Vol. XLI No. 4 — April 1963


Conrad Hahn

Words sometimes shift their meanings or acquire new ones. In Anglo-Saxon times stol meant a seat or chair, a special article of furniture possessed only by the well-to-do. After the Norman Conquest, the Anglo-Saxons were reduced to an inferior status in the life of England. So was their language. A stol became a stool, a low backless seat used by menials and servants, like a milkmaid.

Solicitation, as used in Freemasonry, carries meanings that evoke disapproval or disapprobation: In this regard it continues unchanged some dictionary definitions of solicit - to entreat, to approach with a plea, to importune, to tempt, to lure for improper purposes. To solicit a man to become a member of the Fraternity has long been deemed improper.

Last month a Michigan master wrote in his monthly message to his lodge: “There is much current interest in and about stimulating increased membership in the Blue Lodges. Most of this discussion seems to favor encouragement of men to join our institution.”

That worshipful master seems to be avoiding the word solicitation, perhaps because he knows the disapproving responses that that word produces. Nevertheless, he makes it clear that he had solicitation in his mind, for he also wrote:

I don’t mean that men with a true interest in Masonry shouldn’t be encouraged, but I would hate to see this encouragement degenerate into a membership contest. Masonry’s place of high esteem was not earned by claims of the largest membership.

By using encouragement instead of solicitation, that master may have hit upon a satisfactory substitute for the phrase, “proper solicitation,” which some Masonic writers and speakers have tried to define. However, so long as Masons want to understand each other, so long as solicitation means what the dictionary says it means, and so long as the fundamental purpose and philosophy of the Fraternity remain truly Masonic, there can be no such thing as “proper solicitation.” Any request, plea, or inducement to a man to become a Mason is improper.

Albert G. Mackey, in the article on “Free Will and Accord” in his monumental Encyclopedia, says flatly, "This is a settled landmark of the order.” While other authorities may disagree with Mackey’s list of landmarks, no serious Masonic thinker has openly contradicted the idea behind Mackey’s assertion, that solicitation of new members is Masonically improper. To those who would disagree with him Mackey would probably throwback the question, “Are you so desperate that you would remove an ancient landmark?”

Mackey admits that this unwritten law is sometimes violated “by young and heedless brethren.” He ascribes their motives to the desire to imitate “modern fraternal orders” which resemble Masonry in nothing except some ritualistic secrets. “It is wholly in opposition to all our laws and principles to ask any man to become a Freemason. . . . We must not seek — we must be sought.”

The dangers of the opposite course were also pointed out by Mackey: there will be less care in the admission of candidates for the mysteries of Freemasonry. "In ninety-nine out of a hundred cases the new member fails to become imbued with that zealous attachment — so essential to the requirements of our Institution on the very threshold of its temple” because he declares that he sought membership in the Fraternity “of his own free will and accord, uninfluenced by friends, unbiased by any mercenary or unworthy motives.”

“What?” one can hear Dr. Mackey demanding; “You would change the ritual to remove the moral equivocation forced upon candidates who have been induced to join Freemasonry?”

In England Kenneth R. H. MacKenzie declared in the Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia that to solicit a man to become a Mason is reprehensible. He admits somewhat scornfully that “it is done every day among the dining class of Masons,” but also points out that a grave moral problem is created for such a solicitated member: “His promises before the aporrheta are shown him become null and void.”

MacKenzie reminds his readers that “a volunteer is worth ten pressed men” and concludes: “The wisest and best authorities in the Craft have, for many years, pointed out the necessity for caution” in admitting new members to the Fraternity.

In the February 1915 Builder there appeared an essay on “Solicitation” by Brother R. Baldwin, a past provincial grand warden of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand, who took a firm stand against the practice and declared, "It is dangerous to suggest, because a brother is experienced, that he should be allowed to suggest or solicit his friends to become members of the order.” If solicitation were permitted for “experienced” brothers, who would admit to being inexperienced?

A somewhat startling statement about the practice appeared in the August 1929 issue of The Illinois Freemason, when one writer observed, “The facts are that four-fifths of all petitions received in lodges today result from someone having presented the value of Masonry to a friend.”

While it is impossible to prove that was true in Illinois lodges during the twenties, one wonders if there is any connection between that assertion and the sizable annual net loss of membership in Illinois during the past ten years. Many of those lost to the Fraternity have given up interest and loyalty; they are “buried” as N.P.D.’s or “withdrawals.”

The editor of The Builder in November 1929, commenting on the above quotation from The Illinois Freemason, not only disagreed with it, but also gave one of the finest definitions of what it takes to become a Mason. In suggesting why solicitation cannot be really helpful, why a man must come into the Craft of his “own free will and accord,” the editor said:

We certainly believe the suggestion is a mistaken one. There is a sound practical and psychological reason why soliciting members for Freemasonry should not be done. Only those who are attracted to it by their own motion are at all likely to prove good Masons. Not every good man can be a good Mason. In addition to being just, upright, and honorable, he must have that peculiar predisposition that can appreciate ritual and symbolism and the ideal of fraternity. Many excellent men lack this entirely. (Italics ours.)

Another interesting interpretation of the “no solicitation rule” was offered by a brother who signed himself "H.H.P." in a query to the editors of The Master Mason. In the April 1928 issue he wrote:

Do you think it is quite on the square, since we are clearly forbidden to solicit members of the Craft, to be frequently reminding our non-Masonic friends that Masons do not solicit members? Surely it is whipping old Satan round the stump, as the old phrase has it; which is not exactly the thing to do in the interests of the Craft. It is indirect solicitation, and I for one am against it, because we have too many men being admitted to the lodge who are not made Masons.

As one would expect, this subject has also been explored at the Conferences of Grand Masters of North America. In 1963 Grand Master LaMoine Langston of New Mexico said,

I do not think that we have progressed far enough in intelligence or discretion to devise a better set of morals and principles than those that have passed the test of time. — Our Fraternity would be entirely different from what it is now if we remove the requirement that one must seek admission.

At the same Conference Grand Master Raymond Rideout declared, “We of Maine are unalterably and utterly opposed to any deviation from the established rule against the solicitation of candidates.

An equally positive and forthright statement against solicitation was made in 194*, when Grand Master Frank M. Smith of California read a paper on the "Masonic Rule against Solicitation.”

The subject assigned to me is: “What can be done legitimately to interest non-Masons in the Fraternity? Has the Masonic rule against solicitation been construed too strictly?”

“The answer to the first question,” he said, “should always be ‘Nothing,’ and the second part of the question is answered in the negative.”

Grand Master Smith pointed out that there are three main reasons for solicitation:

The first is to get into the membership those men who, through ignorance, wait to be asked, and never being asked, are lost to the Fraternity. The second reason is to get outstanding men of ability who know they will never be asked, but are, or think they are, too busy. The third is to insure a general membership increase.

None of these reasons, in my opinion, is sufficient to merit the scrapping of our landmarks or the disregarding of what has proved to be sound practice. The first, to make members of those worthy to be asked, and the second, “to get the busy man of ability,” are not only directed toward a relatively minor group, but also can offer no assurance of success. Merely to ask does not guarantee acceptance on the part of the other person, and in this case rejection of the invitation would prove worse than failure to apply under our established system. The third, a general membership increase with its attendant evils of campaigns, inducements, and overselling, is so obviously an evil as to merit no serious consideration.

One of the most likely evil consequences is

the development of cliques and factions in the lodge, through the soliciting of friends, of special groups, and in some cases of supporters of one side or the other. The rejection of a strongly solicited applicant would cause reverberations in a lodge, in a community and in social circles, all of which would disrupt the lodge and ruin its usefulness.

The most serious objection to soliciting new members, however, is the fact that it destroys the fundamental spirit of Freemasonry as expressed in its Ancient Charges, Usages, and Regulations. The fundamental spirit of Freemasonry is the spirit of individual freedom, not of specific political freedoms, but the essential freedom of the individual as a son of God.

In one form or another every applicant for the privileges of Masonry declares that he petitioned “of his own free will and accord.” He applied as an individual; he was investigated, balloted on, and obligated as an individual. Before he was obligated, he was assured that his promises would in no way compromise his individual freedom as a moral man. He made those promises voluntarily. He committed himself to individual action to improve himself as a free moral agent.

And because he bound himself willingly, of his own free will and accord, he wove the strands of that stronger tie that cannot be broken — the “mystic tie,” whose strength lies primarily in the fact that Masons are indissolubly joined in their laudable endeavors by the free will and accord of every individual brother. A Freemason must never be coerced into the performance of speculative labors.

But can a man be free in his symbolic Masonic labors, is he really free to take Masonic obligations, if his admission into the Fraternity resulted from any other motive than personal desire? If he joined to please a relative? to avoid an employer’s disfavor because his solicitations were so urgent? to satisfy a friend’s claim for some past favor? to “improve his prospects” because an acquaintance assured him it would help him in business? to satisfy a spouse’s ambition “to keep up with the Joneses”?

Such motives limit a man’s freedom. He will have disturbing doubts about Freemasonry’s teachings concerning morality and freedom if his own freedom of action was compromised before he petitioned for the degrees. Freemasonry enters a man’s heart, if it enters at all, because that heart is open and desirous.

Freemasonry has always taught that where men voluntarily choose to subdue their passions of prejudice, intolerance, envy and unworthy ambition, by humbly seeking truth, by freely practicing benevolence, and by individually extending brotherly love to the whole family of mankind, there the spirit of freedom is ardently at work and strengthens other freedoms, like freedom of religion, political freedom with justice, and freedom from want and misery.

When Masonic lodges demonstrate convincingly that they are contributing to “the welfare of mankind” by producing such individuals of spiritual power, good men will come into Masonry of their own free will and accord. But by solicitation — No! That won’t attract the morally free men whom our Fraternity can strengthen.

The Masonic Service Association of North America