The Master's Book 4

Carl H. Claudy


It is the business of every Master to see that his Lodge abides by the laws, resolutions and edicts of his Grand Lodge, its own bylaws, and maintains and supports the Landmarks and "ancient usages and customs of the Fraternity."


The laws of Masonry, like the laws of nations, are both unwritten — the "common law" — and written. The written laws, based on the "General Regulations" and the "Old Charges," are the Constitution and by-laws of Grand Lodge, its resolutions and edicts, and Lodge by-laws. The Ancient Landmarks are written in some Jurisdictions; in others they are a part of the unwritten law.

In a foreign Jurisdiction a Mason is amenable to its laws as well as to those of his own, just as an American residing abroad is amenable to the laws of the nation in which he lives, while also expected to obey the laws of his own nation; for instance, an American residing abroad is not exempt from the United States income tax laws. Neither is a Mason from California exempt from the laws of the Grand Lodge of that state, merely because he happens to sojourn in Maine.

The "General Regulations" set forth in "Anderson's Constitutions of 1723" were adopted shortly after the formation in 1717 of the Mother Grand Lodge in England. The work was first published under date of 1723. Unquestionably it embodied the laws of Masonry as they were known to the members of the four old Lodges which formed the first Grand Lodge, and hence have the respectability of an antiquity much greater than their printed life of two hundred and twelve years.

In general, the "Old Charges" are concerned with the individual brother and his relations to his Lodge and his brethren; the "General Regulations," with the conduct of the Craft as a whole. The "General Regulations" permit their own alteration by Grand Lodge — the "Old Charges" do not.


Law in Masonry is so much more a matter of the heart than of the head, so much more concerned with setting forth conduct than in assessing penalties, that, thoroughly to comprehend it, a Master must be willing to revise his ideas of law as created by the enactments of legislatures.

Many civil laws are provided with measures of enforcement and penalties for infringement. Masonic law knows but four penalties: reprimand, definite suspension, indefinite suspension, and expulsion. These Masonic penalties for serious infractions of Masonic law may be ordered after a Masonic trial and a verdict of guilty, but mercy is much more a part of Masonic than of civil law. Infractions of Masonic law resulting in trial and punishment are rare, compared to the number of Masons, the vast majority of whom are so willing to obey the laws that "enforcement" is seldom required.


There is no universality in Masonic law in all Jurisdictions. Different latitudes, different characters of people, different ideas, have all left their marks upon our forty-nine Grand Lodges and their enactments. In the majority of essentials, they are one; in some particulars, they hold divergent views. A large majority of Grand Lodges in the United States adhere to the spirit of the "Old Charges," and — so far as modern conditions permit — to the sense of the "General Regulations."

It is, therefore, of real importance that a Master desiring to understand the laws by which his Lodge is governed, and the legal standards by which Grand Lodge measures its "laws, regulations and edicts," should read both the "Old Charges" and the "General Regulations of 1723." When he reaches the last (thirty-ninth) of the "General Regulations," he will read: "Every Annual Grand Lodge has an inherent Power and Authority to make new Regulations, or to alter these, for the real benefit of this Ancient Fraternity; provided always that the old LandMarks be carefully preserv'd," etc.


The "old landmarks" or the "Ancient Landmarks" as customarily called, are those foundations of the law of Masonry which are not subject to change. Had the Grand Lodge which first adopted these "General Regulations" formulated the "Ancient Landmarks" it would have saved much confusion in subsequent Grand Lodges. Apparently, however, the unwritten law of Masonry — the common law — was so well understood and practiced that it was then not thought necessary to codify it.

A great body of unwritten law which Masons customarily observe — "Ancient usages and customs " — are not specified in print. But the Landmarks have been reduced to print and made a part of the written law in many Jurisdictions. Mackey's list of twenty-five Landmarks has been adopted as official in many American Masonic Jurisdictions; others have condensed his list into a lesser number, still keeping all his points; a few Jurisdictions have a greater number of landmarks, including some not specified in Mackey's list. Those Jurisdictions which do not include a printed list of the Ancient Landmarks in their written law, usually follow and practice them as a part of their unwritten law. In a few instances, some of the Landmarks as listed by Mackey are not recognized as such; for instance, Mackey's Eighth Landmark, the inherent right of a Grand Master to "make Masons at sight" was specifically abrogated by an early Grand Lodge in California. In general, however, whether written or unwritten, Grand Lodges adhere to the spirit of all of Mackey's list.

The Landmarks may be regarded as bearing the same relation to Masonic law in general, including the "Old Charges" and the "General Regulations," as the provisions of Magna Carta bear to modern constitutional law. Just as Magna Carta specified some of the inherent rights of men which all laws of all governments should respect, so the Landmarks crystallize the inherent characteristics of Masonry — those fundamentals which make Freemasonry Freemasonry, and without which it would be something else.


With these as a foundation, the "Old Charges" for precedent, the first "General Regulations" for organic law, Grand Lodges write their Constitutions and by-laws and particular Lodges write their by-laws, which are usually subject to approval by Grand Lodge, a Grand Lodge Committee, or the Grand Master. Grand Masters. ad interim, formulate edicts and make decisions; often these are later incorporated by Grand Lodge into the written law of the Jurisdiction. All of these together, except where they conflict (as some of the early "General Regulations" necessarily conflict with later enactments made to supersede them) form the legal structure of Freemasonry, to understand which is a duty all Masters should be eager to perform.

Undeniably it is much looser than the similar body of law for the government of a nation. If a Master interpreted Masonic law wholly by the letter — as is necessarily the case in civil law — the government of his Lodge might often be as loose as Freemasonry's statutes. But as a matter of fact, the Craft is well governed. Its "ancient usages and customs" so soon win their way into the hearts of new brethren that there is a great resistance to any attempt to change the old order, unless necessity shows that it is inescapable. Masons much prefer to whisper good counsel to an erring brother, than to subject him to Masonic trial.

The Fraternity in this nation deals yearly with very large sums of money. The Craft erects and maintains numbers of expensive Temples, and Homes for the helpless Mason and his dependents. The Institution disburses a large amount of charity. The majority of its executives serve long and arduous apprenticeship. These very practical matters are all conducted in accord with a more or less loosely woven body of law — and yet the Fraternity as a whole can take great pride in the undoubted fact that it is orderly, well governed, almost completely law abiding, and very reluctant to make any more new laws for itself than are absolutely necessary.

He is a capable Master who recalls the answer to the classic question: "Where were you first prepared to be made a Mason?" and delves enthusiastically into the sources of Masonic law of his Jurisdiction, that he may rule wisely, decide justly and lead his Lodge with real authority.


Specifically, the Master must familiarize himself with Grand Lodge Law upon applications, amendments, ballots and balloting, burial, candidates (residence, qualifications, physical perfection, etc.), charges, correspondence with other Lodges, degrees, dimits. dispensations (especially as to when they are necessary), dual membership (if authorized by Grand Lodge or not authorized by that body), dues, education, elections, examinations, finances, installation, jurisdiction, membership, minutes, motions (when not in order), objections to candidates, offenses. petitions, processions, proxies, rejection, returns of Lodges, special communications, summons, Sunday observances, trials, visits and visitors, votes and voting (when paper ballot required; when majority; when two thirds and when unanimous needed, etc. ), waiver of jurisdiction.

Learning all this is not easy, but being a good Master is not supposed to be easy. To have been elected Master presupposes a willingness to labor, and here is labor and plenty of it.

Some Masters never look at the law, to their shame be it said! Grand Master after Grand Master reports decisions in his annual message, plaintively adding: "If Masters would only look up the law in the books provided, ninety percent of the questions need not have been asked."

Not to know the law may plunge the Lodge into real difficulties; knowing the law is like knowing the currents and the channels; the mariner who knows does not run his ship on the rocks.

While study of the book of Masonic law of his Jurisdiction will satisfy almost all need for knowledge, the Master who will read a good volume on Masonic law and practice will have a much clearer vision of his problems (see book list at end of this volume).

Continue to Chapter 5