Characteristics Peculiar To Pennsylvania Freemasonry

Brother William E. Yeager

R.W. Past Grand Master
Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania

If it were possible for one to visit Lodges in each Jurisdiction from the Atlantic to the Pacific, he would be amazed at how much alike we are. He would feel as much at home in a Lodge in Maine or California as in his own Lodge. With each Grand Lodge sovereign in its own state and with constant pressure to change and improve—to modernize Masonry—it is surprising that any similarity has been maintained.

Certain fundamentals—to all intents and purposes—are the same in every one of our forty-nine (1990, 51) Jurisdictions.

Every Lodge would have a charter from a Grand Lodge having jurisdiction over the state in which it is located. It would have a Master and two Wardens; a Secretary and a Treasurer; an altar in the center of the Lodge Room with a Holy Bible open upon it, and above the Master's station the letter "G". It would confer the three degrees, making Masons only of men. These variations give each Grand Lodge an individuality—a character uniquely its own.

An outstanding instance of a Jurisdiction with a distinctive Masonic character, quite unlike any other Jurisdiction, is the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania.

The attention of a visitor from another Jurisdiction would be drawn to certain words and phrases in its title—The Right Worshipful Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of Pennsylvania and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging.

The words "Right Worshipful" have come down to us from the early history of Freemasonry in Pennsylvania. They are used frequently in the history of the provincial and subordinate Lodges of both the so-called "Moderns" and "Ancients" warranted in this Jurisdiction during the Eighteenth Century.

Of the forty-nine (1990, 51) Grand Lodges in the United States, all of them, except the Jurisdiction of Maine, have the words "Grand Lodge" in their title; in forty-eight, the words "Grand Lodge" are preceded by "Most Worshipful;" and in one, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, "Right Worshipful".

The phrase "of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity" was in use in that century. The frontispiece of the Ahiman Rezon, Pennsylvania, 1783 edition, is headed "The Arms of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons", with the words "The Arms of the Operative or Stone Masons" at the bottom. The original plate is in the Museum of the Grand Lodge. Only five Grand Lodges in the United States use these words in their titles.

Throughout its early history the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania granted warrants for Lodges in other states and countries in which no Grand Lodge had been formed. For this reason we find in its name the additional expression "and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging". The last warrant outside the boundaries of the Commonwealth was granted on February 6, 1831, to a Lodge located in Montevideo, Uruguay. Prior to that date, sixty-eight were for Lodges outside of Pennsylvania, including nine in a Provincial Grand Lodge of Santo Domingo; three in Virginia; seven in Delaware; nine in Maryland; three in New Jersey; three in South Carolina; nine in Louisiana; eight in Cuba; and one each in each of the following states and countries: Zanesville, Ohio; Savannah, Georgia; Kaskaskia, Indian Territory; Alverado, Mexico; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Trinidad; and the one in Montevideo, Uruguay. Nine of these were issued to military organizations in the Continental Army, and, during the Revolution, one to "Unity Lodge in His Britannic Majesty's 17th Regiment of Foot", an interesting story.

The only Grand Lodge which has as part of its title a phrase similar to "and Masonic Jurisdiction Thereunto Belonging" is Rhode Island. At present this phrase, as part of the title of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, is only a reminder of the past. As Grand Lodges were formed in the states and countries where the Lodges referred to above were located, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania gladly accepted the return of the warrants and assisted in the formation of the new Grand Lodges. Today all of the Constituent Lodges of the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania are located within the Commonwealth.

In visiting a Lodge in Pennsylvania, a Mason from another Jurisdiction may be surprised and shocked to find that the ceremonies are not the same in all essentials as those he experienced in his Lodge. The divergences in the Pennsylvania Ritual, law and customs cannot be understood without some historical background.

In the meantime, Pennsylvania Masons had not been inactive. In the issue of Pennsylvania Gazette dated December 8, 1730, its editor, Benjamin Franklin (not then a Mason) refers to "several Lodges of Freemasons" having been "erected in this Province". There is no record of any Lodge at that period except St. John's of Philadelphia, whose account book (from 1731 to 1738), designated "Liber B", is in the possession of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. This record shows that, as of June 24, 1731, there was a Grand Lodge in Pennsylvania with William Allen as Grand Master and William Pringle as Deputy. On or about September 5, 1749, some Brethren of this Grand Lodge, feeling that possibly their self-constituted Grand Lodge lacked the authority it formerly possessed, made an appeal to the Masonic authorities in London for the appointment of a Provincial Grand Master of Pennsylvania. The Grand Master of England, William Lord Baron of Rochdale in the county of Lancaster, appointed Brother William Allen, who had been Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1731.

At a meeting of the Grand Lodge, March 13, 1750, William Allen presented his deputation as Past Grand Master of Pennsylvania and assumed that office. The action taken on that date marks the end of the independent Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and its inception as a Past Grand Master affiliated with and deriving its authority from the Grand Lodge of England (Moderns).

This Grand Lodge was composed of three Philadelphia Lodges: St. Johns, No. 2 and No. 3. It having become evident that another Lodge was necessary in Philadelphia, Grand Master Allen warranted a fourth Lodge which was opened on June 24, 1757. This new Lodge was known as No. 4 upon the roster of the Moderns, and, as far as the records show, was the last to be established in Pennsylvania by the Moderns.

A rumor having spread that this newly-formed Lodge was working in the Ancient way rather than the Modern, members from the older Lodges attended a meeting of Lodge No. 4 and ascertained that the ritualistic work was indeed that of the Ancients. The officers of Lodge No. 4, on being summoned to appear before Grand Lodge, freely admitted that they were Ancient Masons and refused to consider a change in the manner of working. The Warrant for Lodge No. 4 was immediately withdrawn, but the Lodge continued in operation even though it was without a Warrant. To remedy that defect, the officers petitioned the Grand Lodge of Ancients in London, and under the date of June 7, 1758, they were warranted as Lodge No. 1 of Pennsylvania and No. 69 of England.

On February 13, 1760, the members of Lodge No. 1, "Ancients" in Philadelphia, balloted for Past Grand Master. William Ball, a wealthy landowner in the Province, was elected. Following the selection of Brother Ball as Past Grand Master, an application was made by members of Lodge No. 1 to the Grand Lodge of Ancients in London for a Provincial Grand Warrant for PA. They were successful in their efforts and a warrant bearing date of July 15, 1761, for the Provincial Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania (Ancients) was issued. This venerable document is still in the archives of the Grand Lodge of PA.

Freemasonry in Pennsylvania, 1727-1907.

Whereas the original Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania (Moderns) had been very conservative and relatively inactive, the new Grand Lodge of the Ancients was progressive and alert to its opportunities. During its entire career the Modern Grand Lodge never had more than four Constituent Lodges on its rolls in its most prosperous years. On the other hand, from the date of its establishment up to the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Ancients granted warrants to sixteen Lodges and during the Revolution warranted seven more.

There was great rivalry and considerable friction between Ancients and Moderns in PA. This was intensified by the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, for in this state, the Modern Lodges to a considerable degree were composed of ultra-conservatives who were inclined to be Loyalists, while a large majority of the Ancients espoused the cause of independence. By the end of the war the Modern Lodges had practically disintegrated with the result that in 1813 and thereafter when, in Jurisdictions throughout the world, Moderns and Ancients were being reconciled and united, that was unnecessary in PA, where the Ancients reigned supreme. Hence the Ritualistic changes and compromises resulting from the reconciliation of 1813 did not affect the work in this state and Pennsylvania Masons continued to work in the pure Ancient way.

When such unifying influences as the Baltimore Masonic Convention of 1843, the work of Robert Morris and his Conservators, and the efforts of Thomas Smith Webb and Jeremy Cross made a tremendous impression on the work of many American Jurisdictions, Pennsylvania successfully resisted attempts to effect any change.

It is in its Ritual that Pennsylvania differs from most other Jurisdictions. To possess or use a written or printed ritual or Masonic code or cipher is a Masonic offense. The accuracy and uniformity of the Ritual is maintained by oral instruction. All knowledge of Ritual in PA, whether the aspirant is a Candidate or an Officer, must be acquired "mouth to ear". This includes the esoteric work as well as the exoteric, no monitors or manuals being permitted. What really gives the Ritual its distinctive, its exclusive character, is the manner in which the degrees are conferred, didactic and not dramatic as in the other forty-eight (1990, 51) Jurisdictions in the United States.

There is no posting lecture or catechism. A Member of a Pennsylvania Lodge desiring to visit in another Jurisdiction must prove himself a Mason.

PA does not do courtesy Work for other Grand Lodges nor request it of them. This is due to the difference in Ritual and because, under its Law, identification cannot be made by letter or document of any kind.

It does not review the Proceedings of other Grand Lodges, nor exchange representatives; claims perpetual jurisdiction over rejected material and has no provision for dual or plural membership, either inside or outside the Commonwealth. (The Pennsylvania Ahiman Rezon was amended on December 27, 1993, to permit a Member of a Lodge in this Jurisdiction to be at the same time a Member of one other Lodge either in this or another Jurisdiction.) A Candidate is elected to all three Degrees on one ballot. The business of a Lodge is conducted in the Third Degree. Advancement from the First and Second Degrees is dependent on a knowledge of Pennsylvania Work. Having made the Candidate a Mason in the First Degree, no means exists whereby after receiving the Third Degree, he may be compelled to take further instruction, except by persuasion.

The Grand Master of Pennsylvania has extraordinary powers. There can be no appeal from his decisions. He exercises rigid censorship over everything written or spoken in the name of Freemasonry. The Edicts of the Grand Master emanate from the inherent powers of his office, as well as those conferred by the Ahiman Rezon, and have the authority of Masonic Law. They cannot be repealed by the Grand Lodge. Such action can only be taken by one of his successors. At the Annual Grand Communication he does not report to Grand Lodge, he addresses Grand Lodge and his address is not referred to a Committee on Division and Reference, Jurisprudence or other committees. The Grand Lodge does not have a Jurisprudence Committee.

An Edict which attracted nationwide attention was issued in 1921. It is still in force. No succeeding Grand Master has seen fit to set it aside. This edict is generally referred to as the "Eastern Star Edict". It ordered and directed that Pennsylvania Masons who are members of the Order of the Eastern Star, the White Shrine of Jerusalem, The Amaranths or any organization whose membership is comprised of both sexes, and which has Masonic affiliation as a prerequisite, shall within six months sever all relations therewith. It also ordered that, henceforth, it would be unlawful for any Pennsylvania Mason to become a member of any organization such as those referred to above.

The Edict resulted from the refusal of the officers of the Grand Chapter to comply with the request of the Grand Master. He told them that if they entered into a political type of campaign in an effort to elect one of their male members Junior Grand Warden, he would be forced to take drastic action. They told him that he could not stop them as they were not Masons. An active campaign by the ladies was followed by the Edict.

(Note: On June 27, 1991, the then-Grand Master, W. Scott Stoner, revised that section of the Digest of Decisions, Article 33, removing the earlier prohibition for the above-cited organizations.)

Making Masons at Sight is practiced by Grand Masters in PA. The Degrees may be conferred either during a meeting of a Constituent Lodge or a session of the Grand Lodge; provided the Grand Master is present. The Degrees are conferred in full form with sufficient time between to instruct the Candidate in certain rudiments. After having been Raised he becomes a Mason-at-large and must petition a Lodge for membership.

The term "LEWIS" appears in the English Constitution of 1739. The Masonic Lewis is recognized by Pennsylvania as well as England, Ireland and Scotland. At a meeting of Union Lodge, No. 121, Grand Master J. Willison Smith made his son, Robert Drummond Smith, age 20, a Mason at Sight.

The Grand Masters of all the Jurisdictions in the United States are addressed as Most Worshipful Grand Master, except in Pennsylvania where the title to the office is Right Worshipful. Following the custom of the Ancients, all of the Pennsylvania Masons are addressed as Brother. Titles apply to the Office as Right Worshipful Grand Master. Although in some of the larger Jurisdictions, hundreds of their members may be addressed as Right Worshipful, in Pennsylvania only the Elective Grand Officers and Past Grand Officers are entitled to Right Worshipful as a part of the title of their office.

In Pennsylvania the Grand Lodge has continued its system and Ritual, with minor deviations, throughout the period of the Union of 1813 to the present day. This is why it is unique; this is why it differs so much from each of the other forty-eight (1990, 51) Jurisdictions of the United States. It is an Ancient Grand Lodge, prospering as it works in the center of the American Craft.

Paper presented during Masonic Week in Washington, D.C., February, 1971