Vol. XXVI No. 1 — January 1948

Free Will and Accord

Many usages and customs are accepted without thought of their origin, sometimes even of their meaning. Men remove hats in the presence of ladies and take off gloves before shaking hands — but how many know the meaning of these simple ceremonies?

Hats are removed now as helmets of steel were once removed in the presence of those from whom the wearer feared no blow. Gloves are removed before shaking hands because anciently knights removed gauntlets and gloves of steel in the presence of friends to show they held no concealed weapon!

Masons use the word free in several ways — Free Mason, or Freemason; freeborn; free and accepted; free will and accord. And so familiar are these words and so well understood their meaning that few questions are asked regarding them.

Here attention is directed only to “free will and accord” — a phrase which every Mason knows. It is one of a number which are to all intents and purposes universal throughout the English speaking. Masonic world, unchanging in an ocean of ritual which is as restless as the sea in its constant changes in non-essentials and small details.

An immediate question arises when this phrase is thoughtfully considered — why “free will” alone is not enough; why “accord” alone is not enough. Why does Masonry use “free will and accord” as the necessary phrase by which a would-be initiate describes his motives in asking for initiation?

Reference to the dictionary is not too helpful. “Accord” is defined as “A spontaneous, unaided impulse; volition; choice; as of one’s own accord.”

Free will is defined as “of one’s own choice” which seems to make it merely a duplicate of “accord.”

But common Masonic usage has put more into the words than the dictionary explains. That which is done “of my own accord” is accomplished with desire; many acts may be those of free will which are accomplished without desire, even with distaste. Thus, faced with any choice of two evils, man chooses the lesser by an exercise of free will. What he does “of his own accord” is not influenced by a prospective penalty, but by a desire or want which includes a hope of some better state, some happiness, some good to come from the action.

Dr. Joseph Fort Newton defined the difference most happily, in answering the question “why both free will and accord” — he said, “Free will denotes liberty of choice, self-determination; lack of restraint, while ‘accord’ implies whole-heartedness, free from inducement or pressure of any kind.”

So well is it understood that Masons do not solicit their friends to become Masons that grand lodges do not even state the prohibition in their Constitutions and By-Laws. Occasionally a grand master has had to take cognizance of an infraction of this old custom; Grand Master James W. Brown, Pennsylvania, in 1904, rendered a decision which is printed in Pennsylvania’s Digest of Decisions — it reads:

Freemasonry does not proselyte. Those who desire its privilege must seek them of their own free will and accord, and must accept and obey, without condition or reservation, all of its Ancient Usages, Customs and Landmarks.”

In one form or another, every applicant for the privileges of Masonry declares that he makes his plea “of his own free will and accord,” that he comes without the improper solicitation of friends, unbiased by an unworthy motive or thought of financial gain; he comes because of a desire to serve mankind, to promote friendliness, understanding, brotherhood, among men. These or similar phrases are upon many petitions; if not written, they are implied. As every Mason knows, in his slow progress through the degrees, the candidate must declare either verbally or by silence which gives consent as another answers for him, that it is “of his own free will and accord that he makes this request.”

In many, if not most, rituals the candidate’s plea for entrance to a Masonic lodge is first explained by a quotation from the Great Light; “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you.” Here again is the “free will” and the “accord” which must be in the seeker’s heart. He must “ask” — for himself. He must “seek” — for himself. He must “knock” — for himself. And it is at least curious that the initials of “ask, seek and knock” themselves spell the word “ask.”

Some, not all, petitions to Masonry have the petitioner subscribe to the statement that he is “unbiased by the improper solicitation of friends.”

Such language certainly connotes that there may be “proper solicitation of friends.” It is natural to inquire what may be the distinction between solicitation which is “improper” and that which is “proper.”

Masonic authorities have differed on the matter; much depends, of course, on the definition of “solicitation.” But if the word be not tortured out of its commonly accepted meaning to make a point, “solicitation” is (Standard Dictionary) “to ask for with some degree of earnestness; to seek to obtain by persuasion or entreaty.”

If this be accepted as the meaning of the word, then there can be no such thing as “proper solicitation.” Some, however, include under the term “solicitation” any statement favorable to Freemasonry made in answer to an inquiry; your friend says to you; “I know you are a Mason — I don’t know much about it; if it is what I think, I’d like to belong; tell me about it.” Your reply may be a frank statement of Freemasonry as it should appear to the public. As a result, your friend asks you for a petition.

This, apparently, is what the framers of petitions which use the words “improper solicitation” have in mind as “proper solicitation.”

Making application “of my own free will and accord” definitely makes a promise; many petitions include the word in some such phrase as: “I promise, if found worthy, to conform to all the ancient usages and regulations of the fraternity, etc.”

But “of my own free will and accord” implies another promise — that the petitioner is not only honest now, but, so far as the Fraternity is concerned, will always be honest. “Of my own free will and accord” is very definitely an affirmation that the covenant sought to be made with Freemasonry is wholly voluntary, and includes a whole-hearted subscription — “without mental reservation” — to all the requirements which Freemasonry makes of her sons. The moral law is not conditional — there is no such thing as “the end justifies the means” to an honorable man in Freemasonry. What is done “of my own free will and accord” must be according to both the letter and the spirit of the promise with no “secret evasion of mind,” whatever.

Moralists have generally agreed that there are some circumstances in which a promise cannot be considered binding; (a) when a performance is or becomes impossible; (b) where a promise is unlawful; (c) where none to whom the promise is made expects it to be kept; (d) where a promise is made upon a condition which is found not to exist; (e) where either the promiser or the promisee is not a free moral agent.

Examples — (a) You promise to rent me your home; it burns down that night; performance of the promise is impossible, (b) At the point of a gun you promise a criminal you will dynamite a bank door, (c) Anxious for his safety, a wife asks a husband to promise to be careful on a journey; he promises “I will have no accident, I assure you!” The train is wrecked, (d) You promise to send a young man to college if he passes his examinations for entry; he fails, (e) The promise of a minor; the promise of an insane person.

Obviously, promises made to Freemasonry are possible of performance; no promise asked for is unlawful; expectation of performance is definitely present in any Masonic degree; no conditions within the Fraternity differ from those told to, or expected by, the initiate; a sane man of twenty-one is a moral agent; a Fraternity composed of sane men more than twenty-one years of age is a moral agent.

“Of my own free will and accord” implies promises which cannot be broken without ruin of the petitioner’s moral fabric.

It is natural to inquire into the reasons which Freemasonry has for demanding that every candidate come “of his own free will and accord.” No institution of such great age, such unbroken success, such value to countless millions of men, could make so unqualified demand without the gravest and most important reasons.

It is the only human institution to which men belong which does not proselyte. It is an article of faith of all religions, with perhaps Judaism and Braminism as exceptions, that they spread their faith, make converts, support missionaries to teach others of their doctrines and beliefs. Clubs, societies, organizations, all generally consider it not only permissible but praiseworthy to solicit others to join. Boards of Trade, Chambers of Commerce, schools, colleges, scientific societies, life assurance companies, to mention but a few, all make efforts to get more and new members, students, policy holders. Freemasonry stands alone as the one organization which never asks any man to become a member. Freemasonry alone states and believes that it must honor no man by asking him to become a Freemason — he must honor the Fraternity by asking the privilege. Perhaps the only similar concept in modern life is to be found in our thought of the flag — the flag is dipped to no man; all men bow their heads with hat in hand when the flag goes by.

The flag is greater than any man.
Freemasonry is greater than any man.

That Freemasonry is a voluntary organization is a fact which digs deep into the human heart. Because any man who becomes a Freemason does so on his own motion, of his own will, uninfluenced by unworthy motives, solicitation by friends, hope of material gain, he is bound for life.

“Once a Freemason, always a Freemason” means what it says. A man may never attend his lodge; he may demit and become unaffiliate; he may be dropped or non-payment of dues; he may be suspended or expelled, but no power — not even the power of the Fraternity itself — can release him from the obligations he has taken, the promises he made of “his own free will and accord.” His obligations are for life and he must keep them, come what may, or be to himself dishonest, foresworn, contemptible before God and man.

Legally, no man may take advantage of his own wrongdoing; if he stated falsely that his original act was of his own free will and accord” he cannot later claim that he was unduly persuaded, or tempted into the Fraternity by false statements, or expectations excited by statements of Masons, afterwards found to be without foundation.

If Freemasonry proselyted, she would find herself possessed of many useless members, members who valued her not, members who would be a detriment, not an asset. The “backslider” after the “shoutin’ revival meetin’” is familiar in all our literature of conversion by emotional appeal. Freemasonry wants none of that; will have none of it.

A man values what he seeks; if he must work for his desire, sacrifice to gain his desire, conform strictly to conditions not of his asking to attain his desire, what he receives will be important and valuable to him. What he takes unwillingly, and to please another; what he does not really want and gets because he is persuaded, is usually soon laid aside and forgotten.

Freemasonry has two safeguards against the unworthy applicant — the black ball in the hands of her brethren — the requirement that each petitioner for her mysteries come with a clean heart as well as clean hands. The “clean heart” is implied in the statement that the act is wholly from the heart and mind, without reference to another.

Freemasonry is not a thing; it is a state of mind, a philosophy of life; a system of morality; a rock of ages for those to whom the Masonic altar becomes a shrine.

No man can buy or sell Freemasonry. No man pays for his Freemasonry in coin of the realm. The initiate pays a fee which goes either for support of his lodge or for charity; the member pays annual dues to his lodge, but neither pays anything for Freemasonry, any more than the student in school pays for the knowledge he there gets. The scholar pays a fee which in turn supports the school, pays the teacher, buys supplies, but the knowledge the school imparts is not for sale, cannot be given away, may not be purchased. It must be obtained by the application and study of an open and desirous mind.

Freemasonry enters a mans heart, if it enters at all, because that heart is open and desirous.

This, then, is the peculiar character and the great glory of the Fraternity — greater than any man, she seeks no man. She stands aloof, alone, secret, quiet, in dignity and in honor, until the man seeks her. When he seeks she may — she may not — accept him.

But if she does accept, it is because she knows that once she has taken him to be her son, he is, like son of woman, a son for life. For he comes with the solemn asseveration, before God and his fellows, that his act is, indeed and in fact, “of his own free will and accord.”

The Masonic Service Association of North America