Vol. XVI No. 9 — September 1938

Masonry and Politics

There is no charge more frequently made against Freemasonry than that of its tendency to revolution, and conspiracy, and to political organizations which may affect the peace of society or interfere with the rights of governments. It was the substance of all Burruel's and Robinson's accusations, that the Jacobinism of France and Germany was nurtured in the lodges of those countries; it was the theme of all the denunciations of the anti-Masons of America, that the order was seeking a political ascendancy and an undue influence over the government; it has been the unjust accusation of every enemy of the Institution in all times past, that its object and aim is the possession of power and control in the affairs of state. It is in vain that history records no instance of this unlawful connection between Freemasonry and politics; it is in vain that the libeler is directed to the Ancient Constitutions of the order, which expressly forbid such connection; the libel is still written, and Freemasonry is again and again condemned as a political club.”
— Albert Gallatin Mackey

It is universally understood by Masons that neither politics nor religion are to be discussed in lodge. Curiously enough, every Mason understands that “religion” means “sectarian religion” — that we do not discuss Methodism, Presbyterianism, Episcopalianism, or Catholicism, but we may, and do, discuss religion in the abstract. Indeed, Freemasonry, while most assuredly not a religion, is religion — it is devoted to the worship of a Great Architect and teaches and preaches immortality, the life to come, the Fatherhood of God and the Brotherhood of Man.

But our definition of that “politics” which is not to be discussed in lodge varies with our latitudes, or personal convictions, and our education. All Masons understand that a speech must not be made in lodge in favor of John Doe, Democrat, or Richard Roe, Republican, running for office. All Masons know that we do not and must not have pro or anti discussions on the “political questions” of the day. But there are some who think the prohibition goes much further — more than one distressed master in this Year of Light 5938 has worried lest a discussion of the Constitution, and a celebration in commemoration of its writing and signing one hundred and fifty years ago, be too “political” for Masonic usage!

The English language is a difficult, involved, and complicated method of conveying thought. We who are brought up in it find little difficulty with some of its curiosities, but foreigners have much. Consider, for instance, the simple word hard. Hard is the opposite of soft. But it is also the opposite of easy, and of kind. And of a dozen other words. The “hard face” is not the same kind of hard that is meant when we speak of the hard road, and even hard road may mean firm road, or difficult road! Hard and soft drinks are well understood to mean alcoholic and non-alcoholic, but hard times and hard common sense have no greater connection than is between the words difficult and good.

Politics and political are words which, if they have not so many meanings, still do have each two meanings which are different, even if allied. The Standard Dictionary gives the following definitions:

political 1. Pertaining to public policy; concerned in the administration of government; belonging to the enactment and administration of the laws; as political management; a political system. 2. Belonging to the science of government; treating of polity or politics; as political principles. 4. Pertaining to or connected with a party or parties controlling or seeking to control government in a state; as, political methods; a political campaign.

politics 1. The branch of civics that treats of the principles of civil government and the conduct of state affairs; the administration of public affairs in the interest of the peace, prosperity, and safety of the state; statecraft; political science; in a wide sense embracing the science of government and civil polity. 2. Political affairs in a party sense; the administration of public affairs or the conduct of political matters so as to carry elections and secure public offices; party intrigues; political wire-pulling; trickery.

It can hardly have been the first of these definitions which were in the mind of those ancient fathers of Freemasonry who wrote the original prohibition of politics into our fundamental laws. Consider the charge to an Entered Apprentice, practically universal in this country, from Preston as revised by Webb:

In the State you are to be a quiet and peaceable citizen, true to your government and just to your country; you are not to countenance disloyalty or rebellion but patiently submit to legal authority and conform with cheerfulness to the government of the country in which you live.

Obviously a good Mason who desires to be just to his country and true to her laws must know her laws and understand them.

Again, in the fourth cardinal virtue, Masons are exhorted: “Justice is that standard or boundary of right which enables us to render to every man his just due without distinction. This virtue is not only consistent with divine and human laws, but is the very cement and support of civil society, etc.”

How may any man uphold and support justice who does not understand the legal system, the courts, the laws, the Constitution, under which justice is “rendered to every man?”

For the benefit of those who have yet to read the “Old Charges” as set forth in Anderson’s Constitutions of 1723 (the first printed book of Freemasonry after the formation of the mother grand lodge in England in 1717) those particularly germane to this subject are set forth here. The first of the Old Charges is “Concerning God and Religion,” and is as follows:

A Mason is oblig’d, by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg’d in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet ’tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denominations or Persuasions that maybe distinguish’d; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the Means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain’d at a perpetual Distance.

Note especially — to understand reference in the next quotation — that the religion “obliged” is only “that religion in which all men agree, leaving their particular opinions to themselves.” In other words, a belief in God. How He is to be worshipped, by what means He shall be known, is no one’s business but each man’s.

The Sixth of the Old Charges “Of Behavior” has six subheadings; the second is “Behavior after the lodge is over and the brethren not gone.” It reads:

You may enjoy yourselves with innocent Mirth, treating one another according to Ability, but avoiding all Excess, or forcing any Brother to eat or drink beyond his Inclination, or hindering him from going when his Occasions call him, or doing or saying anything offensive, or that may forbid an easy and free Conversation; for that would blast our Harmony, and defeat our laudable Purposes. Therefore no private Piques or Quarrels must be brought within the Door of the Lodge, far less any Quarrels about Religion, or Nations, or State Policy, we being only, as Masons of the Catholick Religion above-mention’d; we are also of all Nations. Tongues, Kindred, and Languages, and are resolved against all Politicks, as what never yet conduc’d to the Welfare of the Lodge, nor ever will. This Charge has been always strictly enjoin’d and observ’d; but especially ever since the Reformation in Britain or the Dissent and Secession of these Nations from the Communion of Rome.

There is still a third Old Charge which is concerned with matters political; it is the second: “Of the Civil Magistrate Supreme and Subordinate.” It reads:

A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern’d in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates; for as Masonry hath been always injured by War, Bloodshed and Confusion, so ancient Kings and Princes have been much dispos’d to encourage the Craftsmen, because of their Peaceableness and Loyalty, whereby they practically answer’d the Cavils of their Adversaries, and promoted the Honour of the Fraternity, who ever flourish’d in Times of Peace. So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the state, he is not to be countenanc’d in his Rebellion, however he maybe pitied as an unhappy Man; and, if Convicted of no other Crime, though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.

It must not be forgotten that “circumstances alter cases” and that the Fraternity has always looked back with pride on those members of St. Andrews' lodge of Boston who attended a certain meeting at the Green Dragon Tavern, and then, disguised as Indians, staged the “Boston Tea Party.” This was “political” in nature, surely, and yet, it was but an assertion of the rights of many against tyranny and oppression. The War of the Revolution was “political” in the sense that it was a rebellion against the existing government and a resisting of tyrannical oppression. Masons of course discussed the cause of the Colonies in lodge. The War Between the States was a "political” matter, but the Masonic record is clear; Masons of the North and Masons of the South divided according to their convictions, but forget not their Masonry on the battlefield and in the camp.

With this in mind, it may be stated that on the three Old Charges quoted hang “all the law and the prophets” as regards the prohibition of politics in lodge, the foundation for the prohibition of “religion” and “politics” as subjects for lodge discussion, or between brethren in their character as Masons.

With the knowledge of the “natural religion” advocated, the religious thought and the spiritual content of our degrees, no one will argue that it is religion in the broad sense which is interdicted — merely individual, sectarian, dogmatic religion.

And, similarly the “politicks” forbidden is as obviously partisan politics, politics in the sense of parties and elections and voting and primaries and the rest of the mechanics, and not political principles — meaning the principles of government and the conduct of a State.

The United States Government this year, through its Sesqui-Centennial Constitution Commission, is endeavoring to have as many celebrations of the founding of the Constitution as possible. The more a Mason knows of the Constitution which guarantees the liberties of which we boast, the better citizen he is. The study of, and speeches about, the Constitution, in a Masonic lodge, are no more "political” in the narrow sense, than is a discussion of the origin, the translations, the first printing of the Great Light, a “religious” discussion.

Some thoughtful students of Masonry, and some great leaders of the Craft believe that Masonry should play a dynamic, not a static, part in the affairs of the Nation. But more students, and leaders, believe that the course we have followed for two hundred and twenty-one years is the right course, and that while a Mason as a man may be dynamic in his approach to any question of politics (using the word in any sense), as a Mason, with Masons, in a lodge, he must confine his discussion of politics to the broader meaning of the word.

Few, if any, think that questions of government, fundamental liberties, the Constitution, the history of the country, the hearing and discussion of great statesmanship of the past, come within that prohibition of “politicks” which is so strictly forbidden in the Old Charges.

At the time when the question of the “eight-hour day” was first a political issue, many a Mason argued that it was obviously to be discussed in lodge because a Mason is enjoined to devote “eight hours to the service of God and a worthy distressed brother, eight to your usual vocations and eight to refreshment and sleep.” Wiser counsels prevailed, of course, and in spite of the coincidence, it was not an issue to be discussed in lodge. Neither, today, are the pros and cons of a wage-hour law, or a method or manner of taxation, or of election.

But the best thought of the wiser Masonic leaders believes that there is nothing to prevent a discussion, and education thereby, of the principles, economic and governmental, which underlie all laws, no matter with what they are concerned.

It is easy to draw the line between a discussion of war service and buying Liberty bonds, and one concerned with John Smith’s desire to be elected from the first ward! It is not always so easy to say where politics meaning science of government, leaves off, and politics, meaning partisan desire to win an election and pass a certain law, begins. Any master in doubt will do well, first, to consult his grand master or district deputy, and second, to ask himself; is this matter one on which men divide their opinions according to party? If so, it is political in the narrow and forbidden sense. Or is it a matter concerned with government, with law, with principles, with Americanism, distinct from all parties? If yes, then it is not within the ban of those ancient law makers who were “resolved against all Politicks as what never yet conduced to the welfare of the lodge, nor ever will!”

The Masonic Service Association of North America