The concept of ‘frontier’ is in many ways unique when applied to America. The word evokes not only geography but subsumes culture, politics, and economics. And there are psychological components too, with ‘frontier’ embodying the notion of America’s manifest destiny, a controversial idea that continental expansionism was a function of and justified by the supposed exceptional virtues of its settlers and institutions. The word touches on the paradigm of sacred redemption: that the frontier was the locus of a second spiritual awakening in nineteenth-century America and the beginning of a new age. Freemasonry’s role within this construct was on occasion considerable. But it was neither uniform in nature nor consistent over time.
Freemasonry was brought to America in the 1720s and 1730s in much the same form as it was then practised in England, where many lodges were relatively exclusive, and in its formative years American Freemasonry followed the same broad patterns. The Craft was considered to embody Enlightenment ideals, promoting religious toleration and advancing a commitment to education in the arts and sciences. It also benefited from a traditional history deemed to date back to time immemorial.
American Freemasonry, like that in Britain, altered significantly over the following decades as the mores of its members and leaders changed and a more accessible style of freemasonry became the norm. There was also an additional factor: Prince Hall Freemasonry.
The essays below are taken from QC’s Freemasonry on the Frontier (2021):