History of Freemasonry

A Short History of Freemasonry
In the book of human history, Freemasonry has a chapter of its own. Men in all ages and in all lands have had secret societies, have made use of ceremonies of initiation, employed symbols, emblems and means of recognition. When Freemasonry came into existence, nobody knows how many centuries ago, it inherited much from such societies, certain of its rites and a number of its symbols. Along your path of initiation you will encounter them; their unspeakable antiquity makes them more holy in our eyes.
The oldest of all existing written records of our Craft is a manuscript written by some unknown Brother in England, about 1390. That was over six centuries ago! But the document itself shows that even then Freemasonry was already very old. 
At the time this document was written all Freemasons were Operatives; that is, they were workers engaged on buildings. Such a builder was then called a "Mason." There were many kinds of Masons, but the evidence indicates that those who were called "Freemasons" were those builders of a superior type who designed, supervised and erected the great cathedrals and other marvelous structures in the Gothic style of architecture.
Those Operative Freemasons, designed such buildings as a whole and in each detail; dressed the stone from the quarries; laid it in the walls; set up arches, pillars, columns and buttresses; laid the floor and built the roof; carved out the decorations, made and fitted the stained-glass windows into place and produced the sculptures. Their work was difficult to execute; called for a high degree of skill and genius; and required of them a great deal of knowledge of mechanics and geometry as well as of Stone-Masonry. They were the great artists of the Middle Ages.
Training men for such work; called for a long period of severe discipline. Boys sound in body, keen in mind, and of good reputation were taken at the age of ten to fifteen and apprenticed to some Master Mason for a number of years, usually seven; in Freemasonry, this Master Mason was, his tutor, his mentor, his guide, as such almost like a father, who taught him both the theories and the practices of the Craft. At the end of his apprenticeship the youth was required to submit to exacting tests of his proficiency before being accepted into full membership in the Craft.
Where a number of Freemasons worked together on a building over a period of years they organized a Lodge, which would meet in a temporary building or in one of the rooms of the uncompleted structure. Such a Lodge was governed by a Master assisted by Wardens; it had a Secretary to keep its books, a Treasurer to keep and to disburse its funds, a charity chest from which to dispense relief to the members in accident, sickness or distress and to widows and orphans of Master Masons; it met in regular communication, divided its membership into grades, admitted members by initiation. In short, it was in all essentials what a Masonic Lodge is today.

The young beginner, in learning the builders' art, was called an Apprentice; after he had served as such, a sufficient time to give evidence of his fitness his name was entered in the Lodge's books, after which he was called an Entered Apprentice. At the end of his seven or so years of apprenticeship he was called into open Lodge, his conduct was reported, and he was then set to prove his skill by producing what was called a "Master's piece." Hitherto he had been on probation; if now he passed his test satisfactorily he was made a full member of the Craft. In the sense that he now stood on an equality of duty, rights, and privileges with all others he was called Fellow of the Craft -the word "Fellow" meaning full membership; in the sense that he had now mastered the theories, practices, rules, secrets, and tools of his trade he was called a Master Mason.
Completing their work in one community these Freemasons would move to another, setting up their Lodges wherever they met. Other types of Masons were compelled by law to live and work in the same community year in and year out, and under local restrictions. A number of our historians believe it may have been because they were free of such restrictions that the Gothic builders were called "Freemasons."
Such was the Fraternity in its Operative period; and as such it flourished for generations. Then came a great change in its fortunes. Euclid's geometry was rediscovered and published, thereby giving to the public many of the Masons' old trade secrets. The Reformation came and with it the Gothic style of architecture began to die out. Social conditions underwent a revolution, laws were changed; all these, and other factors brought about a decline in the Craft. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Freemasons became so few in number that only a small Lodge here and there clung to a precarious existence.
Owing to these conditions, the Freemasons, in order to recruit their members, adopted a new practice; they began to accept non-Operative members. In the old days only an Operative Mason in the literal sense could become a member; but during the two centuries, our historians call them the "Transition Period", gentlemen with no intention to become builders, and out of curiosity, for social reasons, or from interest in the Craft's ancient customs, were received. And because they were thus accepted they were called "Accepted Masons." At first there were few of these, but as time passed their number increased, until by the early part of the eighteenth century they exceeded the Operatives in both number and influence.
As a result of this, the Craft took a step that was destined to revolutionize it and to set it on a new path of power and magnitude. On St. John the Baptist's Day, June 24, 1717, four or more old Lodges of London and Westminster met in London and organized a Grand Lodge, and on the same day selected their first Grand Master, Bro. Anthony Sayer.
Within a few years of that date the Craft had transformed itself from an Operative Body into a Speculative Fraternity (by "Speculative" is meant Masonry in a moral, or symbolical sense), reorganized the old two Degrees into the three Degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft and Master Mason; collected and collated the old Masonic manuscripts, produced the first Book of Constitutions, and was chartering Lodges in many countries, including our own, to take care of the Fraternity's membership, which began rapidly to increase shortly after the organization of the Grand Lodge. All this was the beginning of organized Speculative Freemasonry as we now know it.
In 1751 a second Grand Lodge was organized in England; prior to that Grand Lodges had been set up in Scotland, Ireland, and on the Continent. Early American Lodges, of which the earliest known was organized at Philadelphia in 1730, were placed under the charge of Provincial Grand Lodges, which were ruled by Provincial Grand Masters appointed by Grand Lodges in England or in Scotland and Ireland.
As one of the results of the successful termination of the War of the Revolution, American Grand Lodges became sovereign and independent. It was a question at the time of that happening whether there should not be one Grand Lodge for the whole of the United States, but the wisdom of the Craft prevailed and any such scheme was abandoned.
As the years passed one Grand Lodge was organized in each State, being sovereign within its own limits, no other Grand Lodge having any right whatever to control Masonic affairs under its Jurisdiction. Today  in the United States, there are fifty Grand Lodges, one for each State except Alaska which is under the jurisdiction of the State of Washington, and one for the District of Columbia; on their rolls are more than 10,000 Lodges with almost two and quarter million members.

Freemasonry did not spring full-formed out of nothing in 1717, but came as a gradual development out of Operative Masonry. Through an unbroken line we can trace our lineage back to those builders of the early Middle Ages; we are masons too, except that where they erected buildings we try to build manhood; their tools we have transformed into emblems of moral and spiritual laws and forces; their practices and secrets we have embodied in the Royal Art of Brotherly Love, Relief, and Truth; their rituals, mellowed, enriched, and made more beautiful with the passing of time, we employ in the entering, passing and raising of our candidates; all that was living and permanent in their Craft we have preserved and we use it in behalf of goodwill, kindliness, charity and brotherhood among men. Such is our heritage, and as a man enters into it he will discover it inexhaustible in interest, life-long in its appeal, a power in his life to enrich, to ennoble and to inspire.

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