SUPREMACY OF THE CHARGES AND CONSTITUTIONS
IT may be well, before proceeding further, to consider the authority of the Charges and Regulations, as they were reported by Anderson, adopted by the Grand Lodge, and have been handed down to succeeding generations. In the rituals of the Order, the charges to Masters and other officers, in Dispensations and Charters, and indeed in all that pertains to Masonry, there is a constant reference to the "Constitutions, laws, and edicts" — as well as to the established "usages and customs of the fraternity;" and these references recognize their obligatory character, and the perpetual duty of every Mason to conform to and abide by them in all their requirements. The question, therefore, very properly arises, to what do these obligations refer? Must the Craft conform to, obey, and abide by all, and all parts of the Charges and Constitutions? And, also, whether, when the "Ancient Charges, Constitutions, rules and regulations" are referred to, these of Anderson's, whose history we have sketched, and which follow in this work, are those intended? Let us look at these questions in their order, for they are worthy of serious and critical examination.
I have no hesitation in saying that these are the "Ancient Constitutions." They, and no others, are intended when reference is had to such matters in our rituals, charges, lessons, &c. There are no others of equal antiquity or authority, and they have been recognized from the earliest introduction of Masonry on this continent. They were revised, examined, and reaffirmed by the Grand Lodge of England, as we have already seen, in 1722, and have remained as the standard authority in that Grand Lodge to the present day. It is true that there was another Grand Lodge in England, (at York,) at the same time; but we have a right to presume that the "Charges and Constitutions" recognized by that body were essentially the same as these of Anderson's. The two Grand bodies, in after years, had some difficulties, growing out of a conflicting claim of jurisdiction; and some disaffected brethren in London, who acknowledged allegiance to the Grand Lodge at York, chose to designate that body as ancient Masons, while they affixed to the Grand Lodge in London, as a stigma, the term modern. It is true that the London Grand Lodge had ceased to exist, as an organization, at the close of the seventeenth century; but Masonry had not expired in London. Four Lodges, at least, continued to work, and the vital elements were there for the reorganization of the Grand Lodge whenever sufficient zeal could be awakened in the Craft to accomplish the work. The organization of the Grand Lodge in 1717, was not, then, a beginning; it was a reviving. The vitality, the powers and prerogatives of Masonry, had not become extinct: they were only in abeyance, and subject to be reclaimed whenever the Craft were so disposed. Their charge against the Grand Lodge in London, of being modern was, therefore, the mere ebullition of personal feeling, and supported by no foundation whatever.
It may be, and probably is, true, that the York Grand Lodge had not suspended its functions; that while Masonry was slumbering in the Metropolis, the Craft at York were actively engaged in their mystic labors. But admitting this to be the case, it would not detract in the slightest degree from the legitimacy and antiquity of the Craft in London. Farther than this: during the pendency of certain difficulties between the brethren recognizing the rival Grand Lodges, respectively, there is not one word nor innuendo in all the controversy, which has come down to us, that the code reported by Anderson, and approved and published by the Grand Lodge of England, was not the ancient, well-established, and universally recognized code. If it had been something new, a departure from immemorial usage, and an "innovation upon the body of Masonry," that fact would surely have been made known during the controversy, and as certainly have proved the ruin of the London Grand Lodge. But we hear nothing of the kind from the disaffected brethren in London, nor from the Grand Lodge at York. The legitimacy and legality of the London brethren, and their claim to "regular succession," was never called in question at the time, and it is now too late to attempt it. But besides all this, the Grand Lodge at York ultimately became extinct: its organization died out in the shade of its more vigorous and prosperous rival in London, and its Constitutions and charges, its claims to power and precedence, and its venerable archives are all buried with it in the grave. It quietly and gracefully yielded the government of the Craft in England to its younger, but legitimate brother, and then "slept with its fathers." There is no doubt but it was the older body of the two; but it is equally as clear that the Masonry of London, in all its essential features, was as pure and unadulterated as that of York; and that its Constitutions, charges, laws, rules, regulations, and customs were essentially the same.
Having seen that the Grand Lodge of England was legally descended and properly constituted; that it preserved and propagated ancient Masonry in every particular; that it was the custodian of every thing that was vital in the Order, and finally, by right of survivorship, became invested with the sole government of the Craft in England, now let us sea through what channel Masonry reached America, and what code was recognized here at the time of its introduction.
The first Lodge organized in America, was at Boston, Massachusetts. This was what might be called a Provincial Grand Lodge. This country then belonged to England, and all the institutions of the new world, social, civil, and political, came from England. Several brethren had emigrated to New England, and desiring to enjoy the privileges of organized Masonry, they petitioned the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, (the London Grand Lodge, for a dispensation to organize a Provincial Grand Lodge in Boston. The request was granted, and ANTHONY, Lord Viscount MONTAGUE, then Grand Master, constituted and appointed HENRY PRICE, of Boston, "Provincial Grand Master of New England." Having received his commission, he assembled the brethren on the 30th of July, 1733; "and the charter of constitution being read, and the Right Worshipful Grand Master duly invested and congratulated, a Grand Lodge was formed under the title and designation of ST. JOHN'S GRAND LODGE." The officers were, Henry Price, G. Master, by virtue of his appointment aforesaid, and the following chosen: Andrew Belcher, D.G. Master; Thomas Kennelly, S.G. Warden; and John Quann, J.G. Warden. A petition was then presented by several worthy brethren residing in Boston, praying to be constituted into a regular lodge; and it was voted that the same be granted. This was the first lodge organized in New England, and probably the first on the American continent, and was a legal off-shoot from the Grand Lodge in London. It would hardly be necessary to ask by what code or Constitution the Craft in Boston were governed; or what charges, rules, and regulations, they received and recognized as of supreme authority. The Grand Lodge of England, but ten years before, had published Anderson's work, and at this very time, as it has always since, recognized it as in full force. They had no other; they never have had any other. We have a right, therefore, to presume that the Craft in New England received and recognized Anderson's work as the only ancient Charges and Constitutions, and of supreme authority; that they were directed and governed by it in their legislation and rituals, and acknowledged it as fully and freely as the Grand Lodge of England itself. It was impossible they should do otherwise, for there was no other work extant to which they could refer. That, and that alone, so far as printed directions went, was the only rule of action in the government of the Craft; and there can not be the slightest doubt that that work was presented to the first Master of the first lodge organized in America, and that he and his officers were installed according to the form and manner prescribed therein. And furthermore, that no other work of the kind was ever recognized, used, or seen in America for mare than twenty, years after that; and not until the "Ahiman Rezon," by Laurence Dermott, was publish in London, in 1756.
We are not left to conjecture, however, in this matter, however conclusive the reasoning on which that conjecture may rest. We have fact, stubborn, existing fact, proving beyond the possibility of a doubt, that Anderson was the recognized authority, not only in England, but also in America; and this we shall now proceed to show.
It will be remembered that a Provincial Grand Lodge was formed in Boston, in July, 1733, invested with Masonic jurisdiction over New England, but not beyond that. Within a year thereafter, the Provincial Grand Master, Henry Price, "received orders from the Grand Lodge in England, to establish Masonry in all North America." This increase of power was commensurate with the wants of Society, and enabled him to introduce Masonry into other portions besides New England. In 1734, Benjamin Franklin, (afterwards the great Dr. Franklin, then residing in Philadelphia, in conjunction with several other brethren in that city, petitioned for a lodge there. The petition seems to have been presented at a session of the Provincial Grand Lodge, on the 24th of June, 1734. This petition was granted, and Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Master of the new lodge. Thus we see that Masonry, as originally introduced and established in Philadelphia, came from the Grand Lodge of England, through the Provincial Grand Lodge at Boston.
Now, to prove beyond a doubt that Anderson's Constitutions were recognized as the highest and only authority in this country at that time, we have this fact, that Anderson's work was reprinted in Philadelphia, in 1734, expressly, as it states in the title-page, "by special order, for the use of the brethren in North America." We are fortunate in having a copy of this reprint of Anderson in our library, the only copy we have ever seen, and, so far as we know, the only one extant. The fact of this work being reprinted in Philadelphia at that early day, "by special order, for the use of the brethren in North America," must forever settle the question as to whether Anderson or Dermott was originally recognized as the standard, for Anderson was first received and used, and "by special order;" and, indeed, as we have already shown, Dermott's work did not appear until twenty years afterwards.
This fact, then, is settled, that whenever and wherever "the Ancient Constitutions" are referred to in our rituals or duties, Anderson's is intended, for that was published more than thirty years before any other, and distinctly recognized as the standard of authority, both in England and America.
The next inquiry which merits attention, is as to the changeless perpetuity of Anderson's work. Can it be changed or altered? Can its provisions be modified, or their obligations suspended, by the Grand Lodge, or by any other power known to Masonry? Or must these old "laws, rules, and regulations," forever remain just as they have come down to us, prescribing faith and practice, and challenging universal obedience? These are important questions and should be carefully considered. We will frankly state "our opinion," and the basis on which it rests; but let each one "be fully persuaded in his own mind."
Anderson's compilation, aside from its historical portion, is divided into two parts or divisions: One is, "THE CHARGES OF A FREEMASON, extracted from the ancient record of lodges beyond sea, and of those in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the use of the lodges in London: To be read at the making of new brethren, or when the Master shall order it." The other portion is comprised under the head of "GENERAL REGULATIONS."
The first portion, THE CHARGES, may properly be denominated LANDMARKS, as they are not subject to change or alteration. No power known to Masonry, be it Grand Master or Grand Lodge, can add to, subtract from, change, alter, or abrogate any of the doctrines, principles or requirements of these venerable Charges. They are to-day what they were when collected and arranged into form by Anderson, and must ever remain the same. Any act, either by a subordinate or Grand Lodge, a Master or Grand Master, or any other officer or member of the Craft, which is contrary to these Charges, is void, ab initio. Wherever ancient Craft Masonry exists, in whatever language it may be "worked," or in however distant portions of the world, these Charges constitute the fundamental law. They are the great "declaration of rights," the foundation principles, the organic law of the raft. Any provision or enactment made by a Grand Lodge, in conflict with its constitutional provisions, is void and of none effect. So any constitutional rule of a Grand Lodge, not in harmony with these Charges, is also inoperative. These Charges constitute the standard by which all constitutional rules, Grand Lodge enactments and regulations, are to be judged: if they do not conform to these unchanging principles, they can not be enforced.
The Grand Lodge of England revised and republished her Constitutions in 1738; again, in 1756; again, in 1766; again, in 1784; again, in 1815, once more, in 1847, and finally, in 1853. In each of these editions, additions or changes have been made; some rules altered, some entirely repealed, and many new ones added. But she has never laid her hand upon the Charges: they were published in each edition, but remain intact to this day, precisely what they were in 1722. Slight verbal changes have been made, merely to express the same thing better or more expressively, or to explain something that seemed obscure, but the principles themselves have never been disturbed, and never can be.
The Regulations are subject to change, and any independent Grand Lodge has the power to make regulations for its own government; to adopt these in whole or in part, or to change them to suit the peculiarities of the people and circumstances within its jurisdiction; provided, always, that such regulations do not violate any of the great fundamental principles recognized in the Charges. The regulations are merely the constitution of the particular Grand Lodge that adopts them, and are designed exclusively for its own government and the government of its subordinates; while the Charges are the universal and unchangeable law of Masonry. The former may be made to meet the wants of the governed, under the conditions heretofore expressed; while the latter bend to no circumstances, but require all those who would be Masons to come to its requirements.
As an illustration: A Grand Lodge may change the number of its officers, and either increase or diminish them; but it cannot permit an atheist to be made a Mason. The former is a discretionary provision of the Regulations; while the latter is forbidden by the Charges — sternly and forever. The third section of the old Regulation says, "the Master of each particular lodge, or one of the Wardens, or some other brother by his order, shall keep a book containing their by-laws, the names of their members, with a list of all the lodges in town, and the usual times and places of their forming, and all their transactions that are proper to be written." It will be seen at once that this is a mere prudential regulation, and may be altered to suit the views or wishes of the Grand Lodge. Or it may be omitted altogether, and a secretary elected to discharge the duty, as is now universally the practice. Now take the first section of the Charges: A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey the moral law," &c. This can not be changed, abrogated, nor modified. It must forever remain just as it stands; a clear and explicit recognition of the claims of the Divine law to the end of time. Again, in the third section: A lodge is a place where Masons assemble and work. Hence that assembly, or duly organized society of Masons, is called a lodge, and every brother ought to belong to one, and be subject to its by-laws and the General Regulations." Here, it will be seen, is a definition and a principle of action: it first defines what is meant by a lodge, and then declares, as an immutable principle, that "every brother ought to belong to one." Such is the difference between a great vital principle and a mere prudential rule.
Once more. The Charges say that "the persons admitted members of a lodge must be good and true men, free born, and of mature and discreet age; no bondmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report." Here, also, is a great unalterable principle; but one, in some features, subject to an explanation or construction by a Grand lodge. It says a candidate must be of "mature and discreet age." But what is "mature and discreet age?" The old Regulations explain: the fourth section declaring that he must not be "under the age of twenty-five." The Grand Lodge of England has changed this regulation, perhaps more than once, and its rule now is that he must not be under the age of twenty-one, unless the Grand Master permit it by Dispensation. Other Grand Lodges fix a different age, but in all cases it must be what the Grand Lodge enacting it consider "mature and discreet age." A Grand Lodge could not fix ten years as the age at which one could be admitted, because the applicant is then a child, not a man; nor would he be of mature age, or discreet age.
Take one more example. The fourth section of the Charges declare that "no brother can be a Warden, until he has passed the part of a Fellow Craft; nor a Master, until he has acted as a Warden; nor Grand Warden, until he has been Master of a lodge." Now, no constitutional regulations of a Grand Lodge can set aside this fundamental rule. A Grand Lodge may explain it, or modify it, but cannot disturb the principle involved. For instance: the Regulations may require not only that a brother must have reached the degree of Fellow-Craft, before he is eligible to serve as Warden, but that he must also be a Master Mason. The rule requiring him to have served as a Warden, before he can be eligible to the office of Master, may not be changed; but the expression can be made certain and definite by requiring the candidate to have been elected, installed, and served as a Warden — that mere service by a pro tempore appointment will not meet the demands of the original Charges. And the Grand Lodge may further say that, to be eligible to the office of Grand Warden, a brother must have been first elected and installed as Master of a chartered lodge, and not merely appointed as Master of a lodge working under dispensation. But it is presumed enough has been said to explain what we conceive to be the difference between the old Charges and the old Regulations of Masonry. The Charges are great fundamental principles which lie at the foundation of the Order; irrepealable, unchangeable, and of perpetual obligation. The Regulations are the practical rules of action, based upon those principles; many of them are of a prudential character, and may be changed, modified, or entirely abrogated, as may best suit the views and wishes of the Grand Lodge.