The following is a transcription of a speech given by the 2018 Master of Federal Lodge No. 1, WBro. Lawrence Von Weigel, and written by Bro. George Reader, the Secretary of Federal. The speech was given as part of the festivities surrounding the September 10th celebration of the 225th Anniversary of the founding of Federal Lodge No. 1 in 1793.
A Cornerstone Which We Still Build Upon:
The Quintessential Spirit of Federal Lodge
Rather than just scroll through a calendar recounting of our recorded milestones, I would like to present a parallel history that more importantly identifies what may be considered the quintessential spirit of this Lodge and how it evolved in an Exemplification of Tenets of the Craft.
Our Federal Founding Fathers were brought together on a muddy plot of land on the banks of the tidal Potomac to build a new structure in the new capital city of a new nation. They immigrated with their working tools as well as a sworn commitment to Brotherly Love, Tolerance, and Respect.
These men were craftsmen of stone and the related arts, but they were of two drastically different backgrounds. One group was Irish Catholic, the other was Scots Presbyterian. In the profane circumstances of the day, the normal interaction between those two groups would be more likely marked by arguments, insults, and physical confrontation rooted in the conviction of each group’s own cultural and moral superiority.
But one single differentiator separated these men from others of their national and religious origins. They were imbued with principles of Brotherly love, tolerance, and respect because they were beholden to the oaths and principles of Freemasonry. Based upon these cornerstones, these men came together to lend their crafts to give form to a new seat of government for a new People.
Having laid the cornerstone of the White House and undertaking its construction, these craftsmen organized as a chartered Lodge of Freemasons on September 12, 1793. Seven days later, they, with other Masons, accompanied President George Washington in the laying of the cornerstone of the United States Capitol.
For the next two decades, these Crafts’ Men gave form to the White House and the Capitol, the physical and iconic structures intended to house a government which was inspired by the principals of both the Enlightenment and Speculative Freemasonry.
In a literal sense, these Masons, exercising the tenets taught to them in a Mason’s Lodge, helped create the symbolic expression of our nation in Washington, DC. More importantly, by their laying down of cultural animosities and picking up their trowels to cement the bonds of Brotherhood, Federal’s Founding Fathers created the Quintessential Spirit of Federal Lodge No. 1.: Brotherly Love, Tolerance, Inclusion, Acceptance of Diversity, and the compelling desire to build within.
From those early years, and those beginnings, Federal built its history and in the process, led by example. In 1848, at a time when Native Americans were being removed from their land, killed and discriminated against, leading Cherokee Indian Chief William P Ross, received his degrees in Federal Lodge. The Brothers of Federal chose to look past the “red” skin of a man to find him deserving of being called Brother.
That tolerance and inclusiveness was repeated at the end of the 19th century. In a time when the government passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Federal Lodge rose above official and public forms of prejudice against Asians to confer the degrees in 1896 to Brother Chung Mun-yew, Chief of the Chinese Delegation to the U.S. Government. Later, a number of other Chinese Brothers were conferred degrees in 1898, 1903, and 1908. The spirit of Federal continued in an undiminished state.
In the 20th century, Federal Lodge, along with the nation, was ensnared in a post-Civil War white elitism that gripped the country for more than a century. Our Capital city and Freemasonry in general was not spared from these pervasive attitudes. After the explosion of the 1960’s riots and white flight to the suburbs, membership in the Craft declined precipitously, as did the fortunes of Federal Lodge. Through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, except for a few stalwart Brothers, little was done to maintain the fortunes of this Federal City and this Federal Lodge.
At last, nearly one hundred years after the raising of our Chinese Brethren, this Lodge conferred the degrees upon our first documented Black Brother in 1986. An occurrence that in retrospect would lead many today to ask: “What took so long”? But despite this progress, by 1990 this Lodge was nearing extinction.
We began by drawing new members primarily from the gay community. At that time, this action was considered scandalous and controversial and was considered by many fellow masons as completely un-masonic. In this period, a critical mass was attained that allowed this Lodge to grow exponentially. Coincidental with our rebirth, the bicentennial of Old Federal was celebrated.
It was also at this time we celebrated the election of our first Black Worshipful Master, who also happened to be gay. With these attainments the character of Federal Lodge’s tolerance, inclusiveness and diversity also experienced a Renaissance.
Thereafter, Federal reasserted its pre-eminence among the founding Lodges of our Grand Lodge, and the Lodge initiated substantial charitable events such as the Belmont Ball Series; which generated more than $100,000 for local charities.
Further, Federal Lodge committed to attaining perfection of Ritual and degree work, and we now inculcate among our new Brothers the venerable nature of this lodge that has had the good fortune of witnessing and influencing four centuries of American History.
In the generation since this renaissance, we have elected to the Craft men from various backgrounds, nationalities, religions, and lifestyles; creating an inclusive group of brothers who cherish tolerance and respect and love to be in joyful society with one another.
Today, the altar of Federal Lodge holds as many as five different Books of Sacred Law. Our Brothers are all colors of the Human Race, and not classified by colors. They represent all political views, they practice many professions of faith, and coexist while living and loving in both traditional and contemporary lifestyles.
Our Lodge took root during the creation of our Nation’s Capital itself. Our fortunes have risen and fallen in tandem with those of Washington, DC. Our Cornerstone consists of the work created by Irish of one religion, and Scots of another. They also created the foundations of this beautiful Brotherly Temple that is known as Federal Lodge No.1.
Today, we celebrate the 225th anniversary of our heritage. We honor the Brethren who have maintained and nurtured the Light of Freemasonry through their acts of Brotherly Love, Tolerance and Inclusion. We cherish our families and friends who are in this room or wherever they are dispersed. We look forward, with optimism and eagerness, to our future and to the work that lies before us. As Brothers, we have much to do together in emulation of our Founding Fathers.