The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter VIII

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Chapter III.
Of Lodges Working under a Warrant of Constitution.

Section I.
Of the Powers and Rights of a Lodge.

In respect to the powers and privileges possessed by a lodge working under a warrant of constitution, we may say, as a general principle, that whatever it does possess is inherent in it--nothing has been delegated by either the Grand Master or the Grand Lodge--but that all its rights and powers are derived originally from the ancient regulations, made before the existence of Grand Lodges, and that what it does not possess, are the powers which were conceded by its predecessors to the Grand Lodge. This is evident from the history of warrants of constitution, the authority under which subordinate lodges act. The practice of applying by petition to the Grand Master or the Grand Lodge, for a warrant to meet as a regular lodge, commenced in the year 1718. Previous to that time, Freemasons were empowered by inherent privileges, vested, from time immemorial, in the whole fraternity, to meet as occasion might require, under the direction of some able architect; and the proceedings of these meetings, being approved by a majority of the Brethren convened at another lodge in the same district, were deemed constitutional.[1] But in 1718, a year after the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, this power of meeting ad libitum was resigned into the hands of that body, and it was then agreed that no lodges should thereafter meet, unless authorized so to do by a warrant from the Grand Master, and with the consent of the Grand Lodge. But as a memorial that this abandonment of the ancient right was entirely voluntary, it was at the same time resolved that this inherent privilege should continue to be enjoyed by the four old lodges who formed the Grand Lodge. And, still more effectually to secure the reserved rights of the lodges, it was also solemnly determined, that while the Grand Lodge possesses the inherent right of making new regulations for the good of the fraternity, provided that the old landmarks be carefully preserved, yet that these regulations, to be of force, must be proposed and agreed to at the third quarterly communication preceding the annual grand feast, and submitted to the perusal of all the Brethren, in writing, even of the youngest entered apprentice; "the approbation and consent of the majority of all the Brethren present being absolutely necessary, to make the same binding and obligatory."[2]

The corollary from all this is clear. All the rights, powers, and privileges, not conceded, by express enactment of the fraternity, to the Grand Lodge, have been reserved to themselves. Subordinate lodges are the assemblies of the craft in their primary capacity, and the Grand Lodge is the Supreme Masonic Tribunal, only because it consists of and is constituted by a representation of these primary assemblies. And, therefore, as every act of the Grand Lodge is an act of the whole fraternity thus represented, each new regulation that may be made is not an assumption of authority on the part of the Grand Lodge, but a new concession on the part of the subordinate lodges.

This doctrine of the reserved rights of the lodges is very important, and should never be forgotten, because it affords much aid in the decision of many obscure points of masonic jurisprudence. The rule is, that any doubtful power exists and is inherent in the subordinate lodges, unless there is an express regulation conferring it on the Grand Lodge. With this preliminary view, we may proceed to investigate the nature and extent of these reserved powers of the subordinate lodges.

A lodge has the right of selecting its own members, with which the Grand Lodge cannot interfere. This is a right that the lodges have expressly reserved to themselves, and the stipulation is inserted in the "general regulations" in the following words:

"No man can be entered a Brother in any particular lodge, or admitted a member thereof, without the unanimous consent of all the members of that lodge then present, when the candidate is proposed, and when their consent is formally asked by the Master. They are to give their consent in their own prudent way, either virtually or in form, but with unanimity. Nor is this inherent privilege subject to a dispensation, because the members of a particular lodge are the best judges of it; and because, if a turbulent member should be imposed upon them, it might spoil their harmony, or hinder the freedom of their communication; or even break and disperse the lodge, which ought to be avoided by all true and faithful."[3]

But although a lodge has the inherent right to require unanimity in the election of a candidate, it is not necessarily restricted to such a degree of rigor.

A lodge has the right to elect its own officers. This right is guaranteed to it by the words of the Warrant of Constitution. Still the right is subject to certain restraining regulations. The election must be held at the proper time, which, according to the usage of Masonry, in most parts of the world, is on or immediately before the festival of St. John the Evangelist. The proper qualifications must be regarded. A member cannot be elected as Master, unless he has previously served as a Warden, except in the instance of a new lodge, or other case of emergency. Where both of the Wardens refuse promotion, where the presiding Master will not permit himself to be reelected, and where there is no Past Master who will consent to take the office, then, and then only, can a member be elected from the floor to preside over the lodge.

By the Constitutions of England, only the Master and Treasurer are elected officers.[4] The Wardens and all the other officers are appointed by the Master, who has not, however, the power of removal after appointment, except by consent of the lodge;[5] but American usage gives the election of all the officers, except the deacons, stewards, and, in some instances, the tiler, to the lodge.

As a consequence of the right of election, every lodge has the power of installing its officers, subject to the same regulations, in relation to time and qualifications, as given in the case of elections.

The Master must be installed by a Past Master,[6] but after his own installation he has the power to install the rest of the officers. The ceremony of installation is not a mere vain and idle one, but is productive of important results. Until the Master and Wardens of a lodge are installed, they cannot represent the lodge in the Grand Lodge, nor, if it be a new lodge, can it be recorded and recognized on the register of the Grand Lodge. No officer can permanently take possession of the office to which he has been elected, until he has been duly installed.[7] The rule of the craft is, that the old officer holds on until his successor is installed, and this rule is of universal application to officers of every grade, from the Tiler of a subordinate lodge, to the Grand Master of Masons.

Every lodge that has been duly constituted, and its officers installed, is entitled to be represented in the Grand Lodge, and to form, indeed, a constituent part of that body.[8] The representatives of a lodge are its Master and two Wardens.[9] This character of representation was established in 1718, when the four old lodges, which organized the Grand Lodge of England, agreed "to extend their patronage to every lodge which should hereafter be constituted by the Grand Lodge, according to the new regulations of the society; and while such lodges acted in conformity to the ancient constitutions of the Order, to admit their Masters and Wardens to share with them all the privileges of the Grand Lodge, excepting precedence of rank."[10] Formerly all Master Masons were permitted to sit in the Grand Lodge, or, as it was then called, the General Assembly, and represent their lodge; and therefore this restricting the representation to the three superior officers was, in fact, a concession of the craft. This regulation is still generally observed; but I regret to see a few Grand Lodges in this country innovating on the usage, and still further confining the representation to the Masters alone.

The Master and Wardens are not merely in name the representatives of the lodge, but are bound, on all questions that come before the Grand Lodge, truly to represent their lodge, and vote according to its instructions. This doctrine is expressly laid down in the General Regulations, in the following words: "The majority of every particular lodge, when congregated, not else, shall have the privilege of giving instructions to their Master and Wardens, before the meeting of the Grand Chapter, or Quarterly Communication; because the said officers are their representatives, and are supposed to speak the sentiments of their Brethren at the said Grand Lodge."[11]

Every lodge has the power to frame bye-laws for its own government, provided they are not contrary to, nor inconsistent with, the general regulations of the Grand Lodge; nor the landmarks of the order.[12] But these bye-laws will not be valid, until they are submitted to and approved by the Grand Lodge. And this is the case, also, with every subsequent alteration of them, which must in like manner be submitted to the Grand Lodge for its approval.

A lodge has the right of suspending or excluding a member from his membership in the lodge; but it has no power to expel him from the rights and privileges of Masonry, except with the consent of the Grand Lodge. A subordinate lodge tries its delinquent member, and, if guilty, declares him expelled; but the sentence is of no force until the Grand Lodge, under whose jurisdiction it is working, has confirmed it. And it is optional with the Grand Lodge to do so, or, as is frequently done, to reverse the decision and reinstate the Brother. Some of the lodges in this country claim the right to expel, independently of the action of the Grand Lodge; but the claim is not valid. The very fact that an expulsion is a penalty, affecting the general relations of the punished party with the whole fraternity, proves that its exercise never could, with propriety, be intrusted to a body so circumscribed in its authority as a subordinate lodge. Accordingly, the general practice of the fraternity is opposed to it; and therefore all expulsions are reported to the Grand Lodge, not merely as matters of information, but that they may be confirmed by that body. The English Constitutions are explicit on this subject. "In the Grand Lodge alone," they declare, "resides the power of erasing lodges and expelling Brethren from the craft, a power which it ought not to delegate to any subordinate authority in England." They allow, however, a subordinate lodge to exclude a member from the lodge; in which case he is furnished with a certificate of the circumstances of his exclusion, and then may join any other lodge that will accept him, after being made acquainted with the fact of his exclusion, and its cause. This usage has not been adopted in this country.

A lodge has a right to levy such annual contribution for membership as the majority of the Brethren see fit. This is entirely a matter of contract, with which the Grand Lodge, or the craft in general, have nothing to do. It is, indeed, a modern usage, unknown to the fraternity of former times, and was instituted for the convenience and support of the private lodges.

A lodge is entitled to select a name for itself, to be, however, approved by the Grand Lodge.[13] But the Grand Lodge alone has the power of designating the number by which the lodge shall be distinguished. By its number alone is every lodge recognized in the register of the Grand Lodge, and according to their numbers is the precedence of the lodges regulated.

Finally, a lodge has certain rights in relation to its Warrant of Constitution. This instrument having been granted by the Grand Lodge, can be revoked by no other authority. The Grand Master, therefore, has no power, as he has in the case of a lodge under dispensation, to withdraw its Warrant, except temporarily, until the next meeting of the Grand Lodge. Nor is it in the power of even the majority of the lodge, by any act of their own, to resign the Warrant. For it has been laid down as a law, that if the majority of the lodge should determine to quit the lodge, or to resign their warrant, such action would be of no efficacy, because the Warrant of Constitution, and the power of assembling, would remain with the rest of the members, who adhere to their allegiance.[14] But if all the members withdraw themselves, their Warrant ceases and becomes extinct. If the conduct of a lodge has been such as clearly to forfeit its charter, the Grand Lodge alone can decide that question and pronounce the forfeiture.

Section II.
Of the Duties of a Lodge.

So far in relation to the rights and privileges of subordinate lodges. But there are certain duties and obligations equally binding upon these bodies, and certain powers, in the exercise of which they are restricted. These will next engage our attention.

The first great duty, not only of every lodge, but of every Mason, is to see that the landmarks of the Order shall never be impaired. The General Regulations of Masonry--to which every Master, at his installation, is bound to acknowledge his submission--declare that "it is not in the power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry." And, hence, no lodge, without violating all the implied and express obligations into which it has entered, can, in any manner, alter or amend the work, lectures, and ceremonies of the institution. As its members have received the ritual from their predecessors, so are they bound to transmit it, unchanged, in the slightest degree, to their successors. In the Grand Lodge, alone, resides the power of enacting new regulations; but, even it must be careful that, in every such regulation, the landmarks are preserved. When, therefore, we hear young and inexperienced Masters speak of making improvements (as they arrogantly call them) upon the old lectures or ceremonies, we may be sure that such Masters either know nothing of the duties they owe to the craft, or are willfully forgetful of the solemn obligation which they have contracted. Some may suppose that the ancient ritual of the Order is imperfect, and requires amendment. One may think that the ceremonies are too simple, and wish to increase them; another, that they are too complicated, and desire to simplify them; one may be displeased with the antiquated language; another, with the character of the traditions; a third, with something else. But, the rule is imperative and absolute, that no change can or must be made to gratify individual taste. As the Barons of England, once, with unanimous voice, exclaimed, "Nolumus leges Angliae mutare!" so do all good Masons respond to every attempt at innovation, "We are unwilling to alter the customs of Freemasonry."

In relation to the election of officers, a subordinate lodge is allowed to exercise no discretion. The names and duties of these officers are prescribed, partly by the landmarks or the ancient constitutions, and partly by the regulations of various Grand Lodges. While the landmarks are preserved, a Grand Lodge may add to the list of officers as it pleases; and whatever may be its regulation, the subordinate lodges are bound to obey it; nor can any such lodge create new offices nor abolish old ones without the consent of the Grand Lodge.

Lodges are also bound to elect their officers at a time which is always determined; not by the subordinate, but by the Grand Lodge. Nor can a lodge anticipate or postpone it unless by a dispensation from the Grand Master.

No lodge can, at an extra meeting, alter or amend the proceedings of a regular meeting. If such were not the rule, an unworthy Master might, by stealth, convoke an extra meeting of a part of his lodge, and, by expunging or altering the proceedings of the previous regular meeting, or any particular part of them, annul any measures or resolutions that were not consonant with his peculiar views.

No lodge can interfere with the work or business of any other lodge, without its permission. This is an old regulation, founded on those principles of comity and brotherly love that should exist among all Masons. It is declared in the manuscript charges, written in the reign of James II., and in the possession of the Lodge of Antiquity, at London, that "no Master or Fellow shall supplant others of their work; that is to say, that, if he hath taken a work, or else stand Master of any work, that he shall not put him out, unless he be unable of cunning to make an end of his work." And, hence, no lodge can pass or raise a candidate who was initiated, or initiate one who was rejected, in another lodge. "It would be highly improper," says the Ahiman Rezon, "in any lodge, to confer a degree on a Brother who is not of their house-hold; for, every lodge ought to be competent to manage their own business, and are the best judges of the qualifications of their own members."

I do not intend, at the present time, to investigate the qualifications of candidates--as that subject will, in itself, afford ample materials for a future investigation; but, it is necessary that I should say something of the restrictions under which every lodge labors in respect to the admission of persons applying for degrees.

In the first place, no lodge can initiate a candidate, "without previous notice, and due examination into his character; and not unless his petition has been read at one regular meeting and acted on at another." This is in accordance with the ancient regulations; but, an exception to it is allowed in the case of an emergency, when the lodge may read the petition for admission, and, if the applicant is well recommended, may proceed at once to elect and initiate him. In some jurisdictions, the nature of the emergency must be stated to the Grand Master, who, if he approves, will grant a dispensation; but, in others, the Master, or Master and Wardens, are permitted to be competent judges, and may proceed to elect and initiate, without such dispensation. The Grand Lodge of South Carolina adheres to the former custom, and that of England to the latter.

Another regulation is, that no lodge can confer more than two degrees, at one communication, on the same candidate. The Grand Lodge of England is still more stringent on this subject, and declares that "no candidate shall be permitted to receive more than one degree, on the same day; nor shall a higher degree in Masonry be conferred on any Brother at a less interval than four weeks from his receiving a previous degree, nor until he has passed an examination, in open lodge, in that degree." This rule is also in force in South Carolina and several other of the American jurisdictions. But, the law which forbids the whole three degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry to be conferred, at the same communication, on one candidate, is universal in its application, and, as such, may be deemed one of the ancient landmarks of the Order.

There is another rule, which seems to be of universal extent, and is, indeed, contained in the General Regulations of 1767, to the following effect: "No lodge shall make more than five new Brothers at one and the same time, without an urgent necessity."

All lodges are bound to hold their meetings at least once in every calendar month; and every lodge neglecting so to do for one year, thereby forfeits its warrant of constitution.

The subject of the removal of lodges is the last thing that shall engage our attention. Here the ancient regulations of the craft have adopted many guards to prevent the capricious or improper removal of a lodge from its regular place of meeting. In the first place, no lodge can be removed from the town in which it is situated, to any other place, without the consent of the Grand Lodge. But, a lodge may remove from one part of the town to another, with the consent of the members, under the following restrictions: The removal cannot be made without the Master's knowledge; nor can any motion, for that purpose, be presented in his absence. When such a motion is made, and properly seconded, the Master will order summonses to every member, specifying the business, and appointing a day for considering and determining the affair. And if then a majority of the lodge, with the Master, or two-thirds, without him, consent to the removal, it shall take place; but notice thereof must be sent, at once, to the Grand Lodge. The General Regulations of 1767 further declare, that such removal must be approved by the Grand Master. I suppose that where the removal of the lodge was only a matter of convenience to the members, the Grand Lodge would hardly interfere, but leave the whole subject to their discretion; but, where the removal would be calculated to affect the interests of the lodge, or of the fraternity--as in the case of a removal to a house of bad reputation, or to a place of evident insecurity--I have no doubt that the Grand Lodge, as the conservator of the character and safety of the institution, would have a right to interpose its authority, and prevent the improper removal.

I have thus treated, as concisely as the important nature of the subjects would permit, of the powers, privileges, duties, and obligations of lodges, and have endeavored to embrace, within the limits of the discussion, all those prominent principles of the Order, which, as they affect the character and operations of the craft in their primary assemblies, may properly be referred to the Law of Subordinate Lodges.


  1. Preston, Append., n. 4 (U.M.L., vol. iii., pp. 150, 151).
  2. Book of Constitutions, orig. ed, p., 70 (U.M.L., vol. xv., book 1, p.70).
  3. General Regulations of 1722. A subsequent regulation permitted the election of a candidate, if there were not more than three black balls against him, provided the lodge desired such a relaxation of the rule. The lodges of this country, however, very generally, and, as I think, with propriety, require unanimity. The subject will be hereafter discussed.
  4. Every lodge shall annually elect its Master and Treasurer by ballot. Such Master having been regularly appointed and having served as Warden of a warranted lodge for one year. Constitutions of the Ancient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, published by authority of the United Grand Lodge of England, 1847, p. 58 (U.M.L., vol. ix., book 1).
  5. The Wardens, or officers, of a lodge cannot be removed, unless for a cause which appears to the lodge to be sufficient; but the Master, if he be dissatisfied with the conduct of any of his officers, may lay the cause of complaint before the lodge; and, if it shall appear to the majority of the Brethren present that the complaint be well founded, he shall have power to displace such officer, and to nominate another. English Constitutions, as above, p. 80 (U.M.L., vol. ix., book 1).
  6. It is not necessary that he should be a Past Master of the lodge.
  7. No master shall assume the Master's chair, until he shall have been regularly installed, though he may in the interim rule the lodge. English Constitutions (U.M.L., vol. ix., book 1).
  8. Every Warranted Lodge is a constituent part of the Grand Lodge, in which assembly all the power of the fraternity resides. English Constitutions, p. 70 (U.M.L., vol. ix., book 1).
  9. We shall not here discuss the question whether Past Masters are members of the Grand Lodge, by inherent right, as that subject will be more appropriately investigated when we come to speak of the Law of Grand Lodges, in a future chapter. They are, however clearly, not the representatives of their lodge.
  10. Preston, p. 167 (U.M.L., vol. iii., p. 151).
  11. General Regulations. Of the duty of members, Art. X, (U.M.L., vol. xv., book 1, p. 61).
  12. English Constitutions, p. 59 (U.M.L., vol. ix., book 1).
  13. In selecting the name, the modern Constitutions of England make the approbation of the Grand Master or Provincial Grand Master necessary.
  14. Such is the doctrine of the modern English Constitutions.