Freemasons, Political Awareness, and Voice

Freemasons, Political Awareness, and Voice

In a recent “Today, Explained” podcast, the narrators were discussing the recent Supreme Court decisions involving arbitration and the American worker. In essence, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a 1925 law that stated that Corporations have the right to force arbitration (Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 is the name of the law) clauses into many, if not all, types of contracts, including those that involve a contract to work. What this does is overturn a New Deal-Era law (National Labor Relations Act of 1935) that stated that employees had the right to work in concert with each other for their mutual benefit.

What does this mean? No Class-Action lawsuits for employees when wrongfully treated by their employers. For the nitty-gritty details, the podcast is recommended. In general, it means that arbitration clauses can now be put into nearly any contract and are binding. Employees who have been sexually harassed, been denied wages, or otherwise wrongfully treated during employment must now seek arbitration for grievances rather than a lawsuit. Where this has the most implication is when there are many injured in the workplace but have little ability, financially or otherwise, to stop ongoing wrongful acts.

Many people and corporations think this is a good thing; law suits are a burden on more than just the plaintiff or defendant. They are a burden on the taxpayers and the court systems – sometimes causing far more difficulties than they solve. However, taken in the context of several court decisions in recent years, it should give the people of the United States something, perhaps, to consider. This decision, by the Supreme Court, in effect provides corporations with a great deal of power and the individual, the worker, with very little.

Like Citizen’s United, this is an example of corporate legal power leveraging the judicial system of the country to produce vast corporate influence on the American political andimg_0218-1 social landscape; in essence, corporations are circumventing the executive and legislative branches of government, and using the judicial system to create a very corporate-forward, individual-backward landscape.

People are often fond of saying that the United States is becoming an oligarchy, where government is the hands of a few people. What they are really trying to say, though, is that America has become a CorporatocracyEconomist Jeffery Sachs, in The Price of Civilization, stated that America is, in effect, a corporatocracy in which “powerful corporate interest groups dominate the policy agenda.” He gives four reasons for this being the case: 1) weak national political parties, 2) strong political representation of individual districts, 3) globalization weakening the power of employees, and 4) large corporations financing political campaigns for their own agendas.

A moment of reflection will give one enough fodder to at least question corporate influence in America. From sports arenas to libraries and entertainment centers, corporations have lent their funding, as well as views, to what we consume in America. From Citizen’s United ruling (see this well done video on the decision) to the fact that some companies are “too big to fail,” our government has come a long way from its roots of “We the People…”

Is a corporatocracy in keeping with the values of Freemasonry?

One might ask, what would our Masonic forefathers thought of the idea of Government by a small group of corporate entities? John Adams said, “Let us disappoint the men who would raise themselves upon the ruin of our country.” Yet, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying: “No nation was ever ruined by trade.”

Presidents over the centuries, Freemasons or not, have had something to say. U.S. President and Freemason Franklin Roosevelt stated, “No business is above Government; and Government must be empowered to deal adequately with any business that tries to rise above Government.” President Eisenhower said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

One might equate the “military-industrial complex” as perhaps a single, corporate power.

President Abraham Lincoln wrote – 

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. …corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.

~ (U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864, letter to Col. William F. Elkins, in The Lincoln Encyclopedia, by Archer H. Shaw)

Others throughout history have weighed in on the idea of corporations, from writers to inventors to even businessmen themselves.

Commerce is entitled to a complete and efficient protection in all its legal rights, but the moment it presumes to control a country, or to substitute its fluctuating expedients for the high principles of natural justice that ought to lie at the root of every political system, it should be frowned on, and rebuked.

~ James Fenimore Cooper, The American Democrat, 1838.

Great corporations exist only because they are created and safeguarded by our institutions; and it is therefore our right and our duty to see that they work in harmony with those institutions.

~ President and Freemason, Theodore Roosevelt, 1901, first annual message to Congress.

And finally, regarding Jefferson –

Thomas Jefferson, the man who wanted an amendment to the Constitution prohibiting monopoly, would be aghast at our billion-dollar corporations. Jefferson, who abolished primogeniture and entail in Virginia in order to prevent monopoly in land, would be appalled by our high percentage of tenancy. Jefferson as the man who dreaded the day when many of our citizens might become landless, would perhaps feel our civilization was trembling on the brink of ruin, if he were to find so many of our people without either land or tools, and subject to the hire and power of distant corporations. If the Jefferson of 1820 could see his name used by men crying `States’ rights!’ in order to protect not individual liberties but corporate property, then he would shudder.

~ Henry A. Wallace, November 17, 1937, former populist U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Vice-President of the United States.

The United States is a democratic republic, or a representative democracy, a sordid mix of Greek and Roman ideals, thrown together in some kind of weird experiment that has yet to play itself out. Yet, the overt goal in the foundation of this country was that the people themselves should have a say in the government of it – true individual representation – not the boards of directors of a few, extremely large and wealthy corporations. Corporations are not structured to be democratic nor a republic; they are in truth, oligarchies.

So, what is the United States? Is it any better or worse off than anywhere else in the world? Has the grand experiment worked to the satisfaction of our founding fathers,img_0213-1.jpg some of whom held the ideals of Freemasonry? The experiment is still very much a living organism.

Freemasonry itself is not a democracy; it is not a dictatorship, nor a republic. Each Master Mason has a vote, but not all Freemasons have a vote. Majority rules, not plurality. However, the Master of the Lodge is the voice of the Lodge, the final “say,” when it comes to matters of some Masonic jurisprudence – a sort-of dictator.

However, the Master of the Lodge does not always have the final say. He may be a tie-breaker in votes but he typically does not have a vote on general matters. But each Lodge is not an independent body; they tie back to either a Grand Lodge, Supreme Council, or other Supreme body governing the rules and regulations of their order. Each individual Lodge is represented to their Grand Lodge by a single vote made up of the votes of the Lodge. Therefore, the Lodge is a representative to the Grand Lodge for the individual, ergo a republic. If we’re not sure what the United States’ Government is, we may be just as confused as to the government of the system of Freemasonry.

Why bring all this up in a blog on philosophical debates of interest to Freemasons? This is not to stir the passions of partisanship or state that Freemasonry itself should be political. It is simply because Freemasons, especially within the United States, are inextricably linked to government. The motto of “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity’ are on the lips of every Freemason at one time or another, whether spoken in rote repetition or with true feeling. Freemasons should ask these hard and difficult questions in order to shape the world we live in as well as the groups to which they belong. We should be unafraid to discuss the ideals of government, religion, and all aspects of life.

While it is not within the purview of Freemasonry as an institution to take a political stance, should the Freemason make his individual voice heard, in representation of what he or she feels is liberty, equality, and fraternity?

Global governance is shifting, perhaps trying to find a new way of being. It behooves us, no matter what we believe in keeping, be it a corporatocracy, oligarchy, plutocracy, theocracy, democracy, or republic, to be the voices of what the future holds. This is something that perhaps Freemasons should discuss, in educated, philosophical terms, and let the debate ensue. No one creates in a vacuum and no one creates change without speaking up. New ways of thinking evolve from educated, passionate, and respectful debate. If Freemasons are working to be leaders within humanity, these discussions should be on their tongues and not remain in the shadows of their hearts. If those who are working toward the perfecting of humanity don’t speak up, and take responsibility for shaping their nations, then who?

Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father and Freemason

Benjamin Franklin: Founding Father and Freemason

Most Americans recognize Benjamin Franklin as one our Nation’s most influential Founding Fathers, but many do not realize that he was also a Freemason. In 1731, he joined the Masonic Lodge of St. John in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1732, Franklin helped to create the bylaws of his Lodge. By 1734 his hard work and dedication led him to the highest rank within the organization: Grand Master.  That year, Franklin also published the first Masonic book printed in America, The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, which was produced in Philadelphia. Devoted to Freemasonry, Franklin remained an active member for over sixty years until his death in 1790 at age 84. In 1776, he was sent to Paris to serve as America’s diplomat to France.  In France, he joined and became the Grand Master of the Nine Sisters Lodge in Paris.

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Franklin’s Early Life

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin was the fifteenth of seventeen children of his father, Josiah Franklin, and his mother, Abiah Folger, who was Josiah’s second wife. Like all his siblings, Benjamin was raised as a Christian. He attended the Boston Latin School until he decided to pursue a career as a journalist. Ending his formal education, he went to work as an apprentice printer for his brother, James Franklin: the creator of the first independent newspaper in the American colonies.  At the age of twenty-four, Benjamin was hired by the Pennsylvania Gazette, where he was able to both publish and write editorials for the local community. One of Benjamin’s defining characteristics was his seemingly insatiable desire for knowledge. He was driven by a love of learning that ultimately led him to become one of the best writers, statesmen, and scientists of his day.

Franklin’s Role as a Founding Father

A political expert, Benjamin Franklin, was recognized for his great wisdom and ingenuity by other influential Freemasons of his day, including Paul Revere, John Hancock, John Paul benjamin-franklin-drawing-electricity-from-the-sky-by-benjamin-west-1816-wcpdJones, and George Washington. Franklin felt personally responsible for his role in shaping America’s future and devoted much of his life to U.S. politics. At the time of his birth the future United States. existed solely as a small and dependent British colony. Assisting in the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence at the age of seventy, Franklin took great responsibly in leading the colony through the Continental Congress. He also signed the Treaty of Paris and the U.S. Constitution. Franklin was a visionary who worked with dedication to create a more perfect society in America: an intellectual and humane civilization.

Devoted Scientist and Inventor

A celebrated inventor, he created many things including: the lightning rod, the glass armonica, bifocal glasses, a flexible catheter, and the Franklin stove. His renowned work with electricity earned him the Copley Medal from the Royal Society. In 1743, Franklin created the scientific-based American Philosophical Society, which was instituted to help scientists discuss their experiments and discoveries.  Describing the society, Franklin writes, “The One Society be formed of Virtuosi or ingenious Men residing in the several Colonies, to be called The American Philosophical Society, who are to maintain a constant Correspondence.”

Franklin’s Faith in Freemasonry

St.JohnsLodgeFranklin held deep respect for the institution of Freemasonry and Freemasons. He explained his trust of Freemasons to his skeptical mother in a letter: “I assured her that they are in general a very harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners.”  He respected his Brothers for their peaceful ways, strong morals, and dedication to self-betterment.

Benjamin Franklin possessed a strong faith in God, “the Great Father,” and worked towards a universal Brotherhood of all mankind. He wrote, “Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, But that we did Good to our Fellow Creatures.”

Timeline of Ben Franklin’s Life

1706: Born on January 6, in Boston, MA.

1718: Apprenticed as a printer to his brother James Franklin

1724: Moved to London and worked in a London Printshop until 1726

1731: Became a Freemason joining St. John’s Lodge in Philadelphia

1732: Published his first Poor Richard’s Almanac

1734: Elected Grand Master of Pennsylvania

1737: Became Postmaster for Philadelphia

1743: Created the American Philosophical Society AmericanPhilosophicalSociety

1751: Elected to Pennsylvania Assembly; Published Experiments and Observations on Electricity

1753: Named Deputy Postmaster-General for North America

1754: Proposed a plan for Union of the Colonies

1756: Elected to Royal Society

1763: Sent to London representing Pennsylvania; Became unofficial spokesman for the Colonies

1766: Testified against the Stamp Act before the British House of Commons

1769: Elected President of the American Philosophical Society

1772: Elected to the French Academy of Sciences

1776: Assisted in Drafting and Signed the Declaration of Independence

1777: Negotiated French support for the U.S. War of Independence

1783: Signed treaty of peace with England

1787: Attended Constitutional Convention

1790: Died on April 17th in Philadelphia, PA.