Opening night, Masonic May Festival, Washington, May 23, 06
Freemasonry's impact on America is more significant than anything that speculation would hold. A movement that emerged from the Reformation, Freemasonry was the widespread and well-connected organization. It may seem strange for liberal principles to coexist with a secretive society but masonry embraced religious toleration and liberty principles, helping to spread them through the American colonies. In a young America, Masonic ideals flourished. In Boston in 1775, Freemasonic officials who were part of a British garrison granted local freemen of color the right to affiliate as Masons. The African Lodge No. 1. was named after the order's founder, Prince Hall, a freed slave. It represented the first black-led abolitionist movement in American history. One of the greatest symbols of Freemasonry, the eye-and-pyramid of the Great Seal of the United States, is still on the back of the dollar bill. The Great Seal's design was created under the direction of Benjamin Franklin (another Freemason), Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams. Freemasonry principles strengthened America's founding commitment to the individual's pursuit of meaning. Beyond fascination with symbolism and secrecy, this ideal represents Freemasonry's highest contribution to U.S. life. Freemasons rejected a European past in which one overarching authority regulated the exchange of ideas. Washington, a freemason, in a letter to the congregation of a Rhode Island synagogue wrote: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For 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..." Freemasonry's most radical idea was the coexistence of different faiths within a single nation.