We all know the admonition that “Religion and Politics are two topics never to be discussed in a Masonic Lodge.” You may also recall that Entered Apprentices are charged to to obey the law and never lose sight of the “allegiance due to your country.” Paradoxically, Masons are sometimes credited (or blamed) as a fraternity for the American Revolution. If a Masonic Lodge is not supposed to be a political organization, how could Masonic Lodges of the era support rising up against the British? On the surface it appears they did, and the circumstantial evidence to that effect happens to be something many Masons admit with pride: so many of this nation’s Founding Fathers and leaders in the American Revolution were brothers.
The Boston Tea Party is one of those events that you can find the strongest connection between a Lodge and a specific act of Rebellion. On December 16th, 1773, a group of patriots disguised as Mohawk Indians left the Green Dragon Tavern and headed to Boston Harbor to perpetrate the most famous act of vandalism committed by the Sons of Liberty. The meeting hall above the tavern is sometimes called the “headquarters of the American Revolution” by historians. It is also where the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (ancient) met, as well as St. Andrew’s Lodge – the Lodge where Brothers Revere, Hancock, and other suspected Tea-Party-goers were members.
So did the St. Andrew’s Lodge plan the Boston Tea Party? The minutes of their December 16th meeting state that they “closed on account of few members present” with only five brothers in attendance. Their earlier meeting on November 30th was also closed early “on account of few Brethren present” with the note – “Consignees of Tea took up the Brethren’s time.” This is the only mention of the Tea issue in the Lodge’s minutes – as the entire town was riled up over the shipment of tea that had arrived the day before on the 29th.
Joseph Fort Newton tells us in The Builders (1919) that the affair was not planned by the St. Andrew’s Lodge itself, but rather by a club within the Lodge called the Caucus Pro Bono Publico. We also learn from The Builders that Henry Puckett used to say that he was “present at the famous Tea Party as a spectator, and in disobedience to the order of the Master of the Lodge, who was actively present.”
Not every member of St. Andrew’s Lodge was in favor of the act. Like many lodges of the time, some members were Loyalists. It was noted that most members of that lodge were actually Tories. Nor was every act of rebellion approved of by every Mason. Brother John Rowe (who owned one of the vessels involved in the Tea Party) wrote in his diary that the dumping of the tea was “a disastrous affair.” Brother Rowe also served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (modern). Benjamin Franklin called it “an act of violent injustice” and even offered to pay for the tea himself. It is tough today to find a lodge able to achieve unanimity on some issues, and it doesn’t seem reasonable that a lodge of that era in that climate could do so on such a fiery topic. Masons were involved – but it is highly doubtful that it was orchestrated by the Lodge itself.
What about the individual Brothers involved? While the the Old Charges admonish a brother to be a “peacable subject to the Civil Powers,” they also state that “if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State… if convicted of no other Crime… they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his relation to it remains indefeasible.” -CAR