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Today In Masonic History

Benjamin Franklin Is Born!
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin

On This day in Masonic History Benjamin Franklin is born in 1706.

Benjamin Franklin was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America and a polymath, a person who is recognized as an expert in multiple fields.

Franklin was born on January 17th, 1706 in Boston, Massachusetts. Franklin’s parents wanted him to join the clergy, although they only had enough money to send him to school for two years. He attended the Boston Latin School, although he never graduated. From the age of 10, Franklin was essentially self-educated. At the age of 12, he took an apprenticeship with his older brother who was a printer. Despite his lack of formal education, Franklin dedicated himself to his own education and for others.

In 1721, Franklin’s brother founded The New-England Courant newspaper. Franklin wanted to publish letters, opinion pieces he wrote, in the Courant. When his brother refused, Franklin sent the letters in under the name of Silence Dogood, a middle-aged widow. Franklin wrote several letters and caused a stir in town by the subject of some of the letters. When Franklin’s brother found out it was his younger brother he was furious.

In 1722, Franklin’s brother was arrested for printing unflattering information about the Governor. Franklin for a brief time ran the paper. In 1723, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, technically he was a fugitive because he left his apprenticeship without the permission of his brother.

Once in Philadelphia, Franklin made connections with a variety of people as he worked in a print shop. Within a few months of arriving in Philadelphia, the Governor of Pennsylvania asked Franklin to go to London and see about purchasing equipment for a new newspaper in Philadelphia. The Governors support fell through and Franklin ended up taking a job in London. He did not return until 1726. The three years Franklin spent in London had an influence on him. The Enlightenment was in full swing in the coffeehouses around London and Franklin happily participated in the conversations of the day.

In 1727, after returning to Philadelphia, Franklin started the Junto a group of like-minded tradesmen and artisans who were hoping to better themselves and the people around them through open discussions and reading the books of the time. Since most of the members of Junto had little money, at Franklin’s suggestion, they formed the books they all owned into one library for their mutual education. Later he formed a subscription library, which became the Library Company of Philadelphia. The Library Company is now one of the great scholarly and research libraries.

Franklin also worked in the newspaper business. With the Philadelphia Gazette, Franklin formed a basic network of newspapers from various different colonies, the first such network of its kind. Franklin also used the Gazette for agitation for local reform as well.

Franklin had an illegitimate son named William Franklin. Most notably, William during the American Revolution was a staunch loyalist and Governor of New Jersey. This caused a great rift between father and son, which was never resolved. Although there is some indication Ben did reach out to William.

Although Franklin wrote a variety of things, his most famous is his Poor Richard’s Almanac. The almanac included witty gems such as “Fish and visitors stink in three days” and the often misquoted “A penny saved is twopence dear.” Daylight Savings Time is often attributed to Franklin, although this is something of a myth and is based on a satirical publication by Franklin.

Franklin was fascinated with the natural sciences and often was involved in experiments. His experiments with lightning led to the creation of the Lightning Rod, although in Europe it was banned for many years as the church declared it was not possible to control the elements of nature and it was sacrilege to try. Franklin also worked in the fields of Meteorology, he conducted experiments with cooling and evaporation, Oceanography, Music, and a variety of other disciplines.

Franklin also worked in the area of Civil Service. He formed one of the first volunteer fire departments in America and he was the Post Maser of Philadelphia. He helped form places of higher learning, as well as libraries around the American colonies.

Franklin entered the political arena as the American colonies drew closer to the Revolutionary War. He was a delegate to the Second Continental Congress and was on the Committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He made “small but important” additions to the document Thomas Jefferson sent him. He famously said in response to John Hancock, who had said they must all hang together, “Yes, we must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”

Throughout Franklin’s life, he was a proponent of Freedom of Speech. He recognized the open exchange of ideas and philosophies was critical to any Free Society.

Franklin spent much of the Revolutionary War in Europe trying to gain support for the American cause.

Franklin passed away on April 17th, 1790.

Franklin was a member of St. Johns Lodge in Philadelphia. He was initiated in 1731. In 1734, he became the Grand Master of Masons in Pennsylvania.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Passes Away in 1791

Antique portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an Austrian composer.

Mozart was born January 27th, 1756 in Salzburg. At the time Salzburg was part of the Holy Roman Empire and now is part of Austria. Mozart had an older sister who was nicknamed “Nannerl.” Nannerl and Mozart were taught from a young age by their father Leopold Mozart. Leopold was well known in the music community of Salzburg and had written a violin instruction manual in the year Mozart was born. Leopold also composed music, although stopped when he realized his son’s talent. Mozart and Nannerl were taught music, language and other things important to their upbringing by Leopold. Mozart sat and listened to her sisters lessons when he was just three years old. There is some debate whether Mozart’s first composition occurred when he was 4 or 5 years old. Regardless of the one years difference, it was when he composed his first piece, Leopold knew his son was talented.

In his youth, Mozart traveled with his family throughout Europe. He and Nannerl gave performances, while Leopold billed them as prodigies. There is some debate, whether Leopold was hoping to make his fame and fortune from his children. This is doubtful based on various actions Leopold took in regards to Mozart and Nannerl. On two occasions Leopold took Mozart to Italy. On both trips Nannerl and Mozart’s mother remained at home. In Milan, Mozart heard Miserere a 17th century composition which was owned by the Vatican. After hearing it twice, Mozart recreated it by memory, making it the fist unauthorized copy of the Vatican owned work. While in Milan Mozart also composed his first opera.

After retuning to Salzburg in 1773, Mozart received an appointment as a court musician for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. Mozart was not happy with his appointment in Salzburg. He stayed at the appointment until 1775, although he took several trips during the time trying to find a new appointment.

In 1775, Mozart went to Paris. His fortunes were no better there. He found himself struggling to make a living. There were hints of an appointment as an organist at Versailles, although this was not a posting Mozart was interested in. As he struggled to make a living he began pawning items to make money. In July of 1778, Mozart’s mother passed away. The same year, Mozart’s father secured him an appointment in the Salzburg Court once again. Mozart took his time returning to Salzburg. He did not arrive there until January of 1779, hoping to find another appointment.

From the beginning of his appointment, Mozart was in conflict with the archbishop. Still looking to have other work become available, Mozart was taking offers from other patrons. The conflict came to a head when, after the archbishop forbade him from taking a job paying more than his annual salary, Mozart tried to resign and was initially refused. Mozart was later dismissed, literally, “with a kick in the arse” which was delivered by one of the archbishops stewards.

After leaving the archbishop, Mozart moved to Vienna and embarked on an independent career. He composed several pieces while in Vienna and became known as one of the finest keyboard players in Vienna. It was also in Vienna in 1786 and 1787, Mozart composed some of his most famous Operas, The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. It was also in 1787, Mozart attained a steady post with Emperor Joseph II as chamber composer.

At the end of the 1780’s Mozart health had begun to fail. Despite his successes, his family was in massive debt. This is in large part due to Mozart’s and his wife’s extravagant lifestyle. He often spent an entire years salary on one or two extravagant items. He often attempted to borrow money from one of his Masonic brothers, Michael Puchberg. Several of the letters still exist where Mozart had written to Puchberg asking for assistance.

In 1791, Mozart composed The Magic Flute. He was present at the premier in September of the same year, despite his failing health. By November he was bedridden. It is unclear what illness afflicted Mozart, there are more than 100 ailments modern doctors have speculated were the cause of his death, including Mercury poisoning.

Mozart passed away on December 5th, 1791 at the age of 35.

Mozart was a member of the Vienna lodge, Zur Wohltätigkeit (Beneficence), being initiated in 1784 and being raised in 1785. His original lodge went through several mergers during the Imperial Masonic Reform. His new lodge was Zur Neugekrönten Hoffnung (New Crowned Hope).

today in history

The Working Tools by Rob Morris

Let us be true, — each Working Tool 
The Master places in our care 
Imparts a stern but wholesome rule 
To all who work and journey here 
The Architect divine has used 
The Plumb, the Level and the Square. 

Let us be wise the Level see! 
How certain is the doom of man! 
So humble should Freemasons be 
Who work within this narrow span 
No room for pride and vanity 
Let wisdom rule our every plan. 

Let us be just behold the Square! 
Its pattern deviates no part 
From that which, in the Master’s care, 
Tries all the angles of the heart. 
O sacred implement divine, 
Blest emblem of Masonic art! 

Let us be true the unerring Plumb, 
Dropped from the unseen Master’s hand, 
Rich fraught with truthfulness has come, 
To bid us rightly walk and stand 
That the All-seeing Eye of God 
May bless us from the heavenly land. 

Dear friend, whose generous heart I know, 
Whose virtues shine so far abroad, — 
Long may you linger here below, 
To share what friendship may afford! 
Long may the Level, Plumb and Square, 
Speak forth through you the works of God.

today in History

Continental Congress

On this day the Continental Congress formally declares the name of the new nation to be the “United States” of America. This replaced the term “United Colonies,” which had been in general use.

In the Congressional declaration dated September 9, 1776, the delegates wrote, “That in all continental commissions, and other instruments, where, heretofore, the words ‘United Colonies’ have been used, the stile be altered for the future to the “United States.”

Richard Henry Lee
John Adams
Thomas Jefferson

A resolution by Richard Henry Lee, which had been presented to Congress on June 7 and approved on July 2, 1776, issued the resolve, “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States….” As a result, John Adams thought July 2 would be celebrated as “the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” Instead, the day has been largely forgotten in favor of July 4, when Jefferson’s edited Declaration of Independence was adopted. That document also states, “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be FREE AND INDEPENDENT STATES.” However, Lee began with the line, while Jefferson saved it for the middle of his closing paragraph.

By September, the Declaration of Independence had been drafted, signed, printed and sent to Great Britain. What Congress had declared to be true on paper in July was clearly the case in practice, as Patriot blood was spilled against the British on the battlefields of Boston, Montreal, Quebec and New York. Congress had created a country from a cluster of colonies and the nation’s new name reflected that reality.