How did Freemasonry Influence the Design of Washington, D.C.?

How did Freemasonry Influence the Design of Washington, D.C.?

Among the cities of the United States, Washington D.C. rises above all others in its unique and complex design. Disregarding a strict grid plan that was common during the time, the architects of our Nation’s Capitol had a grand vision developed upon an elaborate pattern of diagonal avenues and traffic circles.  The city is a representation of unity as it symbolically brought together the union of the thirteen colonies struggling for independence.

L’Enfant’s Design

Map_of_Washington_D.CThe District of Columbia was the unique design to Pierre Charles L’Enfant: a frenchman who came to America to fight against the British in the Revolutionary War and became George Washington’s trusted confidant. Like Washington, L’Enfant was a Freemason, initiated into Holland Lodge No. 8 in New York City in 1789.

Established in 1790 as an Act of Congress, Washington D.C. was established and authorized as the federal district. With an eye towards unifying the thirteen colonies, D.C. was located along the Potomac River between the northern and southern states. L’Enfant designed the city from a blank canvas: putting to a paper his vision of a grand capital of wide avenues, public squares, and inspiring buildings. The designer’s centerpiece was a great public walk, known today as the National Mall, from Capitol Hill to the Potomac River. Historians note the egalitarian nature of L’Enfant’s design signalling to the world that all citizens were to have equal access to the Nation’s Capitol.

Washington D.C.: “As Above, so Below”

Washington D.C. has been mapped as an earthly reflection of the celestial canopy above, designed with over thirty different zodiacs matching the constellations in the sky. In the National Academy of Sciences, twelve of the zodiacs are displayed in relief on the metal doors of the building. The Federal Reserve Board Building adds an additional two zodiacs designed in glass which glow with light. The Library of Congress Building displays another five zodiacs, as do many other important buildings in Washington D.C.

Crucial to L’Enfant’s Design was Pennsylvania Avenue which stretched a mile west from the Capitol to the White House, which coincidently is oriented to the rising and movement across the sky of the star Sirius. Using Dupont and Logan circles as northern points, one can trace various interlocking streets to form a star, including the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Latrobe, Architect of the U.S. Capitol Building

Although the cornerstone laying ceremony was held in 1793, the construction began in earnest on the U.S. Capitol when President Thomas Jefferson appointed Benjamin Henry Latrobe, Director of Public Works and set him to work as Architect of the U.S. Capitol. Latrobe was initiated in the Lodge of Antiquity No. 2, London in 1788. When he came to the United States, he affiliated with Lodge No. 54 in Richmond, Virginia. By 1814, the Capitol was almost complete when the British burned the structure as well as many of the other public buildings in D.C. From 1815 to 1817, Latrobe was engaged in rebuilding the Capitol, which rose like a Phoenix from the ashes on its original site.  U.S. Historian Talbot Hamlin wrote, “Aesthetically the entire structure is essentially Latrobe’s. . . . In this great building, then, Latrobe set the basic tone and established a standard for government building which was to persist for generations.”

Timeline of the Construction of Washington D.C.

  • 1783: The U.S. Constitution includes a provision for the construction of a federal city to be the permanent seat of the US federal government.
  • 1790: The Residence Act implementenational-malld the Constitution. Washington gives to Pierre-Charles L’Enfant the mission of designing and laying out the new capital on a virgin diamond-shape land.
  • 1803: Construction began on the U.S. Capitol Building, with Latrobe as Architect.
  • 1847: The Smithsonian Institution is established by Congress.
  • 1848: Construction of the Washington Monument began, which was not completed until 1884.
  • 1901: The McMillan Plan revived the L’Enfant Plan, with the implementation of the National Mall. A shared goal of L’Enfant and McMillan Plans was to let air and light reach the pedestrian level, an egalitarian design for all Americans.  
  • 1922: The Lincoln Memorial is built. In the first decades of the 20th century, some lands were reclaimed from the Potomac River, in order to expand L’Enfant Plan by building waterfront parks and new monuments.

Freemasonic Influence

Freemasons have laid a cornerstone in most, if not all, of the major buildings in Washington, D.C.  On September 18, 1793, President George Washington conducted the laying of the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol. The newspaper of the day reported: “On Wednesday, one of the grandest Masonic processions took place, for the purpose of laying the corner-stone of the Capitol of the United States, which, perhaps, was ever exhibited on the like important occasion. About ten o’clock Lodge No. 9 was visited by that congregation so graceful to the craft, Lodge No. 22, of Virginia, with all their officers and regalia; and directly afterward appeared on the southern bank of the Grand River Potomack one of the finest companies of volunteer artillery that has been lately seen, parading to receive the President of the United States… The President of the United States and his attendant brethren ascended from the cavazion to the east of the corner-stone and there the Grand Master, pro tem., elevated on a triple rostrum, delivered an oration fitting the occasion, which was received with brotherly love and commendation.”

Perhaps, it should be of no surprise that Freemasonry, an organization constructed around the symbolic power of metaphor connecting architecture and art, should have had such a significant impact on the planning and building of the District of Columbia. It is estimated that approximately 28 of the 40 signers of the U.S. Constitution were Freemasons, including George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. Ultimately, Washington D.C. encapsulates many a secret which is no secret revealed through the Masonic influences on the architecture, sculptures, and the overall design of our nation’s Capital, awaiting only the open eyes of an individual ready for such a revelation.



Come let me lead thee o’er this second Rome

This embryo capital, where Fancy sees

Squares in morasses, obelisks in trees;

which second-sighted seers, ev’n now, adorn,

with shrines unbuilt and heros yet unborn.

–  “To Thomas Hume, from the City of Washington” by Thomas Moore


 

Dharma, Duty, and Freemasonry: Part I

Dharma, Duty, and Freemasonry: Part I

WE all have duties, which we are responsible for in life, although some may not ascribe these responsibilities that term. We are responsible for the well-being of families and our own self-improvement. Many of us would say that we have a duty of service to our community or even to humanity as a whole. “Duty” is an important concept in Freemasonry and can be viewed or defined in two basic ways:

  1. a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility, commitment, or allegiance.
  2. a task or action that someone is required to perform.

The first definition speaks to a higher concept – an attitude of reverence or respect in the cause of fidelity. The second definition is more concrete and delineates a specific action one is required to perform. What duties do we owe in life, and do these duties circumscribe our personal Dharma?

What is Dharma?

Dharma is an integral concept in many eastern religions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sikhism. In Hinduism, Dharma has been defined as a spiritual law, which governs the necessary conduct of each individual. While there is no direct, one-word translation in the English language, Dharma can be described as duty, morality, virtues, or calling.

Nothing is higher than Dharma. The weak overcomes the stronger by Dharma, as over a king. Truly that Dharma is the Truth (Satya); therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, “He speaks the Dharma”; and if he speaks Dharma, they say, “He speaks the Truth!” For both are one. — Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, 1.4.xiv

Dharma signifies behaviors that are in accord with Rta, (i.e., the order that upholds the universe). In the Vedic religion, Ṛta (ऋत, “order, rule; truth”) is the principle of natural order which regulates and coordinates the operation of the universe and everything within it. Those ordinances, or life paths, which upholds Rta, are referred to as Dharma, and the action of the individual in relation to those ordinances is referred to as Karma. Ṛta – as an ethical principle – is linked with the notion of cosmic retribution.

A central concept of the Ṛig Veda (an important Hindu Scripture) is that created beings fulfill their true natures when they follow the path set for them by the ordinances of Ṛta, and failing to follow those ordinances was thought to be responsible for the appearance of various forms of calamity and suffering. Committing one’s actions to the governance of Ṛta, referred to as its “Dharma“, was therefore understood as imperative in ensuring one’s own well-being. Karma (lit., “action”) refers to the works one performs, which can occur either in congruence with or in opposition to Dharma – and thus, to Ṛta – and which are posited to stand in a causal relationship to the pains and pleasures one experiences in life. Described also as a “law of moral causation,” Karma places the responsibility for one’s life on the shoulders of the individual. Thus, an individual’s circumstances in life – calamity or fortune – are considered the outcome of that person’s past actions.

Determining One’s Duty: Aspects of Dharma

There are aspects of Dharma that apply to everyone (universal Dharma) and aspects that are specific to each individual (personal Dharma). In order to be in accordance with Rta, one first needs to cultivate certain universal moral principles including:

Dhriti: Perseverance Dhi: Reasoning
Kshama: Patience Vidya: Wisdom
Dama: Self-control Satya: Truthfulness
Shauch: Purity Asteya: Refraining from Theft
Indriya Nigrah: Control of One’s Senses Akrodha: Absence of Anger

Such moral principles are part of the universal application of Dharma, which apply to every individual and is referred to as sadharana Dharma. This is augmented by a person’s specific Dharma, which is impacted by three factors: 1) Gunas: Individual Tendencies, 2) Ashrams: Stages of Life, and 3) Syadharma: One’s Personal Calling.

The Gunas: Tendencies of Each Individual

“What is action; what inaction? Even the wise are hereby perplexed. It is needful to discriminate action, unlawful action, and inaction; mysterious is the path of action” – Bhagavad Gita, iv. 16-17

 The concept of Gunas is based on the idea that all human beings have a mixture of three tendencies: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas.

  • Sattva: Tendency towards Truth and Purity
  • Rajas: Tendency towards Action
  • Tamas: Tendency towards Inaction, Obstruction, or Ignorance

Gunas, or individual tendencies, are expanded upon by their application to Varnas – or groups within the Hindu social structure – based on the recognition of the difference in individual tendencies and sort all members into one of four categories. Thus, each group follows a different life path and is assigned different duties.    

The Varnas: Groups Within Society

Varnas are groups within society, including Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, and Shudras.

Brahmins: Priests, Scholars, and Teachers
  1. Predominant tendency: Sattva (Righteous and Purity)
  2. Duties: Control of the mind and the senses, austerity, purity, forbearance, and also uprightness, knowledge, realization, belief in a hereafter
  3. Action: study the Vedas, live according to Vedic principles, and share that knowledge
  4. Form the head of the cosmic being: As they make up the Mouth: Relay Truth

Kshatriyas: Rulers, Warriors, and Statesmen

  1. Predominant tendency: Rajas (Quick to take action)
  2. Duties: Prowess, boldness, fortitude, dexterity, and also not flying from battle, generosity and sovereignty
  3. Action: Protect righteousness
  4. Arms: Protect Truth
Vaishyas: Businessmen, Bankers, Merchants, and Farmers
  1. Mix of the tendencies of Sattva (Truth) and Rajas (Action)
  2. Duty: Agriculture and Trade
  3. Action: Meet the material needs of society without over indulging
  4. Thighs: Provide Material wealth
Shudras: Custodians, Laborers, and Service Providers
  1. Predominant Tendency: Tamas (Inaction)
  2. Duty: Service
  3. Action: Support the other activities of the other groups
  4. Feet: Provide Support

These classifications were once the basis of the Caste system in India and other nations. Based on the Caste or class someone was born into, these classifications cemented the person’s opportunities and social status. This is no longer the case in India, but it does highlight the past subjection of certain people based on their circumstances at birth. This raises the interesting question: Is one’s future predetermined at birth? Are we born with certain qualities [Gunas] which influence our life path, duties, or Dharma?

To be continued…


This is Part I of a two part series on Dharma, Duty, and Freemasonry. Readers can view the second installment here: Part II.