THIS is one of the most important and significant symbols in Freemasonry. As such, it is proper that its true form should be preserved.
The French Masons have almost universally given it with one leg longer than the other, thus making it a carpenter’s square.
The American Masons, following the incorrect delineations of Jeremy L. Cross, have, while generally preserving the equality of length in the legs, unnecessarily marked its surface with inches; thus, making it an instrument for measuring length and breadth, which it is not.
It is simply the “trying square” of a stonemason, and has a plain surface: the sides or legs embracing an angle of ninety degrees, and is intended only to test the accuracy of the sides of a stone, and to see that its edges subtend the same angle.
In Freemasonry, it is a symbol of morality. This is its general signification and is applied in various ways:
1. It presents itself to the neophyte as one of the three great lights;
2. To the Fellow-Craft as one of his working tools;
3. To the Master Mason as the official emblem of the Master of the Lodge.
Everywhere, however, it inculcates the same lesson of morality, of truthfulness, of honesty. So universally accepted is this symbolism that it has gone outside of the Order, and has been found in colloquial language communicating the same idea.
Square, says Halliwell (Dictionary of Archaisms), means honest, equitable, as in “square dealing.” To “play upon the square” is proverbial for “to play honestly.” In this sense the word is found in the works of the old writers.
As a Masonic symbol, it is of very ancient date, and was familiar to the Operative Masons.
In 1830, the architect, in rebuilding a very ancient bridge called Baal Bridge, near Limerick, in Ireland, found under the foundation-stone an old brass square, much eaten away, containing on its two surfaces the following inscription:
“I WILL STRIVE TO LIVE – WITH LOVE & CARE – UPON THE LEVEL – BY THE SQUARE,” and the date “1517.”
The modern Speculative Mason will recognize the idea of “living on the level and by the square.” This discovery proves, if proof were necessary, that the familiar idea was borrowed from our Operative brethren of former days.
The square, as a symbol in Speculative Masonry, has therefore presented itself from the very beginning of the revival period.
In the very earliest catechism of the last century, in 1725, we find the answer to the question, “How many make a Lodge?” is “God and the Square, with five or seven right or perfect Masons.”
God and the Square, religion and morality, must be present in every Lodge as governing principles. Signs at that early period were to be made by squares, and the furniture of the Lodge was declared to be the Bible, Compasses, and Square.
In all rites and in all languages where Masonry has penetrated, the square has preserved its primitive signification as a symbol of morality.