This Day In History: June 24

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On June 24, 1717, members of four local Masonic lodges—all part of a secret society of Masons—meet at the Goose and Gridiron alehouse in London’s St. Paul’s Churchyard to create the first Grand Lodge as their collective governing body. Known initially as the Grand Lodge of London and Westminster, it will evolve into today’s United Grand Lodge of England.

Six years after its founding, in 1723, the Grand Lodge published The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, a book “whose Enlightenment principles provide the philosophical foundations of modern Freemasonry,” according to the United Grand Lodge of England website.

The Enlightenment, an intellectual and philosophical movement that valued reason over superstition and the rights of individuals over the rule of monarchs, took hold in Europe in the 18th century and became a major force behind both the American and French revolutions. The Freemasons, who trace their roots to the stone masons of the Middle Ages, were one of several secret societies that came to prominence around that time.

In 1734, Benjamin Franklin, an enthusiastic Mason, reprinted the book in the American colonies. According to historian Gordon S. Wood, Franklin “remained a Mason throughout his life. Not only was Masonry dedicated to the promotion of virtue throughout the world, but this Enlightenment fraternity gave Franklin contacts and connections that helped him in his business.”

Franklin wasn’t alone. George Washington, Paul Revere, and an untold number of signers of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are believed to have been Freemasons. Precise numbers are hard to pin down because of the secrecy surrounding the group.

Today in addition to the original Grand Lodge in England, there are Grand Lodges throughput the world, including more than 80 in the United States.