The Enlightenment Ideals of America's Founders

Why did George Washington wear an apron to lay the cornerstone of the United States Capitol in 1793?

As America's founders, Washington and his fellow Masons embraced their Enlightenment ideals when they donned the apparel and followed the rituals of Freemasonry.

Es siegte die Stärke
und krönet zum Lohn
die Schönheit und Weisheit
mit ewiger Kron'!

In the 18th century Freemasonry was a leading expression of Enlightenment ideals and attracted adherents from all walks of life in Europe and then America. Joseph Smith was a Mason, and so Mormon ritual shows Masonic influences.

Thus these ideals rebuked reactionary establishments -

whose orderly minority rule was threatened by the woke progressive free-thinking consciousness of the Enlightenment. Of course now we know that the Catholics - and the Nazis - and the Dixiecrats - had and have many more dark secrets and rituals than the Masons ever did.

If you look at American paper money, you see

In rural America, fraternal orders often provided life or at least burial insurance to their members. The rise of mass-market commercial life insurance companies reduced that particular incentive to joining. Like many other kinds of voluntary in-person organizations, fraternal orders are now struggling to find their footing in an urbanized world connected by fast internet and social media.

So what were those Enlightenment ideals that threatened minority rule?

From the Declaration of Independence -

And more generally -

The last point is important - the 18th century Masons, being human, had blind spots reflecting their times - many in America were slaveholders, and they really meant "men" rather than "people". But they expected truth to be a continuing revelation, that by diligent effort, they could understand more fully over time. The goal of Freemasonry is "to make good men better".

We can see that the same forces that opposed the Enlightenment in the 18th century are still at work today. There are plenty of governments today - Russia, China, North Korea, Iran being the worst examples - that

And there are plenty of kleptocratic faux-populist dictators hoping to move their countries in the same direction.

Most governments in most times and places have been directly opposed to the goals and methods of Enlightenment democracy. Such democracies are difficult to build and easy to destroy, as often from within as without. These Enlightenment ideals can only prevail when upheld as a precious inheritance by most members of a society.

Even now, prominent American political leaders announce that they are getting tired of democracy and tired of separation of church and state.

So the spirit of Maria Theresa - who might be the inspiration for the Queen of the Night in Mozart's Magic Flute - lives on in those leaders. Vladimir Putin, perhaps channeling her, no doubt nods his head, knowing exactly what those tired American leaders mean, and thinking up ways to encourage them.

So when we ask What's wrong with Trump and Trumpists and Trumpism? - it's not just high crimes and misdemeanors against the Constitution, or violent insurrection against the Capitol where Washington laid the cornerstone, or treasuring foreign dictators as friends, but above all mortal sins betraying the Enlightenment ideals of America's founders expressed in the Declaration of Independence and their other writings.

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