BROTHER BENJAMIN FRANKLIN led a remarkable life. He was born in the city of Boston, Massachusetts, on January 6, 1706. He was a revolutionary, a scientist, an inventor, a statesman, and a Mason.
He was most probably initiated in 1731 in the St. John’s Lodge at Philadelphia. In 1734 he was elected Grand Master of the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; and in November of the same year Franklin applied to Henry Price, who had received from England authority to establish Masonry in this country, for a confirmation of those powers conferred by the first deputation of warrant.
It is probable that the request was granted, although no record of the fact can be found. In 1734, Brother Franklin edited an edition of Anderson’s Constitutions, which was probably the first Masonic work published in America.
In 1743, He was appointed Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania by Thomas Oxnard, who, also on that same year, was appointed Grand Master of all North America.
While Franklin was in France as the Ambassador from this country, he appears to have taken much interest in Masonry.
He affiliated with the celebrated Lodge of the Nine Sisters, of which Lalande, Count de Gebelin, and other celebrities of French Literature, were members.
He took a prominent part in the initiation of Voltaire, and on the French philosopher’s death, acted as Senior Warden of the Lodge of Sorrow held in his memory.
The Lodge of the Nine Sisters held Brother Franklin in such esteem that it struck a medal in his honor, of which a copy, supposed to be the only one now in existence, belongs to the Provincial Grand Lodge of Mecklenburg.
But if Ben Franklin was such an active Mason, why didn’t he mention the Fraternity in his Autobiography, and why wasn’t he buried with Masonic honors?
In Prof. Steven Bullock’s book entitled “Revolutionary Brotherhood,” he proposed that the answer lies on the fact that Brother Franklin was affiliated with the Grand Lodge of Moderns.
The first Ancient’s lodge was formed in Philadelphia in 1757, and by the end of the Revolutionary War, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania was controlled by Ancients.
According to Bullock: “By the time Franklin returned from England for good in 1785, he could not enter a Pennsylvania Lodge. The Grand Lodge he had headed no longer existed, and its past grand master could not even set foot in a lodge room without a ceremony of ‘healing’ to convert him from an unacceptable Modern Mason into an Ancient brother.”
While he never said anything explicitly, Brother Franklin probably disassociated himself from the Ancients, and they refused to acknowledge or bury “an unacceptable Modern Mason.”
Thus, we see the bitter fruits of pride and rigid legalism.
On his impression about Freemasonry, Bro. Franklin wrote:
“Freemasonry has tenets peculiar to itself.
They serve as testimonials of character and qualifications,
which are only conferred after due course of instruction and examination.
These are of no small value; they speak a universal language, and act as a passport
to the attentions and support of the initiated in all parts of the world.
They cannot be lost as long as memory retains its power.
Let the possessor of them be expatriated, shipwrecked or imprisoned,
let him be stripped of everything he has got in the world,
still those credentials remain, and are available for use as circumstances require.
The good effects they have produced are established by the most incontestable facts of history.
They have stayed the uplifted hand of the destroyer;
they have softened the asperities of the tyrant;
they have mitigated the horrors of captivity;
they have subdued the rancour of malevolence;
and broken down the barriers of political animosity and sectarian alienation.
On the field of battle, in the solitudes of the uncultivated forest,
or in the busy haunts of the crowded city, they have made men of the most hostile feelings,
the most distant regions, and diversified conditions, rush to the aid of each other, and feel a special joy and satisfaction that they have been able to afford relief to a Brother Mason.”
— Benjamin Franklin