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by Wor.Bro. MARK A. TABBERT 33


January 29, 2007

This year we celebrate George Washington’s 275th birthday. It’s also the 75th anniversary of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. Yet 2007 is not simply a convenient reason to celebrate a birthday, remember Washington’s great deeds or visit the Memorial. Rather it is a time to contemplate the Memorial as a symbol of Freemasons’ reverence of Washington and to reexamine its purpose.

            Since the forming of the Memorial Association in 1910, its mission has changed. Originally organized to create a fireproof building and proper exhibitions gallery for Washington relics owned by Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, the Association soon determined to erect a grand memorial worthy of Washington on nearby Shooters Hill.

With ambitious goals and magnificent designs in hand, the Association began fundraising and promotional campaigns. Grand Masters and Association officers spoke and wrote in support of the Memorial. The most forceful voice was Charles H. Callahan, Grand Master of Virginia. He argued that a Memorial was needed not simply to display relics, but to end any doubt that Washington and other patriots were proud Freemasons. More important, a Memorial would demonstrate the strength of modern day Masonry, the beauty of Masonic tenets and the loyalty of Freemasons to “the ideals of Washington and his Masonic compatriots.”

            The relationship between Washington the man and the Masonic Memorial continued to evolve. At 1932 Memorial dedication ceremony, Episcopal Bishop and Mason James E. Freeman of the District of Columbia forcefully proclaimed:


“We are met here today not so much to think of Washington the patriot, the soldier, the commander-in-chief and ultimately the president of the republic, as of Washington the high exemplar of those splendid ideals for which this ancient Order stands.”


Immediately following Bishop Freeman, Past Grand Master Melvin M. Johnson of Massachusetts declared:


“George Washington was not great because he was a brother of the Craft. He was great because his natural abilities, willed into action, were guided and inspired by the fundamental principles which Freemasonry inculcates, and which so saturated every fibre of his being that he thought them, spoke them, and lived them.”


The Masonic National Memorial, therefore, was not dedicated to Washington because he was a Freemason, but because more than any other American he exemplified what every Freemason ought to labor to be: a virtuous man. In 2006, the Memorial Association reaffirmed this with a new vision statement that declares:  “. . . to emulate and promote the virtues, character and vision of George Washington, the Man, the Mason and Father of our Country."

But what is meant by Washington’s virtue, character and vision? They are the same that every Mason learns when he takes his obligations, receives the lectures and is raised on the Five Points of Fellowship. These virtues were recognized in Washington at an early age, but were best articulated in the very moments of his retirement. Succeeding as the second President of the United States, John Adams said in his 1797 inaugural address:


“[Washington], by a long course of great actions, regulated by prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, has merited the gratitude of his fellow citizens, commanded the highest praise of foreign nations and secured immortal glory with prosperity.”


Washington lived for 67 years and during the last 24, more than a third of his life, he was the foremost man in America and on whom the fate of the nation depended. Yet the virtues Washington lived were learned when he was a young man, before he entered history’s stage, and even before he became a Freemason, at the age of 20.

A brief survey of Washington’s life reveals moments when he learned those virtues and more importantly when he exemplified them by “squaring his actions by the square of virtue.”

Born into Virginia planter society, Washington understood temperance in youth. While many of his class fell into gambling, drinking, licentiousness and debt, Washington memorized Seneca’s Morals. Through a steady practice of the 110 “Rules of Civility” Washington learned to avoid common vices. Many years later, as Commander-in-Chief, he was immune to far greater and insidious vices. He never left his army cold and hungry for the pleasures of Mount Vernon. He never squandered his men for military glory and he was never seduced by a king’s crown or a dictator’s power.

            Young Washington learned physical fortitude surveying the Virginia country. He also learned military fortitude during the disasters of Fort Necessity and Gen. Braddock’s expedition against the French and Indians. Thus he was prepared for the British crushing victory at Brooklyn Heights and the long deprivations of Valley Forge. Without Washington’s fortitude, the Continental Army would have lost its courage and the War for Independence.

            Fortitude is a trait of the warrior prudence is a farmer’s virtue. For farmers must “wisely judge and prudentially determine on all things relative to his present, as well as to his future happiness.” Young Washington, like most tobacco planters, suffered from debt owed to London merchants. Washington wisely diversified his crops, bred new livestock and developed new industries at Mount Vernon, so by the Revolution, he was one of the few solvent Virginia planters. As the first president he understood his actions would determine the nation’s “future happiness.” His eight years in office established a deliberative and constructive executive, subordinate to the Constitution, yet equal to the legislative and judicial branches.

            “Justice,” according to the Masonic lecture, “in a great measure constitutes the real good man.” As a young man Washington believed he warranted a king’s military commission for his service in the French and Indian wars, but he was denied that honor. General Washington, however, always rendered every man his just due and awarded his men with promotion or the Purple Heart for courage. As President he supported benevolent and educational institutions as he shunned divisive sects and political parties. In life Washington aided those less fortunate, respected his equals and served his superiors.

Washington’s last public act summarizes a life dedicated to virtue. At the beginning of John Adam’s presidential inauguration, he led the procession on stage. At its conclusion, Washington insisted he retire not only after President Adams, but also after Vice President Jefferson—a small courtesy, but one that demonstrates to all men, in every age, that the highest office is higher than any man who ever occupies it and that ultimately every office is subordinate to the law.

Such was Washington’s character, that from almost the day he took his Masonic obligations until his death, he became the same man in private that he was in public. In Masonic terms he remained “a just and up right Mason” and became a true Master Mason. Washington was a “living stone” who is the cornerstone of American civilization. He is the milestone that older civilizations follow into liberty and equality. He is Freemasonry’s “perfect ashlar” upon which countless Master Masons gauge their labors in their own Lodges and in their own communities.

The George Washington Masonic National Memorial’s true purpose was first articulated by Past Grand Master of Pennsylvania and President of the Association Louis Watres:


“[The Memorial] will eloquently tell the world that Masons are builders—builders of individual character; and that the vital question of our time and our country is not how many adhere to any particular creed, but how many accept as their standard the stabilizing, constructive character of him in whose memory this Temple shall stand throughout the coming years.”


The challenge Freemasons face this anniversary year is whether we are living the virtues Brother Washington exemplified and building a fraternity and a civilization worthy of Washington’s Masonic Memorial.