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Revolutionary Brotherhood

Freemasonry and the Transformation of the American Social Order, 1730–1840

Steven Bullock

Paper: 978-0-8078-4750-3 ($36.95)

Copyright 1996
University of North Carolina Press

In the first comprehensive history of the fraternity known to outsiders primarily for its secrecy and rituals, Steven Bullock traces Freemasonry through its first century in America. He follows the order from its origins in Britain and its introduction into North America in the 1730s to its near-destruction by a massive anti-Masonic movement almost a century later and its subsequent reconfiguration into the brotherhood we know today. With a membership that included Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Paul Revere, and Andrew Jackson, Freemasonry is fascinating in its own right, but Bullock also places the movement at the center of the transformation of American society and culture from the colonial era to the rise of Jacksonian democracy. Using lodge records, members' reminiscences and correspondence, and local and Masonic histories, Bullock links Freemasonry with the changing ideals of early American society. Although the fraternity began among colonial elites, its spread during the Revolution and afterward allowed it to play an important role in shaping the new nation's ideas of liberty and equality. Ironically, however, the more inclusive and universalist Masonic ideas became, the more threatening its members' economic and emotional bonds seemed to outsiders, sparking an explosive attack on the fraternity after 1826.

About the Author

Steven C. Bullock is associate professor of history at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.


I am persuaded by Bullock’s interpretation. He not only traces the history of the Masons but also demonstrates how Masonry served as a vehicle for the emergence and consolidation of American elites. He does an outstanding job of illuminating Americans’ changing ideas about the nature of ‘society’—that is, social relations among men.

--Jan Lewis

Historians have long recognized that Masons were important figures in the era of the American Revolution. Now, in this wide-ranging study, Steven Bullock tells us why. Offering a fascinating analysis of their rhetoric and rituals, he discovers the early American Masons of the founding ‘fathers’ to be loving ‘brothers.’ He makes a strong case for the transformative power of the supposedly ephemeral social organizations of the early American republic.

--Andrew R. L. Cayton

Steven Bullock has discovered the secret of Freemasonry: Masons played a very important role in the formation of the American nation. . . . An accurate portrait of the ancient, honorable fraternity. . . . The reader can appreciate the true influence of the Craft.

--S. Brent Morris

In Revolutionary Brotherhood, Steven Bullock has proven our foremost guide through the vast forest of complexity and meaning that is early American Freemasonry. . . . One of the few indispensable books on the subject.

--Mark C. Carnes

[Bullock's] research is exhaustive, his argument learned and subtle, his prose clear, and his insights numerous. Revolutionary Brotherhood is a major work of historical scholarship.

--Pennsylvania History

As Steven Bullock's learned and provocative Revolutionary Brotherhood makes clear, Masons were implicated in some of the most important controversies and conflicts of the Anglo-American age of Enlightenment and Revolution.

--Reviews in American Histor

Bullock has given us a marvelously detailed and carefully argued exploration of American freemasonry, in a book that will be the point of departure for any debate about its place in the early modern Atlantic world.

--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Bullock's account of how populistic, evangelistic, politically inventive anti-Masons deflated Freemasonry's claim to republican elitism is both timely and expert.


Bullock's thorough and engaging volume compels us to integrate the seemingly arcane rites of this fraternity into our understanding of the factors that have shaped America.

--New York History

This richly researched book is certain to become the standard work on antebellum Masonry. . . . Bullock's careful approach enables him to catch the subtleties of Masonic thought very well. The book's strength is its placement of Masonry in a variety of surrounding intellectual contexts. . . . A stimulating and thoughtful portrait of early Masonry.

--Journal of Southern History

Any further inquires into the order of Freemasons in America will turn to this book as their starting point.

--Journal of American History

This encompassing and stimulating study . . . is an impressive synthesis about the place of Freemasonry in eighteenth and early nineteenth century American society and assuredly will be recognized as a landmark in the field.

--Journal of Social History

Bullock does an outstanding job linking Masonry to larger social and political developments. . . . There is much to learn in this eloquent book. Bullock offers keen insights to popular views of science, history, art and religion in the early republic, as well as exploring the fate of revolutionary fraternalism.

--Journal of the Early Republic

Bullock's greatest accomplishments are a thorough description of Masonry's founding, an excellent analysis of the Enlightenment's shifting influences, and an insightful discussion of Antimasonry. . . . This book has great merit.

--American Historical Review