The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter XIV

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The Principles of Masonic Law by Albert Mackey
Book Third, Chapter IV
Chapter IV.
Of the Rights of Master Masons.

When a Mason has reached the third degree, he becomes entitled to all the rights and privileges of Ancient Craft Masonry. These rights are extensive and complicated; and, like his duties, which are equally as extensive, require a careful examination, thoroughly to comprehend them. Four of them, at least, are of so much importance as to demand a distinct consideration. These are the rights of membership, of visitation, of relief, and of burial. To each I shall devote a separate section.


Section I.
Of the Right of Membership.

The whole spirit and tenor of the General Regulations, as well as the uniform usage of the craft, sustain the doctrine, that when a Mason is initiated in a lodge, he has the right, by signing the bye-laws, to become a member without the necessity of submitting to another ballot. In the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of New York, this principle is asserted to be one of the ancient landmarks, and is announced in the following words: "Initiation makes a man a Mason; but he must receive the Master's degree, and sign the bye-laws before he becomes a member of the lodge."[1] If the doctrine be not exactly a landmark (which I confess I am not quite prepared to admit), it comes to us almost clothed with the authority of one, from the sanction of universal and uninterrupted usage.

How long before he loses this right by a non-user, or neglect to avail himself of it, is, I presume, a question to be settled by local authority. A lodge, or a Grand Lodge, may affix the period according to its discretion; but the general custom is, to require a signature of the bye-laws, and a consequent enrollment in the lodge, within three months after receiving the third degree. Should a Mason neglect to avail himself of his privilege, he forfeits it (unless, upon sufficient cause, he is excused by the lodge), and must submit to a ballot.

The reason for such a law is evident. If a Mason does not at once unite himself with the lodge in which he was raised, but permits an extended period of time to elapse, there is no certainty that his character or habits may not have changed, and that he may not have become, since his initiation, unworthy of affiliation. Under the general law, it is, therefore, necessary that he should in such case submit to the usual probation of one month, and an investigation of his qualifications by a committee, as well as a ballot by the members.

But there are other privileges also connected with this right of membership. A profane is required to apply for initiation to the lodge nearest his place of residence, and, if there rejected, can never in future apply to any other lodge. But the rule is different with respect to the application of a Master Mason for membership.

A Master Mason is not restricted in his privilege of application for membership within any geographical limits. All that is required of him is, that he should be an affiliated Mason; that is, that he should be a contributing member of a lodge, without any reference to its peculiar locality, whether near to or distant from his place of residence. The Old Charges simply prescribe, that every Mason ought to belong to a lodge. A Mason, therefore, strictly complies with this regulation, when he unites himself with any lodge, thus contributing to the support of the institution, and is then entitled to all the privileges of an affiliated Mason.

A rejection of the application of a Master Mason for membership by a lodge does not deprive him of the right of applying to another. A Mason is in "good standing" until deprived of that character by the action of some competent masonic authority; and that action can only be by suspension or expulsion. Rejection does not, therefore, affect the "good standing" of the applicant; for in a rejection there is no legal form of trial, and consequently the rejected Brother remains in the same position after as before his rejection. He possesses the same rights as before, unimpaired and undiminished; and among these rights is that of applying for membership to any lodge that he may select.

If, then, a Mason may be a member of a lodge distant from his place of residence, and, perhaps, even situated in a different jurisdiction, the question then arises whether the lodge within whose precincts he resides, but of which he is not a member, can exercise its discipline over him should he commit any offense requiring masonic punishment. On this subject there is, among masonic writers, a difference of opinion. I, however, agree with Brother Pike, the able Chairman of the Committee of Correspondence of Arkansas, that the lodge can exercise such discipline. I contend that a Mason is amenable for his conduct not only to the lodge of which he may be a member, but also to any one within whose jurisdiction he permanently resides. A lodge is the conservator of the purity and the protector of the integrity of the Order within its precincts. The unworthy conduct of a Mason, living as it were immediately under its government, is calculated most injuriously to affect that purity and integrity. A lodge, therefore, should not be deprived of the power of coercing such unworthy Mason, and, by salutary punishment, of vindicating the character of the institution. Let us suppose, by way of example, that a Mason living in San Francisco, California, but retaining his membership in New York, behaves in such an immoral and indecorous manner as to bring the greatest discredit upon the Order, and to materially injure it in the estimation of the uninitiated community. Will it be, for a moment, contended that a lodge in San Francisco cannot arrest the evil by bringing the unworthy Mason under discipline, and even ejecting him from the fraternity, if severity like that is necessary for the protection of the institution? Or will it be contended that redress can only be sought through the delay and uncertainty of an appeal to his lodge in New York? Even if the words of the ancient laws are silent on this subject, reason and justice would seem to maintain the propriety and expediency of the doctrine that the lodge at San Francisco is amply competent to extend its jurisdiction and exercise its discipline over the culprit.

In respect to the number of votes necessary to admit a Master Mason applying by petition for membership in a lodge, there can be no doubt that he must submit to precisely the same conditions as those prescribed to a profane on his petition for initiation. There is no room for argument here, for the General Regulations are express on this subject.

"No man can be made or admitted a member of a particular lodge," says the fifth regulation, "without previous notice one month before given to the said lodge."

And the sixth regulation adds, that "no man can be entered a Brother in any particular lodge, or admitted to be a member thereof, without the unanimous consent of all the members of that lodge then present."

So that it may be considered as settled law, so far as the General Regulations can settle a law of Masonry, that a Master Mason can only be admitted a member of a lodge when applying by petition, after a month's probation, after due inquiry into his character, and after a unanimous ballot in his favor.

But there are other rights of Master Masons consequent upon membership, which remain to be considered. In uniting with a lodge, a Master Mason becomes a participant of all its interests, and is entitled to speak and vote upon all subjects that come before the lodge for investigation. He is also entitled, if duly elected by his fellows, to hold any office in the lodge, except that of Master, for which he must be qualified by previously having occupied the post of a Warden.

A Master has the right in all cases of an appeal from the decision of the Master or of the lodge.

A Master Mason, in good standing, has a right at any time to demand from his lodge a certificate to that effect.

Whatever other rights may appertain to Master Masons will be the subjects of separate sections.


Section II.
Of the Right of Visit.

Every Master Mason, who is an affiliated member of a lodge, has the right to visit any other lodge as often as he may desire to do so. This right is secured to him by the ancient regulations, and is, therefore, irreversible. In the "Ancient Charges at the Constitution of a Lodge," formerly contained in a MS. of the Lodge of Antiquity in London, and whose date is not later than 1688,[2] it is directed "that every Mason receive and cherish strange fellows when they come over the country, and set them on work, if they will work as the manner is; that is to say, if the Mason have any mould stone in his place, he shall give him a mould stone, and set him on work; and if he have none, the Mason shall refresh him with money unto the next lodge."

This regulation is explicit. It not only infers the right of visit, but it declares that the strange Brother shall be welcomed, "received, and cherished," and "set on work," that is, permitted to participate in the work of your lodge. Its provisions are equally applicable to Brethren residing in the place where the lodge is situated as to transient Brethren, provided that they are affiliated Masons.

In the year 1819, the law was in England authoritatively settled by a decree of the Grand Lodge. A complaint had been preferred against a lodge in London, for having refused admission to some Brethren who were well known to them, alleging that as the lodge was about to initiate a candidate, no visitor could be admitted until that ceremony was concluded. It was then declared, "that it is the undoubted right of every Mason who is well known, or properly vouched, to visit any lodge during the time it is opened for general masonic business, observing the proper forms to be attended to on such occasions, and so that the Master may not be interrupted in the performance of his duty."[3]

A lodge, when not opened for "general masonic business," but when engaged in the consideration of matters which interest the lodge alone, and which it would be inexpedient or indelicate to make public, may refuse to admit a visitor. Lodges engaged in this way, in private business, from which visitors are excluded, are said by the French Masons to be opened "en famille."

To entitle him to this right of visit, a Mason must be affiliated, that is, he must be a contributing member of some lodge. This doctrine is thus laid down in the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England:

"A Brother who is not a subscribing member to some lodge, shall not be permitted to visit any one lodge in the town or place in which he resides, more than once during his secession from the craft."

A non-subscribing or unaffiliated Mason is permitted to visit each lodge once, and once only, because it is supposed that this visit is made for the purpose of enabling him to make a selection of the one with which he may prefer permanently to unite. But, afterwards, he loses this right of visit, to discountenance those Brethren who wish to continue members of the Order, and to partake of its pleasures and advantages, without contributing to its support.

A Master Mason is not entitled to visit a lodge, unless he previously submits to an examination, or is personally vouched for by a competent Brother present; but this is a subject of so much importance as to claim consideration in a distinct section.

Another regulation is, that a strange Brother shall furnish the lodge he intends to visit with a certificate of his good standing in the lodge from which he last hailed. This regulation has, in late years, given rise to much discussion. Many of the Grand Lodges of this country, and several masonic writers, strenuously contend for its antiquity and necessity, while others as positively assert that it is a modern innovation upon ancient usage.

There can, however, I think, be no doubt of the antiquity of certificates. That the system requiring them was in force nearly two hundred years ago, at least, will be evident from the third of the Regulations made in General Assembly, December 27, 1663, under the Grand Mastership of the Earl of St. Albans,[4] and which is in the following words:

"3. That no person hereafter who shall be accepted a Freemason, shall be admitted into any lodge or assembly, until he has brought a certificate of the time and place of his acceptation, from the lodge that accepted him, unto the Master of that limit or division where such a lodge is kept." This regulation has been reiterated on several occasions, by the Grand Lodge of England in 1772, and at subsequent periods by several Grand Lodges of this and other countries. It is not, however, in force in many of the American jurisdictions.

Another right connected with the right of visitation is, that of demanding a sight of the Warrant of Constitution. This instrument it is, indeed, not only the right but the duty of every strange visitor carefully to inspect, before he enters a lodge, that he may thus satisfy himself of the legality and regularity of its character and authority. On such a demand being made by a visitor for a sight of its Warrant, every lodge is bound to comply with the requisition, and produce the instrument. The same rule, of course, applies to lodges under dispensation, whose Warrant of Dispensation supplies the place of a Warrant of Constitution.


Section III.
Of the Examination of Visitors.

It has already been stated, in the preceding section, that a Master Mason is not permitted to visit a lodge unless he previously submits to an examination, or is personally vouched for by some competent Brother present. The prerogative of vouching for a Brother is an important one, and will constitute the subject of the succeeding section. At present let us confine ourselves to the consideration of the mode of examining a visitor.

Every visitor, who offers himself to the appointed committee of the lodge for examination, is expected, as a preliminary step, to submit to the Tiler's Obligation; so called, because it is administered in the Tiler's room. As this obligation forms no part of the secret ritual of the Order, but is administered to every person before any lawful knowledge of his being a Mason has been received, there can be nothing objectionable in inserting it here, and in fact, it will be advantageous to have the precise words of so important a declaration placed beyond the possibility of change or omission by inexperienced Brethren.

The oath, then, which is administered to the visitor, and which he may, if he chooses, require every one present to take with him, is in the following words

"I, A. B., do hereby and hereon solemnly and sincerely swear, that I have been regularly initiated, passed, and raised, to the sublime degree of a Master Mason, in a just and legally constituted lodge of such, that I do not now stand suspended or expelled, and know of no reason why I should not hold masonic communication with my Brethren.

This declaration having been given in the most solemn manner, the examination must then be conducted with the necessary forms. The good old rule of "commencing at the beginning" should be observed. Every question is to be asked and every answer demanded which is necessary to convince the examiner that the party examined is acquainted with what he ought to know, to entitle him to the appellation of a Brother. Nothing is to be taken for granted--categorical answers must be required to all that it is deemed important to be asked. No forgetfulness is to be excused, nor is the want of memory to be accepted as a valid excuse for the want of knowledge. The Mason, who is so unmindful of his duties as to have forgotten the instructions he has received, must pay the penalty of his carelessness, and be deprived of his contemplated visit to that society whose secret modes of recognition he has so little valued as not to have treasured them in his memory. While there are some things which may be safely passed over in the examination of one who confesses himself to be "rusty," or but recently initiated, because they are details which require much study to acquire, and constant practice to retain, there are still other things of great importance which must be rigidly demanded, and with the knowledge of which the examiner cannot, under any circumstances, dispense.

Should suspicions of imposture arise, let no expression of these suspicions be made until the final decree for rejection is pronounced. And let that decree be uttered in general terms, such as: "I am not satisfied," or, "I do not recognize you," and not in more specific terms, such as, "You did not answer this inquiry," or, "You are ignorant on that point." The visitor is only entitled to know, generally, that he has not complied with the requisitions of his examiner. To descend to particulars is always improper and often dangerous.

Above all, the examiner should never ask what are called "leading questions," or such as include in themselves an indication of what the answer is to be; nor should he in any manner aid the memory of the party examined by the slightest hint. If he has it in him, it will come out without assistance, and if he has it not, he is clearly entitled to no aid.

Lastly, never should an unjustifiable delicacy weaken the rigor of these rules. Let it be remembered, that for the wisest and most evident reasons, the merciful maxim of the law, which says, that it is better that ninety-nine guilty men should escape than that one innocent man should be punished, is with us reversed, and that in Masonry it is better that ninety and nine true men should be turned away from the door of a lodge than that one cowan should be admitted.


Section IV.
Of Vouching for a Brother.

An examination may sometimes be omitted when any competent Brother present will vouch for the visitor's masonic standing and qualifications. This prerogative of vouching is an important one which every Master Mason is entitled, under certain restrictions, to exercise; but it is also one which may so materially affect the well-being of the whole fraternity--since by its injudicious use impostors might be introduced among the faithful--that it should be controlled by the most stringent regulations.

To vouch for one, is to bear witness for him; and, in witnessing to truth, every caution should be observed, lest falsehood should cunningly assume its garb. The Brother who vouches should, therefore, know to a certainty that the one for whom he vouches is really what he claims to be. He should know this not from a casual conversation, nor a loose and careless inquiry, but, as the unwritten law of the Order expresses it, from "strict trial, due examination, or lawful information."

Of strict trial and due examination I have already treated in the preceding section; and it only remains to say, that when the vouching is founded on the knowledge obtained in this way, it is absolutely necessary that the Brother so vouching shall be competent to conduct such an examination, and that his general intelligence and shrewdness and his knowledge of Masonry shall be such as to place him above the probability of being imposed upon. The important and indispensable qualification of a voucher is, therefore, that he shall be competent. The Master of a lodge has no right to accept, without further inquiry, the avouchment of a young and inexperienced, or even of an old, if ignorant, Mason.

Lawful information, which is the remaining ground for an avouchment, may be derived either from the declaration of another Brother, or from having met the party vouched for in a lodge on some previous occasion.

If the information is derived from another Brother, who states that he has examined the party, then all that has already been said of the competency of the one giving the information is equally applicable. The Brother, giving the original information, must be competent to make a rigid examination. Again, the person giving the information, the one receiving it, and the one of whom it is given, should be all present at the time; for otherwise there would be no certainty of identity. Information, therefore, given by letter or through a third party, is highly irregular. The information must also be positive, not founded on belief or opinion, but derived from a legitimate source. And, lastly, it must not have been received casually, but for the very purpose of being used for masonic purposes. For one to say to another in the course of a desultory conversation: "A.B. is a Mason," is not sufficient. He may not be speaking with due caution, under the expectation that his words will be considered of weight. He must say something to this effect: "I know this man to be a Master Mason," for such or such reasons, and you may safely recognize him as such. This alone will insure the necessary care and proper observance of prudence.

If the information given is on the ground that the person, vouched has been seen sitting in a lodge by the voucher, care must be taken to inquire if it was a "Lodge of Master Masons." A person may forget, from the lapse of time, and vouch for a stranger as a Master Mason, when the lodge in which he saw him was only opened in the first or second degree.


Section V.
Of the Right of Claiming Relief.

One of the great objects of our institution is, to afford relief to a worthy, distressed Brother. In his want and destitution, the claim of a Mason upon his Brethren is much greater than that of a profane. This is a Christian as well as a masonic doctrine. "As we have therefore opportunity," says St. Paul, "let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."

This claim for relief he may present either to a lodge or to a Brother Mason. The rule, as well as the principles by which it is to be regulated, is laid down in that fundamental law of Masonry, the Old Charges, in the following explicit words, under the head of "Behavior towards a strange Brother:"

"You are cautiously to examine him, in such a method as prudence shall direct you, that you may not be imposed upon by an ignorant, false pretender, whom you are to reject with contempt and derision, and beware of giving him any hints of knowledge.

"But if you discover him to be a true and genuine Brother, you are to respect him accordingly; and if he is in want, you must relieve him if you can, or else direct him how he may be relieved. You must employ him some days, or else recommend him to be employed. But you are not charged to do beyond your ability, only to prefer a poor Brother, that is a good man and true, before any other people in the same circumstances."

This law thus laid down, includes, it will be perceived, as two important prerequisites, on which to found a claim for relief, that the person applying shall be in distress, and that he shall be worthy of assistance.

He must be in distress. Ours is not an insurance company, a joint stock association, in which, for a certain premium paid, an equivalent may be demanded. No Mason, or no lodge, is bound to give pecuniary or other aid to a Brother, unless he really needs. The word "benefit," as usually used in the modern friendly societies, has no place in the vocabulary of Freemasonry. If a wealthy Brother is afflicted with sorrow or sickness, we are to strive to comfort him with our sympathy, our kindness, and our attention, but we are to bestow our eleemosynary aid only on the indigent or the destitute.

He must also be worthy. There is no obligation on a Mason to relieve the distresses, however real they may be, of an unworthy Brother. The claimant must be, in the language of the Charge, "true and genuine." True here is used in its good old Saxon meaning, of "faithful" or "trusty." A true Mason is one who is mindful of his obligations, and who faithfully observes and practices all his duties. Such a man, alone, can rightfully claim the assistance of his Brethren.

But a third provision is made in the fundamental law; namely, that the assistance is not to be beyond the ability of the giver. One of the most important landmarks, contained in our unwritten law, more definitely announces this provision, by the words, that the aid and assistance shall be without injury to oneself or his family. Masonry does not require that we shall sacrifice our own welfare to that of a Brother; but that with prudent liberality, and a just regard to our own worldly means, we shall give of the means with which Providence may have blessed us for the relief of our distressed Brethren.

It is hardly necessary to say, that the claim for relief of a worthy distressed Mason extends also to his immediate family.


Section VI.
Of the Right of Masonic Burial.

After a very careful examination, I can find nothing in the old charges or General Regulations, nor in any other part of the fundamental law, in relation to masonic burial of deceased Brethren. It is probable that, at an early period, when the great body of the craft consisted of Entered Apprentices, the usage permitted the burial of members, of the first or second degree, with the honors of Masonry. As far back as 1754, processions for the purpose of burying Masons seemed to have been conducted by some of the lodges with either too much frequency, or some other irregularity; for, in November of that year, the Grand Lodge adopted a regulation, forbidding them, under a heavy penalty, unless by permission of the Grand Master, or his Deputy.[5] As there were, comparatively speaking, few Master Masons at that period, it seems a natural inference that most of the funeral processions were for the burial of Apprentices, or, at least, of Fellow Crafts.

But the usage since then, has been greatly changed; and by universal consent, the law, as first committed to writing, by Preston, who was the author of our present funeral service, is now adopted.

The Regulation, as laid down by Preston, is so explicit, that I prefer giving it in his own words.[6]

"No Mason can be interred with the formalities of the Order, unless it be at his own special request, communicated to the Master of the Lodge of which he died a member--foreigners and sojourners excepted; nor unless he has been advanced to the third degree of Masonry, from which restriction there can be no exception. Fellow Crafts or Apprentices are not entitled to the funeral obsequies."

This rule has been embodied in the modern Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England; and, as I have already observed, appears by universal consent to have been adopted as the general usage.

The necessity for a dispensation, which is also required by the modern English Constitutions, does not seem to have met with the same general approval, and in this country, dispensations for funeral processions are not usually, if at all, required. Indeed, Preston himself, in explaining the law, says that it was not intended to restrict the privileges of the regular lodges, but that, "by the universal practice of Masons, every regular lodge is authorized by the Constitution to act on such occasions when limited to its own members."[7] It is only when members of other lodges, not under the control of the Master, are convened, that a dispensation is required. But in America, Grand Lodges or Grand Masters have not generally interfered with the rights of the lodges to bury the dead; the Master being of course amenable to the constituted authorities for any indecorum or impropriety.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. Const. New York, 1854, p. 13. The Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England (p. 64) have a similar provision; but they require the Brother to express his wish for membership on the day of his initiation.
  2. Preston, Oliver's Ed., p. 71, note (U.L.M., vol. iii., p. 60).
  3. See Oliver, note in Preston, p. 75 (U.M.L., vol. iii, p. 61).
  4. Oliver's Preston, p. 162 (U.M.L., vol. iii., p. 135.)
  5. See Anderson's Const., 3d Edit., 1755, page 303.
  6. Preston, Oliver's Edit., p. 89 (U.M.L., vol. iii., p. 72).
  7. Preston, Oliver's Edit., p. 90 (U.M.L., vol. iii., p. 73).