Vol. XXI No. 6 — June 1943

Minutes Are Important!

Lodge minutes are highly important. The statement is disputed only by those who usually come late in order to avoid hearing them read!

Lodge minutes are highly important as (1) an historical record, (2) to protect the lodge if it be falsely accused in Grand Lodge of some Masonically improper action, (3) as evidence regarding (a) brethren, (b) place, (c) time, concerned in any act of the lodge.

It is difficult to over-emphasize the importance of full and accurate minutes. Our whole history is based on lodge minutes. Where these have been badly kept, inaccurate, or more to be cherished for their omissions than for what they record, we have gaps, hopes and beliefs instead of facts.

Where was Lafayette made a Mason? No minutes record. What lodge had the honor of having Jefferson as an Entered Apprentice? No minutes record.[1]

The earliest Masonic record in the United States is a book of lodge records — the famous Libre B, prized possession of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and definitely proving the existence of a lodge in 1731. No historian believes that this lodge, its very name lost to history, was the first lodge in the United States. But it is the lodge with the earliest known documentary evidence. How priceless would be a set of minutes of an earlier lodge!

Benedict Arnold was a Mason. His name was recorded in the minutes on the roll of his lodge. That it was later expunged rather added to than took from the knowledge of all that he was a Master Mason, yet our history is shot full of holes we cannot fill with data about good men and true because of poverty of records, lost records, records with errors which, while we know them to be errors, do not disclose the truth, the place of which was taken by the error.

The minutes of today are the history of tomorrow. Fifty, one hundred, two hundred years from now the minutes of your lodge, of every brother’s lodge, may contain a fact or facts of the greatest possible interest and value to the brethren of those days to come. Only by meticulous care in the present can we assure the accuracy of the history to be written tomorrow.

As there are good Secretaries and poor ones, so there are good minutes and poor minutes. Minutes should show the name and number of lodge, that it is a Masonic lodge (by use of F. and A.M., or A.F.M., or F.A.A.M. or whatever form is legal in the jurisdiction) whether the communication is regular or special, the number of the meeting (if that is possible; not all lodges have kept records of numbers of meetings held) date, time and place of the meeting, the names of officers in attendance and what stations they filled, the names of past masters in attendance, the names and lodges of visitors, all transactions of the lodge, including all motions put and seconded and the resulting action, the communications received and sent, the work ‘performed, by whom, upon what candidates, the funds collected and from what sources, the funds disbursed and for what purposes, fact of and time of closing the lodge.

Some will argue that some of the above is redundant. “Of what use to record the place of meeting? We never meet except in the Temple, and everyone knows it.” Aye, everyone knows it now. But let us suppose an earthquake destroys the town and temple. A hundred years from now the lodge minute book is dug up and it discloses that: “Doric lodge was opened at its one thousand and sixth communication Wednesday, April 6th. But what year? Where? The minutes do not say! A lodge may meet for a funeral, to attend a cornerstone laying, perhaps be opened by the grand master under special dispensation in a place other than its usual Temple. The place of meeting is equally important with the date.

The more names of officers, brethren, visitors are included in minutes the better those minutes are. No one ever knows when fame will descend upon a brother or upon whom it will rest. Among the two and a half million Freemasons in this country are many young men, someone of whom eventually will have high place, power, position, fame. That lodge will be fortunate which can point to his name in attendance at such and such a meeting.

Communications received and sent do not necessarily require inclusion in minutes as a whole. But the gist of all communications received and sent should be noted. What is fresh in everyone’s mind today is forgotten tomorrow and minutes are not just for today and tomorrow but for all time.

Especially is it important correctly to spell all names and where possible to have names in full, not just initials, not only those in letters but those in attendance. Two Presidents of the United States are Roosevelts. A thousand years from now the note that “President Roosevelt attended such and such a meeting” will be confusing. The entry should be Theodore or Franklin to be of historical value. The unknown brother of today is the President of tomorrow. The only sure rule to follow in minutes of record is “get all the name and spell it correctly.”

Minutes of record should always be completely written out, and read in their entirety to the lodge. In some jurisdictions the secretary makes notes during a meeting, and just before closing reads these notes with the statement “the minutes when written will show,” etc. But this is done merely for the information of the lodge and these notes of minutes are, obviously, not the minutes of record. Minutes of record are developed from these notes, read to the lodge at the next stated communication and then confirmed.

The practice of some Secretaries of asking the lodge to confirm notes of minutes and then, at any time in the future that suits their convenience, writing the minutes of record and considering them confirmed by the lodge should not be tolerated by the Master.

The best secretary is human, and therefore may make a mistake. He may easily get a name wrong, or miss a name entirely, or have erred in recording the proposer or seconder of a motion. Minutes developed after weeks or months from rough notes may continue such an error without knowledge of the lodge. Suppose the secretary of the lodge at Fredericksburg had made such an error, misspelled the name of George Washington or omitted it entirely. A priceless historical record would have been lost.

In any lodge today may sit the man who ten, twenty, thirty years from now may be the greatest general, admiral, citizen, doctor, diplomat the world has known, may be President of the United States. The minutes of a lodge which noted his initiation, a letter from him, his presence, might become of enormous value not only to that lodge but also to Masonry. Confirming rough notes as minutes of records risks the loss of such recordings. Reading but part of the minutes of record, and asking the lodge to confirm them as a whole, is entirely out of keeping with accuracy. To save time some Secretaries read what they consider the important part of the minutes, then announce “That is all of importance, Worshipful,” and, in ignorance of the harm he may do, a Master may permit a motion to confirm to come before the lodge.

Obviously, if a secretary has the power to write any minutes which are to become the minutes of record without confirmation by the lodge, he has power to write all of such minutes. The secretary is but the recording officer. The lodge is the judge of whether or not he has recorded faithfully and truthfully. If he does not read all that he has recorded to the lodge, the lodge has no chance to judge all of his work and thus errors, inaccuracies, mistakes may easily creep in.

The minutes of record must be confirmed by the lodge; they cannot be confirmed by the Master. Under certain circumstances the Master may properly refuse to put a motion to confirm minutes, which is quite different from having the power himself to confirm them. This seems sufficiently important to warrant further development.

The Master of a lodge is invested with so many important prerogatives and powers conferred by the Ancient Constitutions and Regulations, by grand lodge Legislation, and by general Masonic usage, that some have supposed that the lodge has no powers or rights which the Master himself may not exercise, irrespective of the will of the lodge; that, to all intents and purposes, he is the lodge.

His responsibilities are great and his powers commensurate with them. He is not amenable to his lodge for the exercise or the abuse of them. He is, however, circumscribed and bound by the obligations of his office, his promises and agreements at the time of his installation. One of these, in most jurisdictions, is: “To submit to the awards and resolutions of your brethren when convened, in every case consistent with the Constitutions of the order.” The worshipful master has entire control of the work of his lodge; he may open and close it at his pleasure, provided he does not open earlier than the hour stated in the by-laws for a stated communication, the hour stated in the notice if a special communication; he must see that the laws, resolutions and edicts of the grand lodge are obeyed; that none of the Landmarks or regulations of Masonry are violated; his decision upon any question of order is final until such decision is reversed by the grand master or grand lodge; yet outside of these and other well-known powers he must “submit to the awards and resolutions of his brethren when convened.” In all questions not touching on his inherent or delegated powers, he must abide by the expressed will of the majority of his lodge.

The minutes of lodge transactions must not be confused with the transactions themselves. The minutes of a lodge are the record of its proceedings, which, when approved, are a part of its history. The secretary “observes all the proceedings of the lodge and makes a fair record of all things proper to be written.” Anything of an esoteric character is not “proper to be written,” and it is the duty of the worshipful master, the secretary, and the lodge to guard the records in this particular.

Confirmation of the minutes relates to the correctness of the secretary’s account of the proceedings. Minutes are read to the lodge that the members may correct any errors or omissions. If none are suggested they are recorded as read. If there is a difference of opinion among the members as to whether something did or did not take place, a motion, to correct or amend is made, and the lodge, not the Master, decides what is to be done.

There may be circumstances under which a Master is justified in declaring a motion to confirm the minutes out of order. Suppose a motion to alter or amend the by-laws of the lodge was made and seconded; the secretary did not enter it upon his minutes because he believed the motion out of order. Even if a majority of the lodge also believed it out of order, if the worshipful master had decided it to be in order, it must go upon the minutes as a part of the proceedings of the lodge. If it is left out, the Master should declare out of order the motion to confirm.

It is a well-settled principle of Masonic law that a lodge has no power to order to be stricken from the minutes any transactions of the lodge, proper to record, or to add anything that did not take place. If the secretary’s minutes are evidently incorrect the Master has the power to refuse to put a motion to confirm them before the needed correction is made. If this power be wrongfully exercised, it may be subject to an appeal to the grand master or grand lodge. But the Master has no power to declare the minutes of the lodge confirmed; that power resides in the lodge. Mackey says (Principles of Masonic Law):

The minutes having been read, the presiding officer will put the question on their confirmation, having first inquired of the Senior and Junior Wardens, and lastly of the brethren ‘around the lodge,’ whether they have any alterations to propose. If it can be satisfactorily shown by anyone that there is a mis-entry or the omission of an entry this is the time to correct it, and when the matter is of sufficient importance and the recording officer or any member disputes the charge of error, the vote of the lodge will be taken on the subject and the journal will be amended or remain as written, according to the opinion so expressed by the majority of the members.

Masters come and Masters go, but Secretaries go on indefinitely. The vast majority are conscientious, hard working brethren, proud of their lodges, proud of the clear cut and complete records they so carefully keep, serving far more for the love of service than for the small stipend (if any) allowed by the lodge.

The vast majority of them keep accurate and complete minutes; were it otherwise, the Masonic world would be the poorer for thousands of interesting and complete lodge histories. Due to the care of Secretaries, long dead, priceless historic data is the heritage of the Masonic world; data which otherwise would never have been known.

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  1. Subsequent research has found no evidence that Thomas Jefferson was a Mason.

The Masonic Service Association of North America