The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter III

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It is an indisputable fact that the "General Assembly" which met at York in 926 was composed of all the members of the fraternity who chose to repair to it; and it is equally certain that, at the first Grand Lodge, held in 1717, after the revival of Masonry, all the craft who were present exercised the right of membership in voting for Grand Officers,[1] and must, therefore, have been considered members of the Grand Lodge. The right does not, however, appear to have been afterwards claimed. At this very assembly, the Grand Master who had been elected, summoned only the Master and Wardens of the lodges to meet him in the quarterly communications; and Preston distinctly states, that soon after, the Brethren of the four old lodges, which had constituted the Grand Lodge, considered their attendance on the future communications of the society unnecessary, and therefore concurred with the lodges which had been subsequently warranted in delegating the power of representation to their Masters and Wardens, "resting satisfied that no measure of importance would be adopted without their approbation."

Any doubts upon the subject were, however, soon put at rest by the enactment of a positive law. In 1721, thirty-nine articles for the future government of the craft were approved and confirmed, the twelfth of which was in the following words:

"The Grand Lodge consists of, and is formed by, the Masters and Wardens of all the regular particular lodges upon record, with the Grand Master at their head, and his Deputy on his left hand, and the Grand Wardens in their proper places."

From time to time, the number of these constituents of a Grand Lodge were increased by the extension of the qualifications for membership. Thus, in 1724, Past Grand Masters, and in 1725, Past Deputy Grand Masters, were admitted as members of the Grand Lodge. Finally it was decreed that the Grand Lodge should consist of the four present and all past grand officers; the Grand Treasurer, Secretary, and Sword-Bearer; the Master, Wardens, and nine assistants of the Grand Stewards' lodge, and the Masters and Wardens of all the regular lodges.

Past Masters were not at first admitted as members of the Grand Lodge. There is no recognition of them in the old Constitutions. Walworth thinks it must have been after 1772 that they were introduced.[2] I have extended my researches to some years beyond that period, without any success in finding their recognition as members under the Constitution of England. It is true that, in 1772, Dermott prefixed a note to his edition of the Ahiman Rezon, in which he asserts that "Past Masters of warranted lodges on record are allowed this privilege (of membership) whilst they continue to be members of any regular lodge." And it is, doubtless, on this imperfect authority, that the Grand Lodges of America began at so early a period to admit their Past Masters to seats in the Grand Lodge. In the authorized Book of Constitutions, we find no such provision. Indeed, Preston records that in 1808, at the laying of the foundation-stone of the Covent Garden Theatre, by the Prince of Wales, as Grand Master, "the Grand Lodge was opened by Charles Marsh, Esq., attended by the Masters and Wardens of all the regular lodges;" and, throughout the description of the ceremonies, no notice is taken of Past Masters as forming any part of the Grand Lodge. The first notice that we have been enabled to obtain of Past Masters, as forming any part of the Grand Lodge of England, is in the "Articles of Union between the two Grand Lodges of England," adopted in 1813, which declare that the Grand Lodge shall consist of the Grand and Past Grand Officers, of the actual Masters and Wardens of all the warranted lodges, and of the "Past Masters of Lodges who have regularly served and passed the chair before the day of Union, and who continued, without secession, regular contributing members of a warranted lodge." But it is provided, that after the decease of all these ancient Past Masters, the representation of every lodge shall consist of its Master and Wardens, and one Past Master only. There is, I presume, no doubt that, from 1772, Past Masters had held a seat in the Athol Grand Lodge of Ancient Masons, and that they did not in the original Grand Lodge, is, I believe, a fact equally indisputable. By the present constitutions of the United Grand Lodge of England, Past Masters are members of the Grand Lodge, while they continue subscribing members of a private lodge. In some of the Grand Lodges of the United States, Past Masters have been permitted to retain their membership, while in others, they have been disfranchised.

On the whole, the result of this inquiry seems to be, that Past Masters have no inherent right, derived from the ancient landmarks, to a seat in the Grand Lodge; but as every Grand Lodge has the power, within certain limits, to make regulations for its own government, it may or may not admit them to membership, according to its own notion of expediency.

Some of the Grand Lodges have not only disfranchised Past Masters but Wardens also, and restricted membership only to acting Masters. This innovation has arisen from the fact that the payment of mileage and expenses to three representative would entail a heavy burden on the revenue of the Grand Lodge. The reason may have been imperative; but in the practice, pecuniary expediency has been made to override an ancient usage.

In determining, then, who are the constitutional members of a Grand Lodge, deriving their membership from inherent right, I should say that they are the Masters and Wardens of all regular lodges in the jurisdiction, with the Grand Officers chosen by them. All others, who by local regulations are made members, are so only by courtesy, and not by prescription or ancient law.


  1. Chancellor Walworth, in his profound argument on the New York difficulties, asserted that this fact "does not distinctly appear, although it is, pretty evident that all voted."--p. 33. The language of Anderson does not, however, admit of a shadow of a doubt. "The Brethren," he says, "by a majority of hands, elected," &c.
  2. Opinion of Chancellor Walworth upon the questions connected with the late masonic difficulties in the State of New York, p. 37. There is much historical learning displayed in this little pamphlet.