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Builders of Empire: Freemasons and British Imperialism, 1717-1927

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2007

    BUILDERS OF EMPIRE

    'Builders of Empire' is a refreshing new book on Freemasonry by Jessica L. Harland-Jacobs, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Florida. This is a meticulously researched book which sets the record straight on the propagation of the fraternity in the 18th and 19th centuries and links it to British imperialism '1717-1927'. Its intent is to demonstrate the social impact Freemasonry has had on the civilized world. Freemasons are portrayed as crusaders for modern civilization. Consequently, Masons were either envied or viewed with disdain for their influence. As a history book, it doesn't try to interpret Masonic motives, but simply observes the facts. Dr. Harland-Jacobs' style of writing is reminiscent of the works of historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. This is not a novel but an interesting thesis on the symbiotic relationship between the spread of Freemasonry and the rise of the British Empire. Included are descriptions of the colonization of Freemasonry in North America, the Caribbean, India, Australasia, and South Africa. The author is not overly concerned about the esoteric side of Freemasonry, but it is obvious she grasps the significance of our customs 'handshakes and passwords' and degree work. As a non-Freemason she shows a remarkable grasp of what the fraternity is about which, to me personally, is very encouraging. The book discusses in detail the differences between the 'Ancients' and the 'Moderns,' the development and impact of the Regimental Lodges in the British Army, the role of women, the development of Prince Hall Masonry, class distinctions within the fraternity 'elite versus working class', the concept of the 'Empire Grand Lodge,' and much more. In particular, I found the discussion of how the Grand Lodges were forced to adapt to changing times most interesting. For example, issuing warrants to allow Regimental Lodges to meet, coordinating communications between the Grand Lodges of Ireland, Scotland, and England, and how the 'Ancients' and the 'Moderns' ultimately merged. Had the Grand Lodges not adapted, they would have surely perished. The book debunks the myths of the fraternity and shows it for what it is and isn't. As such, it shoots down the arguments of the conspiracy theorists as promoted by the anti-Masons. Its nice to see someone who has honestly done their homework and 'gets it.' The book is written more as a college text book than as a rambling novel. If Dr. Harland-Jacobs uses this in the classroom, it bodes well for the fraternity. This book should be considered as must reading for all Freemasons, particularly Grand Lodge officers, and I believe we are indebted to Dr. Harland-Jacobs for reminding us of the greatness the fraternity once was and could be again if we truly thought of it as a universal concept. Actually, her book left me wanting more, such as a follow-up book as to the rise and fall of Freemasonry in the 20th century.

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