January 20, 2021 marks the 59th inauguration of the President of the United States--a ceremony that began over 232 years ago when George Washington took the oath of office to become the country's first chief executive. While his inauguration occurred at Federal Hall in New York City, ensuing inaugurations after 1801 were hosted in the District of Columbia at the United States Capitol. As we celebrate this time-honored tradition, let's take a look back several Masonic moments and people who helped shape past inaugurations.
New York Chancellor, and Grand Master, Robert Livingston administered the first Oath of Office for George Washington on April 30, 1789. Without a Bible readily available for Washington to take his oath, Jacob Morton, the Marshall for the Inaugural Parade and Master of St. John's Lodge No. 1, offered to fetch his lodge's Bible, which was only a few blocks away in the lodge. Livingston agreed and Morton loaned the Bible for the ceremony. The relic has since been used by other Presidents including Harding (1921), Eisenhower (1953), Carter (1977), and George H. W. Bush (1989) during their inaugurations.
The tradition of an inaugural gala or ball can be traced back to 1809 when First Lady Dolly Madison hosted an event following her husband's swearing-in ceremony. The gala occurred at the Long Hotel in Washington, D.C. and guests paid $4 per ticket to attend. Over four hundred guests attended the special event.
In 1833, during President Andrew Jackson's second inauguration, the Grand Lodge's masonic hall served as the venue for one of two inaugural balls. Jackson, a Past Grand Master of Tennessee, became an honorary member of Federal Lodge No. 1 of DC during his first administration on January 4, 1830. The masonic hall served as the site for another inaugural ball a decade later for President William H. Harrison. The Grand Lodge's decision likely raised a few eyebrows amongst the local masons as Harrison first rose to national prominence as a Presidential candidate for the Anti-Masonic Party.
Commissioner of Public Buildings, and Past Grand Master of the District of Columbia, Benjamin B. French served as the Chief Marshall of President Lincoln's inauguration parade. French became a close advisor to the President and First Lady during their time in Washington, D.C. He joined Lincoln at the Gettysburg battlefield dedication and even developed a song for the occasion. As Commissioner of Public Buildings, French oversaw the completion of the US Capitol dome and the funeral for his beloved President and friend.
While Garfield received the masonic degrees in Ohio, it was in Washington, D.C. while serving in congress when the future President became very active in Freemasonry. Garfield not only joined a masonic lodge but became an active member in the York and Scottish Rite appendant bodies. When Garfield won the Presidential election in 1880, he invited his own Knights Templar commandery, Columbia No. 2, to serve as his personal honor guard during his inauguration. Columbia remained at his side throughout his short tenure as President and even escorted the President's remains to his final resting place in Ohio.
The tragic explosion in Beirut, Lebanon has touched the lives of many members of our fraternity there. In cooperation with the other jurisdictions operating in Lebanon in amity with the Grand Lodge of DC, namely the Grand Lodge of Scotland and the Grande Loge Nationale Française, we have launched a website FACT (Fraternal Assistance Crisis Team) Lebanon, for those who to seek to understand the devastation there, our proposed response, and ultimately to give those who wish, a means to assist our distressed Brethren in Lebanon. To see details on the fund, its organization, and how contributions will be dispersed, please see this fact sheet. U.S.-based donations can be made through the Masonic Foundation of DC using THIS LINK.
Please visit and contribute, if you can.
To donate by check, please make payable to The DC Masonic Foundation and mail to:
The DC Masonic Foundation
5428 MacArthur Blvd. NW
Washington, DC 20016-2524
In the memo section, please write: "Beirut Relief Fund"
One of my favorite quotes of all time is from President and Brother Theodore Roosevelt. During a 1910 speech in France entitled “Citizenship in a Republic,” he said:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
While these words always seem to push me to do better, they are especially poignant in a crisis. There are Brothers and non-Brothers alike who are providing vital services for our nation and the world, but not everyone can serve so actively. So, for everyone out there who wants to get involved but doesn’t know how, I would like to take this opportunity to highlight other ways you can utilize this time to “step into the arena” and help as our nation continues to fight this COID-19 epidemic.
As Masons, we look to serve. We serve each other, our communities, and the world. Every year, Masons give millions to charities and donation countless hours of their time volunteering. It is at the core of our being “good and true”. That is needed now, more than ever, and everyone, from the newest Entered Apprentice to the most senior Past Master, can participate.
By Jason Van Dyke, PM
Managing Editor & Past Master, The Colonial Lodge No. 1821
Everything in Masonry has a meaning: from the words we use in Lodge to the very furniture and how it is arranged. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that one of the most overlooked pieces of furniture in the Lodge has a deep and profound meaning hidden inside of it – the mace, or Marshal’s baton.
While you might not have noticed before, similar tools are carried by officials at universities, in religious ceremonies, and in governmental organizations; the Baton (military), staff (often religious), scepter (royalty), or swagger stick (lower rank military) are all important pieces of the uniform of these functionaries. While they are all slightly different, for the most part they all symbolize the same thing as our Marshal’s baton – the authority and strength of the institution.
The tradition of carrying this symbol probably started ancient Greece or Minoa. But it is most familiar to us from the Roman Empire. There, the fasces was carried by lictors, sort of the Roman version of the Secret Service. The fasces was made of a bundle of birch sticks bound together by red ribbon or leather straps, and sometimes included an axe in the middle. In this configuration, the bundle of sticks symbolized strength in numbers, or the will of the Roman people made manifest, and the axe symbolized the power of capital punishment that the Roman police had. In fact, the fasces is still a common symbol used today in many republics, and you can see it displayed in buildings everywhere here in the District of Columbia as a symbol of the power and authority of the U.S. Government.
ecumenically, as well—in this case, it was called a virge or beadle (or mazzieri, in the Pope’s case) and was carried in front of church processions, sometimes being used to clear the way of animals or unruly crowds of parishioners.
For Masons, it was this implied threat of defensive violence that lead to the mace being seen as a symbol of independence to forces outside the Lodge, and as a sign of corporeal punishment to those who dared question the authority of the Master inside the Lodge. (While we are not aware of a mace/baton ever actually being used in Lodge for this purpose, we are reasonably sure every Master from the start of time has actively contemplated using it several times per meeting.)