memorial to George Washington is lowered into place.” The building has five orders of architecture, three of which are included in the Masons’ teachings. The 1931 cost: $4 million.
“Shooter’s Hill was the property of Washington, and but for his intervention would now be occupied by the Capitol of the United States,” The Post continued. “The commanding eminence was the selection of [Thomas] Jefferson and [James] Madison, but their choice was vetoed by [President] Washington, lest it might be thought that he chose this location for the advancement of his private interests.”
Dedicated in 1932, the 85 year-old building is undergoing repair. Interior walls are “bulging” inexplicably and valuable artifacts, including the murals, have been jeopardized. The mural depicting the 1793 U.S. Capitol Cornerstone Laying Ceremony, an 18’ x 46’ canvas completed in 1955 by American artist Allyn Cox, was removed last March for restoration.
“The South East corner Stone, of the Capitol of the United States of America in the City of Washington, was laid on the 18th day of September 1793, in the thirteenth year of American Independence, in the first year of the second term of the Presidency of George Washington, whose virtues in the civil administration of his country have been as conspicuous and beneficial, as his Military valor and prudence have been useful….,” The Columbia Mirror & Alexandria Gazette reported.
The apron and sash worn by President Washington during these ceremonies can also be seen in the sanctum of Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22. The second floor Replica Lodge Room includes the Memorial’s George Washington collection.
“The movement to unite the colonies originated in colonial Freemasonry,” Fredericksburg’s John J. Lanier wrote in 1922. “Indeed Freemasonry was the only institution in colonial times in which the leaders of all the different colonies could meet upon common ground. The faith of nearly all was grounded in the English Bible.”
“But, the Puritans of New England, with their Congregational form of government, looked askance upon the Established church of the Southern Colonies and regarded its prelates with little less abhorrence than they felt for the papacy,” Lanier continued. “Only the Masonic Lodge was the same institution in every part of the colonies. In their Lodge communications and other fraternal gatherings, the Freemasons established a common meeting ground where men of diverse religious and political views, rich or poor, could come together in the spirit of harmony and mutual confidence.”
To Washington, the Masonic Lodge was “a kindly refuge,” Lanier concluded. “Throughout the Revolution” Washington had “the confidence and support of his Masonic brethren…James Otis, Paul Revere, Peyton Randolph, John Hancock, Roger Sherman, Robert Livingston, John Jay, Robert Morris and others.”
Now the George Washington Masonic National Memorial needs your support. For more information, including tours, building requests and the Century Landmark Campaign, visit www.gwmemorial.org.
Sarah Becker started writing for The Economist while a graduate student in England. Similar publications followed. She joined the Crier in 1996 while serving on the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association Board. Her interest in antiquities began as a World Bank hire, with Indonesia’s need to generate hard currency. Balinese history, i.e. tourism provided the means. The New York Times describes Becker’s book, Off Your Duffs & Up the Assets, as “a blueprint for thousands of nonprofit managers.” A former museum director, SLAM’s saving grace Sarah received Alexandria’s Salute to Women Award in 2007. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Columnist’s Note: For those readers who have the inquired regarding the accreditation status of Jefferson-Houston School the Virginia Department of Education released its accreditation report on September 13, 2017. Accreditation was again denied. Jefferson Houston School “made gains and reached benchmark in History, but were below in the other three areas.”