It was the thirteenth of March, 1848 when Garibaldi left Latin America where for fifteen years he had been a leader in the fight for freedom. On that occasion his last words were for the brothers of "Les Amis de la Patrie" Lodge of Montevideo. "My dear brother," he wrote to Adolphe Vaillant, "as my engagements prevent me from carrying out my desire to take leave in person of my dear brothers of the lodge, I beg you to be good enough as to pass on, at their respectable meeting, my goodbyes, my wishes for their happiness and my hope that, wherever I may be in the world, I will remain their devoted brother, always ready to dedicate myself to the Sacred Rite to which I have the honour of belonging."
Never could words be more revealing and prophetic, for Garibaldi, joining Freemasonry was certainly not a chance, ephemeral episode but a pondered and binding choice made half-way through his life and consciously kept until his death.
Once stripped of esoteric and ritual trimmings, which Garibaldi openly depreciated, Freemasonry was for him, especially after 1860, a meeting place and a means of organisation which he more than once tried to make use of to carry out his own political and cultural plans.
"The masonic organisation," wrote Mola, "was thought of by Garibaldi as a network able to unite the otherwise dispersed forces of the Italian renewal: from the inside, by forming new leaders able to look to the boundless horizons opened up by progress in the sciences (medicine, chemistry, physics, anthropology etc.) rather than become small minded through the petty struggles for power, and from the outside by placing those leaders in an intellectual circuit whose Pillars of Hercules, once Italy was unified, were a European federation, the formation of great ethnic-linguistic systems (Anglo Saxon, Latin, Slav etc.) and finally "worldwide"' unity of humanity kept together in a brotherly way by constructive ideals".
It is worth underlining that Freemasonry, in its turn, used Garibaldi both before and after his death as an exceptional testimonial and promotion of their ideals.
Garibaldi, as Fulvio Conti recounts in an article published in "Hiram in 2002 on the occasion of the one hundred and twentieth anniversary of his death, was initiated into Freemasonry in 1844, at the age of thirty-seven, in the "L'Asil de la Vertud" Lodge of Montevideo. This was an irregular lodge under a Brazilian Freemasonry which was not recognised by the main international masonic obediences, such as the United Grand Lodge of England and the Grand Orient of France.
Later, in 1844 he regularised his position, joining the lodge "Les Amis de la Patrie" of Montevideo under the Grand Orient of France. Garibaldi entered Freemasonry during his exile, taking advantage of the asylum which was offered by the lodges to political refugees of European countries governed by despotic regimes hostile to democratic or nationalistic movements.
Garibaldi then attended the masonic lodges of New York in 1850 and London in 1853-54, where he met several supporters of democratic internationalism, whose minds were open to making socialist thoughts their own and give Freemasonry a strong anti-papal stand.
Only in June 1860, in the newly conquered Palermo, was Garibaldi raised to the degree of Master Mason and then in 1862 the Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, a meeting place for Italian freemasons of republican and radical ideals, gave him the title of Grand Master. The Italian Grand Orient, reconstituted in Turin in 1859 and initially dominated by members close to Cavour, gave, on the other hand, the role of Grand Master to Costantino Nigra and only the honoury title of "First Italian Freemason" to Garibaldi. Accepting the title of Grand Master of the Sicilian authority, Garibaldi wrote, "I willingly take on the supreme office of head of the Italian Masonry constituted according to the Reformed and Accepted Scottish Rite. I take it on because it was conferred on me by the free votes of free men, to whom I owe my gratitude not only for the trust shown me in elevating me to such a high position but also for the help they gave me from Marsala to Volturno, in the great task of freeing the southern provinces. My nomination as Grand Master is the most solemn interpretation of the tendencies of my very soul, of my votes, of the aims towards which I have worked all my life. I assure you that with your mercy and with the cooperation of all our brothers, the Italian flag, which is that of humanity, will be the beacon from which the light of true progress will be shed all over the world."
In the second half of 1862 the expedition for the liberation of Rome was being prepared. But it was to be interrupted on the twenty-ninth of August, when he was wounded in the thigh in a shooting exchange in Aspromonte. Garibaldi, accepting the role offered to him by the Sicilian Scottish obedience, demonstrated that, in that phase, he identified Freemasonry with the national programme and intended to use it as a means of organisation and meeting point of the various democratic movements. It was not by chance that, once arrived in Sicily, he attended the initiation of his son Menotti (the first of July) and he, in person signed (the third of July) the proposal of affiliation of the whole of his general staff (Pietro Ripari, Giacinto Bruzzesi, Francesco Nullo, Giuseppe Guerzoni, Enrico Guastalla and others). In the long term, once the fight for national independence was completed, the political plan of Freemasonry was to identify itself with a wider and more ambitious aim, that of liberation and the emancipation of the whole of humanity.
"It was the failure of the venture of August 1862," observed Aldo Alessandro Mola, "that led Garibaldi to take up an intransigent anticlerical stand." Basically from that moment on it could be seen that the General was more and more convinced of his identification with the position of Freemasonry, which was the main supporter in the peninsula of an inflexible secularism and of war to the death against the Catholic Church. The political objective of the liberation of Rome from ponteficial dominion was obviously at one with the objective to give birth to a secular and democratic state, in which the temporal power of the Popes was only a memory. At the same time as Fulvio Conti writes "even inside the Grand Orient of Italy the democratic component stemming from Garibaldi started to consolidate its presence and impose its own political and ideological choices. It is not surprising therefore that the first real Italian Masonic Constituent Assembly, which was held in Florence in May 1864, with the participation of seventy-two delegates, finally managed to elect Garibaldi, with a large majority, as the new Grand Master."
As is known, Garibaldi held this position for only a few months. The active clashes between the various Italian left-wing groups were too lively to permit them to come together under the unifying leadership of Garibaldi as had happened in the recent past. The future Grand Master, Ludovico Frapolli, saw the nomination of Garibaldi as a backward step back in respect to his heartfelt plan to de-politicise Freemasonry a plan that aimed at also setting up in Italy an Anglo Saxon model of Freemasonry which was not subject to political party problems. "It is already a fatality," Frapolli wrote to Mordini, commenting on the election of Garibaldi, "that circumstances have forced us to choose for Italy a politician as Grand Master. An inconvenience that cannot be tolerated without admitting the function of Garibaldi as the banner of the people, the incarnate myth of humanitarianism, while in other respects if his name is accepted by all, it is because everyone presumes that the General is happy with this important role and he does not concern himself otherwise."
Actually, Garibaldi, as has already been said, did not believe that national political events should be separate from Freemasonry, at least while Rome remained under the dominion of the Popes. So in May 1867, on the eve of the Masonic Constituent Assembly in Naples, he made a famous appeal to all the brothers of the peninsular. "As we do not yet have a country because we do not have Rome, so we do not have a masonry because it is divided [...]. I am of the opinion that masonic unity will lead to the political unity of Italy. Let, in Freemasonry, that Roman fasces be made that notwithstanding great effort has not yet been be obtained in politics. I believe the freemasons to be an elect part of the Italian people. Let them put aside their profane passions and with the awareness of the high mission that the noble masonic institution has entrusted to them create the moral unity of the country. We still do not have moral unity; let Freemasonry achieve this and the other (unity of the nation) will immediately be achieved [...]. Abstention is inertness, it is death. I urge understanding, and in the unity of understanding we will have unity of action."
The Naples Constituent Assembly of 1867 elected Garibaldi Honorary Grand Master of the Grand Orient of Italy, obedience by now acquired by the members of the democratic left-wing. The tie with the institution of Freemasonry therefore became very strong, and just as strong was the identification with the ideals and cultural values of which it was spokesperson. The relationship was not even ruined after the slight disagreements which occurred on the occasion of the Anticouncil of Naples in 1869 which Garibaldi joined with great enthusiasm and from which Freemasonry, through the will of Frapolli, had practically nothing to do with.
In 1872 Garibaldi relaunched with absolute clarity what was to become the main political plan of the last years of his life and the ideal lagacy that he would leave to the post-Risorgimento Italian left wing: the idea, as pointed out by Conti: "to gather together into one communal fasces all the democratic currents, all the forces working towards spreading the values of secular culture, of freedom, of progress, of reform within existing institutional frameworks without abandoning the prospects of more radical change in the distant future." Freemasonry was to promote this plan and supply the ideological and organising cohesive which it needed to be crowned with success. "Why do not all the Italian associations inclined to good," he asked himself in 1873, "join together and place themselves, for the love of indispensable discipline, under the democratic banner of the Pact of Rome? [...]. Why does not the most ancient and the most revered of democratic societies, Freemasonry, set an example of conciliation under the Italian fasces? Why do not societies working class, international, artisan etc. incorporate universal Brotherhood into their emblems like Freemasonry. Constitute the fasces, therefore, growling republicans; join together around the Pact of Rome".
In the latter part of his life his position and that of Freemasonry practically overlapped. It is enough to remember his zeal in the ranks of the pacifist movement and the battle, that everywhere saw fremasons in the front line promoting the formation of international arbitration panels promoting the prevention of war; or else his battle for universal suffrage, for womens emancipation, for the diffusion of compulsary free education all themes that constituted the common patrimony of the democratic Italian left-wing founded on the Risorgimento; and that Freemasonry included in their own programme and decided to support in many different ways. As far as womens emancipation is concerned he gave an extremely concrete and open-minded interpretation, even for the masonic world: in the historical archives of the Grand Orient of Italy, documents dating back to 1867, are kept in which he conferred masonic degrees on women. A theme, then as now, which is an object of heated debate and contrasting views within Freemasonry.
To confirm the strong resemblance of perspective that also existed on the side of positivistic rationalism and the anticlerical militancy, just consider the support Garibaldi gave to the movement to spread, in Italy, the idea and the practice of cremation: a movement that was directly promoted by the masonic lodges and that had many prominent figures of Freemasonry among its most important leaders. After the death of Garibaldi, the failure to carry out his last wishes, which were to have his body returned to ashes, was much talked about.
When Garibaldi died, Freemasonry was, out of the political and social Italian forces, the one, that more than any other, took it upon itself to keep his memory alive and nourish the myth.
Especially in Crispis time there was an attempt to build a civil religion around the figure of Garibaldi centred on the secular myth of the Risorgimento. Freemasonry, under the guide of Adriano Lemmi at the time, played an extremely noteworthy role in contributing to the success of the operation. Garibaldi was by far the most popular name out of those given to both the lodges of the peninsula and to those Italian ones overseas (in Latin America, in North Africa etc.): other names, like Caprera, Luce di Caprera, Leone di Caprera were inspired by the same desire to pay homage to the Nice hero: Freemasonry, besides, promised innumerable ceremonies, commemorations, inaugurations of memorial tablets and monuments in the name of Garibaldi. The most important of these initiatives was the inauguration of the monument on the Gianicolo hill in Rome, which was held symbolically on the twentieth of September 1895, the twenty-fifth anniversary of Porta Pia. It was the first time that memorable date was celebrated as a civil holiday of the Italian nation. A recurrence that only the villainous pact between Fascism and the Catholic Church, in 1929, would remove from the calendar of national holidays: the symbol of a country finally built in the name of democracy and secularism, to which both Garibaldi and Freemasonry had given a determining contribution.
Translated from Giuseppe Garibaldi Massone. Incontro delle Logge "Giuseppe Garibaldi" e convegno di studi. Relazione del Gran Maestro Gustavo Raffi. Grande Oriente d'Italia di Palazzo Giustiniani, Via di San Pancrazio, 8 - 00152 Roma. Trieste - 26 Ottobre 2002.