By Joseph Fort Newton
This is a general survey of Masonic origins, history and philosophy. It was at one time given to every new Mason in Iowa, probably a better choice than Morals and Dogma, which is almost three times as long and much more difficult reading. This is a scholarly but approachable treatment of Masonry and will be enlightening both to practicing Freemasons and a general audience.
Newton is a rationalist and deflates claims of an ancient origin for Masonry per se; rather he illuminates the historical precedents of the group. He starts with ancient Egypt, not because he believes that the Egyptians had functioning Masonic lodges, but because that is where monumental architecture began. He covers the ancient mystery religions, and the true origin of Masonry in organizations of medieval stone-masons. After a period of decline, a London meeting held in 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron Alehouse united the remaining four Lodges of England, and started modern Freemasonry. The two-tier organization proliferated into three, and then multiple degrees, during the 18th and 19th centuries, eventually resulting in modern Freemasonry.
Masonry, which had started as an underground association of building trade workers, evolved into a fraternal group which included both members of the English royal family and American revolutionaries. Despite his rational stance, Newton is rhapsodic about the progressive influence of the Masonic movement and philosophy, both for individuals seeking 'the lost word', and for society as a whole. Newton claims that the world has benefited greatly because of the Masonic ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality. The Builders tells the Masonic side of this story.