Vol. XXXIII No. 4 — April 1955

Josiah Hayden Drummond

American Masons whose labors for the fraternity have had large and important effects in this country may number one or more hundreds, the number depending upon opinion as to what is “large and important.” American Masons whose life and labors have influenced Freemasonry ’round the globe must form a much more restricted list in any commentator’s mind.

Few will quarrel with the statement that the two most influential brethren this country ever produced — using the word “influential” to mean vital contributions to the Craft — are Albert Pike and Albert Gallatin Mackey. Pike “found Scottish Rite Freemasonry in a hovel and left it in a palace”; no one can say what Scottish Masonry might have been without Pike, but the Masonic world knows what it is as a result of Pike’s labors.

Mackey’s contributions in many Masonic fields have been extremely productive; his greatest gift to the Fraternity was in the sanity, common sense and (according to the knowledge of his day) accuracy of his Encyclopedia. His contribution to the study of the Ancient Landmarks was explosive in power; its echoes have not died away, even though the debris caused by it has been largely swept aside to make room for new knowledge.

Any attempt to list a third “most influential” American Mason may cause controversy in Masonic circles, but few will be able to present arguments for and records of any brother to show a larger contribution than those given by Josiah Hayden Drummond, of Maine, a brother who brought indefatigable energy, wide legal knowledge, a balanced critical faculty, a complete sanity of Masonic viewpoint and an utter devotion to the Craft, the effects of whose labors have classified many underlying laws and principles of Masonry in English-speaking grand lodges

Drummond’s great services to Masonry went far beyond his leadership as grand master, Grand Commander of Knights Templar, Grand High Priest, and Grand Commander of the A.A.S.R., Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, although in all these positions of high responsibility he served with distinction.

His greatest contributions were made as chairman of the committee of jurisprudence and as foreign correspondent, in which reports he clarified Masonic law as had no previous law interpreter.

Drummond was a prodigious worker; his multiplied thousands of pages of reports on grand lodges and other grand bodies are filled with the authoritative, sound, clear thinking that has so greatly affected Masonic law. Obviously nothing short of a library could attempt to show the extent both of his knowledge and his comments on what he learned. All that may here be done is to give a few pertinent quotations from pronouncements from what might, without exaggeration, be termed this “one man supreme court” of Masonic jurisprudence.

Masonic law needs clarifying just as civil law requires interpretation by courts of appeal and finally by Supreme Courts. Here is Drummond on Drummond’s clarification; he wrote:

If we should say that for many years it has been the law that if a man borrows money he is legally bound to pay it, and were challenged to refer to the volume and the page where it could be found, we could not do so. Still the proposition is law all the same. So in Masonry, there is a lex non Scripta, as well as a lex Scripta; law growing out of usage, as well as enacted law; law to be ascertained by examining history, decisions and precedents, as well as law to be found in written codes.

Of the then, at times, vexed question of territorial jurisdiction, he said:

There are certain principles of right and justice which are held to be binding on all nations, and a nation that does not recognize them is held to be without the pale of nations. These principles are held to grow out of the very existence of a plurality of nations, and are not matters of treaty. So we maintain that there is equally a natural Masonic law growing out of the existence of a plurality of grand lodges, binding, not on account of agreement, but on account of natural obligation.

International law has two sources; one, the express consensus of nations; the other, the necessities of all nations. The latter is termed by writers “natural law”; it is not enacted but grows out of the very existence of a plurality of nations; the exclusive sovereignty of a nation in its own territory is declared and held to be a natural law, and is asserted as such; the Massachusetts grand lodge did not undertake to enact that it had exclusive jurisdiction in that state, but it declared that doctrine as a natural law of Freemasonry.

By the usage of grand lodges, their territorial jurisdiction is coterminous with the boundaries of the state, province, or country in which one is established, although it occupies but a fraction of such territory. When the civil government divides the state into two, and creates two independent states, where one existed, by the operation of the Masonic law above cited, the lodges in each acquire the right to have a Grand Lodge of their own. This result comes not from the civil law above, but from the joint operation of the civil and Masonic Law.

He cited a particular instance and set a precedent to which all Masonry has since bowed:

In June 1863, the state of West Virginia was recognized by the Government of the United States; and ever since has been a state de facto. As the tide of war flowed away from them, the Masons desired to resume work. The grand lodge was organized in May 1865. But it is said (by a correspondent) “the Grand Lodge of West Virginia cannot be recognized until it is recognized by the Grand Lodge of Virginia.” If the lodges in West Virginia had a right to form a grand lodge, no consent of Virginia was necessary. Whatever I have a right to do, I may do without the consent of anybody. If they had not the right to form a grand lodge, then, inasmuch as Virginia has never given her consent, the new grand lodge is illegal, its subordinates are irregular lodges, and their members all clandestine Masons! There is no escaping the dilemma. The Mother Grand Lodge is interested, and is, therefore, not the proper arbiter to decide the questions of right between her and her daughter. In fact, in the absence of a supreme authority, the other grand lodges are the only tribunal which can decide the questions at issue.

When Dakota Territory became the states of North and South Dakota, no grand lodge raised a question about the formation of the old grand lodge into two, the Grand Lodge of South Dakota being a continuation of the Grand Lodge of Dakota Territory, North Dakota becoming a new grand lodge. The confusing Masonry of Indian Territory and Oklahoma was happily resolved without Masonic conflict, largely because United States grand lodges accepted the principles Drummond had clarified, that an existing right needed no permission from anyone to exercise.

How far does the “dispensing power” of a grand master go? It is a question not unanimously settled among all grand lodges. But Drummond was unequivocal in his interpretation of the question. On grand masters’ prerogatives he wrote:

Our own views are that a Grand Master should never attempt to set aside the positive law of his Grand Lodge; but we are forced to admit that in the olden time the Grand Master did possess that power. Of course this power was not given to him by any regulation, as if it was, it could be taken away by another. The prerogative must antedate the regulations; and not depend upon them, or it cannot exist or have existed. Let it be remembered that during the seventeenth century it was law in England that the Sovereign had the power to dispense with any law in particular cases; it was held that this was a prerogative inherent in the crown, which could not be taken away. To be sure, James II lost his crown in 1689, in consequence of pushing this prerogative beyond bounds. Still the existence of the prerogative was fully admitted. The popular idea invested Sovereigns with this prerogative. Naturally, the same idea would prevail as to the grand master of Masons, an office that existed before the grand lodge system was adopted.

In Masonry the landmarks are superior to the ‘Constitution,’ and the ‘Constitution’ must be read in their light, and has no other effect than it may have without infringing on the landmarks. It is, then, a question of history whether, by the landmarks, or original system of Masonic government, the Grand Master has the power to dispense with the written law in special cases. We have only to say that we cannot see how an unprejudiced man can read Masonic history, without coming to the conclusion that this prerogative was a part of the original plan of Masonry.

The “Doctrine of the Perfect Youth” was not settled in Drummond’s time — is not settled at this time — may never be settled. But the tendency is obviously towards a relaxing of the old idea, a coming to realize that there are two sides to the question. Drummond foresaw this. He is forthright in his analysis, which has never had a satisfactory reply to the contrary:

The number of persons of absolute perfect body is so small, that the question, where did our ancient brethren draw the line, is one upon which we would like to hear from some of the perfectionists. We submit a question; after quoting from the Ancient Charges: No Master should take an Apprentice . . . unless he be a perfect youth, having no maim or defect in his body, that may render him incapable of learning the art of serving his Master’s Lord, and of being made a brother and then a Fellowcraft in due time.” Do the words following “perfect youth,” modify the term “perfect”? Do they not mean that he must have no such defect as will render him incapable, etc., and do they not imply that though he may have some defect, yet it does not render him incapable, etc., he is eligible? We have often suggested this to the “perfectionists,” and though we have called, yet “they answered not again.”

Ancient Landmarks were as much a matter of controversy in Drummond’s time as now; it was to be expected that this man of the super-clear mind would think far ahead of his time on the subject. He wrote of a critic (Parvin):

He says there are no landmarks; and why? Because no two men agree as to what they are, and no enumeration of them has been made. Is there no sand on the seashore because no one can tell us how many grains there are? Are there no principles of common law, because those principles cannot be enumerated, and because no two men will agree as to what those principles are? Did it ever occur to Bro. Parvin that much of our common law originated in the long continued customs of the people?

Again he clarified thinking as to “fundamental principles” and landmarks, which was but a different nomenclature for our “ancient usages and customs” and landmarks. Of this he stated:

When “landmarks” are held to be synonymous with “fundamental principles,” we think it about time to call a halt and consider the meaning of words. A “landmark” is something set, and an “ancient landmark” is one that has remained a long time. On the other hand “fundamental principles” are, like truth, from everlasting to everlasting. Landmarks are of human origin, and “fundamental principles” are God’s law. Belief in God is not a landmark of Freemasonry; it is a divine law; but the law, that only those who believe in God can be made Masons, is a Masonic landmark. The founders of the Institution “set” that landmark, and it has never been removed.

If “landmarks” are anything else than laws of the Craft, either originally expressly adopted or growing out of immemorial usage, the term is a misnomer, and its use ought to cease.

The stone did not become a landmark till it was set up as such. The fundamental principle did not become a Masonic landmark till it was "set up”; there are many stones that are not landmarks; and there are many fundamental principles’ that are not Masonic landmarks; only those that are’set up” actually, or by adoption, are landmarks in either case. Belief in God is an abstract principle; but the necessity for belief in God in order to become or remain a Mason is a law of the Craft of so ancient an origin that it has become a landmark.

It is now generally believed that the Volume of the Sacred Law is not necessarily the Bible; that initiates of other faiths than the Christian can take a binding obligation on the Koran, the Vedas, or other Holy Book. Drummond early saw this and said so forthrightly:

The Masonic law has always been, that belief in God carries with it belief in a Book of the Law, without the presence of which no lodge can be held. Theoretically it may be true that a Muslim lodge could use only the Koran; but that is of no consequence; the necessity is that there shall be a Book of the law — the divine law. The religion, therefore, in which the Old Charge holds that all men agree, is the belief in God, the Father and Ruler, and in a book of His law, as such Ruler, although it does not theoretically require belief in the same book. . . .

The law-giver in Ecclesiastes said “of the making of many books there is no end,” and Masonic lawyers think often that he might have said the same of Masonic laws. Drummond points a finger at those who confuse jurisprudence with regulations, as follows:

Masonic Jurisprudence is not the invention of new laws, or the procuring of their enactment, but a knowledge of the ancient usages of the Craft, and of the landmarks and laws of the Institution. Our laws are in many cases the usages of the Craft for many years, and it is only by a careful study of our history, policy and customs that knowledge of these laws is obtained. And we undertake to say, that the more thoroughly versed a Mason is in “Masonic Jurisprudence ” the more firmly he is wedded to the old ways and the more sternly opposed to these modern innovations, which have been adopted in spite of Masonic students (who are apt to be styled old fogies) and not by their procurement.

Grand lodges have no power over, and make no claims to have power over, the grand bodies of other rites or Masonic organizations, or associations of Masons.

What is now universally agreed upon, both by grand lodges and the other grand bodies of other rites, is that grand lodges have complete power over Masons in Masonic matters, and therefore have the power to forbid them to indulge in membership in and the practicing of any rites that are injurious to Masonry.

This is “old hat” now, but it was “new hat” in Drummond’s time. That he saw so clearly is but another instance of his far-reaching mind. He wrote:

We hold that the Grand Lodge has the full power to determine what the members of its obedience may practice as Masonry; to forbid their practicing, as Masonry, any rites that it deems injurious to the harmony and welfare of the Craft; and to “interfere” whenever it finds it necessary to protect the Institution.

The Masonic world owes a debt to Drummond of incalculable size. It is idle to speculate as to whether he or Pike or Mackey made the greatest contribution, and no such speculation will be indulged in here.

But the opinion may be expressed, that could Pike and Mackey speak, it would be in words of admiration of Josiah Hayden Drummond and his uncannily far-seeing mind.

Question Box

The column will attempt to answer questions about Freemasonry.

Are the V.S.L. (Volume of Sacred Law) and the Book of Law the same as the Bible?

In Christian lands the holy book of the prevailing faith is the Great Light. In American and English lodges that book is the Holy Bible. A Masonic lodge cannot exist without the V.S.L, the Book of the Law. But in lands where there are other religions, the sacred book of those religions becomes their Great Light. What is important is that some volume containing divine revelation be a part of the furniture of the Lodge. Inasmuch as Freemasonry is not concerned with doctrine or dogma or sect or denomination, but only with “that natural religion in which all men agree” (Old Charges), it is only necessary that the V.S.L. be sacred to the members of the lodge. The Bible on American altars is not to be considered only as a Christian or a Jewish sacred book; it is a symbol of the revealed will and teachings of the Great Architect of the Universe — a name under which any Freemason can worship that Deity in Whom he puts his faith and trust.

Why are Masonic rituals not the same in all States?

Freemasonry came to the United States from several different sources (England, Ireland, Scotland) and its spread westward formed grand lodges from lodges which sprang from the thirteen original colonies. These admixtures of rituals produced variations which were occasionally increased by actions of grand lodges acting on recommendations of grand lecturers and ritual committees. In the early days of Freemasonry in the United States many “travelling lecturers” brought their own conventions of “the true Masonic work” to far areas and taught these.

All rituals are “correct.” What a grand lodge approves as its ritual is “correct” for its lodges. No rituals in the United States contradict each other; they vary in words and details, not in essentials.

The Masonic Service Association of North America