Ancients or Moderns? Reflections on the Genesis of American Freemasonry

Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:50 AM
Room 311/312 (Hilton Atlanta)
Richard Berman, Oxford Brookes University
American freemasonry was created in the mould of the Grand Lodge of London & Westminster, later the Grand Lodge of England, and initially reflected the pro-establishment mores of its founders, providing its affluent upper middling members with an exclusive blend of ‘ancient’ ritual, fraternal association and drinking and dining.  But from the late 1750s and 1760s, the organisation split, a division not based more on social differences that political differences – loyalist against patriot.

Dr Berman’s paper traces the debt American fraternalism owes to the more egalitarian and inclusive Irish form of freemasonry, pushed not only by the Grand Lodge of Ireland but by the more aggressive Antients Grand Lodge, formed in London in 1751 and shaped by London’s Irish diaspora, especially Laurence Dermott, its pioneering and long-serving Grand Secretary and later Deputy Grand Master.  

Antients freemasonry became a locus for the aspirational lower middling rather than the incumbent social and political elites, and developed a powerful social and economic function, providing mutual financial assistance and an accessible social infrastructure for those seeking self-betterment.  It extended formal sociability beyond the elites to create one of the first modern friendly societies and, in an American context, took over the mantle of revolutionary Enlightenment politics in the upswing to the War of Independence.