It is an important question for you to ponder. There have been a great number of definitions put forth throughout the years and there are nearly as many definitions of Freemasonry as there are Masons. One common definition is: "Freemasonry is a system of morality, veiled in allegory, and illustrated by symbols." The system of morality to which we refer as Freemasonry is that which every Mason is bound to profess and practice. The elementary principles of Freemasonry are exemplified in the three degrees of the lodge. In joining a local lodge you become a part of the world's largest Fraternity with a membership of approximately 4,000,000 worldwide, nearly 2,000,000 men in the United States, and 25,000 in Iowa. Each lodge in the State of Iowa operates by authority of a Charter granted by the State organization called "The Grand Lodge." There is no international or national organization of Symbolic Masonry nor is there a single spokesman for Freemasonry. While we cannot categorically define what Masonry is, we can say with assurance what it is not. It is NOT a cult, a religion, a secret society, or a political group. While Masonry is not a religion it is religious in nature. Belief in a Supreme Being is a fundamental requirement for becoming a Mason. Masonry is a charitable organization, an organization dedicated to strengthening a man's character, improving his moral and spiritual outlook, and broadening his mental horizons. Masonry seeks to make good men better; not better than others, but better than themselves.
In relating this brief history of the Fraternity of Freemasons reference is made only to documented information.
The oldest verifiable Masonic document is called the Regius Manuscript or Halliwell Poem. It is believed to have been written in the area near Germany in approximately 1390. The earliest existing Lodge minutes are from Edinburgh Lodge No. 1 in Scotland and are dated 1599. The Grand Lodge of England, from which most of the Grand Lodges in existence today have descended, was formed in 1717. The first officially warranted lodge on record in America is St. John's Lodge of Boston founded in 1733.
The lineage of the Grand Lodge of Iowa is as follows. The Grand Lodge of North Carolina received its Charter from the Grand Lodge of England in 1787. The Grand Lodge of Tennessee received its Charter from the Grand Lodge of North Carolina in 1813. The Grand Lodge of Missouri received its Charter from the Grand Lodge of Tennessee in 1821 and the Grand Lodge of Iowa received its Charter from the Grand Lodge of Missouri in 1844.
The first four lodges which formed the Grand Lodge of Iowa Ancient Free and Accepted Masons in 1844 were: Des Moines Lodge No. 1 at Burlington; Iowa Lodge No. 2 at Muscatine; Dubuque Lodge No. 3 at Dubuque; and Iowa City Lodge No. 4 at Iowa City.
By example, a Mason extends the sphere of influence of moral values to his own community and nation. Masonry emphasizes personal responsibility for one's own conduct. Masons become better men by the positive reinforcement of association with men of like mind the values of honesty, integrity, brotherly love, and the pursuit of truth. Masonry inspires men to stand firm against oppression, tyranny, fanaticism, usurpation of power, intolerance, and similar evils, from whatever source, that threaten our freedoms. One way that Masons, in their quiet way, fight against these evils is by supporting public education and offering scholarships for continuing education. Equal opportunity ofeducation for all is a basic freedom Masons strenuously support. Throughout history Masons have done a great deal in the advancement of humanity and society at large.
One of the most important things we do as Masons is to provide a working plan for good men to become even better men. Masonry provides excellent opportunities to develop both dramatic and public speaking abilities. It helps to develop leadership skills. Masonry moves quietly to increase the stature of men and women as children of God. Creeds have their rightful function in every land. Yet it is not creed but action that Masonry emphasizes. Masonry reinforces the good works of all religions in community service. Men of all faiths wear the "Square and Compass" of this Fraternity.
Often times, members of the Masonic Fraternity are either the present leaders or future leaders in their communities. In fact, it has been said that every time someone new joins the Masons, their community benefits. Many of America's leaders, past and present, public and private, have been members of our Fraternity. Fourteen United States Presidents have been Freemasons. Freemasons have served with honor in the several branches of the Unites States Government and Military, several have been Supreme Court Justices, and numerous have been Members of Congress. Many signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons. The principles of Freemasonry were prominent in the framing of the Constitution of the United States. Masonry is a strong supporter of public education, constitutional government, and equality. We as Masons believe strongly in freedom of religion and expression. Masonry is not a service organization but Masons are responsible, charitable members of their communities. Where there is a need Masons traditionally attempt to fill the void. Masons are active supporters of the several faiths of which they are members and many hold positions of leadership and service in their churches.