The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter X

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124232The Principles of Masonic Law — Book Second, Chapter VAlbert Mackey

The safety of the minority, the preservation of harmony, and the dispatch of business, all require that there should be, in every well-regulated society, some rules and forms for the government of their proceedings, and, as has been justly observed by an able writer on parliamentary law, "whether these forms be in all cases the most rational or not, is really not of so great importance; for it is much more material that there should be a rule to go by, than what that rule is."[1] By common consent, the rules established for the government of Parliament in England, and of Congress in the United States, and which are known collectively under the name of "Parliamentary Law," have been adopted for the regulation of all deliberative bodies, whether of a public or private nature. But lodges of Freemasons differ so much in their organization and character from other societies, that this law will, in very few cases, be found applicable; and, indeed, in many positively inapplicable to them. The rules, therefore, for the government of masonic lodges are in general to be deduced from the usages of the Order, from traditional or written authority, and where both of them are silent, from analogy to the character of the institution. To each of these sources, therefore, I shall apply, in the course of the present chapter, and in some few instances, where the parliamentary law coincides with our own, reference will be made to the authority of the best writers on that science.

Section I.
Of the Order of Business.

When the Brethren have been "congregated," or called together by the presiding officer, the first thing to be attended to is the ceremony of opening the lodge. The consideration of this subject, as it is sufficiently detailed in our ritual, will form no part of the present work.

The lodge having been opened, the next thing to be attended to is the reading of the minutes of the last communication. The minutes having been read, the presiding officer will put the question on their confirmation, having first inquired of the Senior and Junior Wardens, and lastly of the Brethren "around the lodge," whether they have any alterations to propose. It must be borne in mind, that the question of confirmation is simply a question whether the Secretary has faithfully and correctly recorded the transactions of the lodge. If, therefore, it can be satisfactorily shown by any one that there is a mis-entry, or the omission of an entry, this is the time to correct it; and where the matter is of sufficient importance, and the recording officer, or any member disputes the charge of error, the vote of the lodge will be taken on the subject, and the journal will be amended or remain as written, according to the opinion so expressed by the majority of the members. As this is, however, a mere question of memory, it must be apparent that those members only who were present at the previous communication, the records of which are under examination, are qualified to express a fair opinion. All others should ask and be permitted to be excused from voting.

As no special communication can alter or amend the proceedings of a regular one, it is not deemed necessary to present the records of the latter to the inspection of the former. This preliminary reading of the minutes is, therefore, always omitted at special communications.

After the reading of the minutes, unfinished business, such as motions previously submitted and reports of committees previously appointed, will take the preference of all other matters. Special communications being called for the consideration of some special subject, that subject must of course claim the priority of consideration over all others.

In like manner, where any business has been specially and specifically postponed to another communication, it constitutes at that communication what is called, in parliamentary law, "the order of the day," and may at any time in the course of the evening be called up, to the exclusion of all other business.

The lodge may, however, at its discretion, refuse to take up the consideration of such order; for the same body which determined at one time to consider a question, may at another time refuse to do so. This is one of those instances in which parliamentary usage is applicable to the government of a lodge. Jefferson says: "Where an order is made, that any particular matter be taken up on any particular day, there a question is to be put, when it is called for, Whether the house will now proceed to that matter?" In a lodge, however, it is not the usage to propose such a question, but the matter being called up, is discussed and acted on, unless some Brother moves its postponement, when the question of postponement is put.

But with these exceptions, the unfinished business must first be disposed of, to avoid its accumulation and its possible subsequent neglect.[2]

New business will then be taken up in such order as the local bye-laws prescribe, or the wisdom of the Worshipful Master may suggest.

In a discussion, when any member wishes to speak, he must stand up in his place, and address himself not to the lodge, nor to any particular Brother, but to the presiding officer, styling him "Worshipful."

When two or more members rise nearly together, the presiding officer determines who is entitled to speak, and calls him by his name, whereupon he proceeds, unless he voluntarily sits down, and gives way to the other. The ordinary rules of courtesy, which should govern a masonic body above all other societies, as well as the general usage of deliberative bodies, require that the one first up should be entitled to the floor. But the decision of this fact is left entirely to the Master, or presiding officer.

Whether a member be entitled to speak once or twice to the same question, is left to the regulation of the local bye-laws of every lodge. But, under all circumstances, it seems to be conceded, that a member may rise at any time with the permission of the presiding officer, or for the purpose of explanation.

A member may be called to order by any other while speaking, for the use of any indecorous remark, personal allusion, or irrelevant matter; but this must be done in a courteous and conciliatory manner, and the question of order will at once be decided by the presiding officer.

No Brother is to be interrupted while speaking, except for the purpose of calling him to order, or to make a necessary explanation; nor are any separate conversations, or, as they are called in our ancient charges, "private committees," to be allowed.

Every member of the Order is, in the course of the debate as well as at all other times in the lodge, to be addressed by the title of "Brother," and no secular or worldly titles are ever to be used.

In accordance with the principles of justice, the parliamentary usage is adopted, which permits the mover of a resolution to make the concluding speech, that he may reply to all those who have spoken against it, and sum up the arguments in its favor. And it would be a breach of order as well as of courtesy for any of his opponents to respond to this final argument of the mover.

It is within the discretion of the Master, at any time in the course of the evening, to suspend the business of the lodge for the purpose of proceeding to the ceremony of initiation, for the "work" of Masonry, as it is technically called, takes precedence of all other business.

When all business, both old and new, and the initiation of candidates, if there be any, has been disposed of, the presiding officer inquires of the officers and members if there be anything more to be proposed before closing. Custom has prescribed a formulary for making this inquiry, which is in the following words.

The Worshipful Master, addressing the Senior and Junior Wardens and then the Brethren, successively, says: "Brother Senior, have you anything to offer in the West for the good of Masonry in general or of this lodge in particular? Anything in the South, Brother Junior? Around the lodge, Brethren?" The answers to these inquiries being in the negative on the part of the Wardens, and silence on that of the craft, the Master proceeds to close the lodge in the manner prescribed in the ritual.

The reading of the minutes of the evening, not for confirmation, but for suggestion, lest anything may have been omitted, should always precede the closing ceremonies, unless, from the lateness of the hour, it be dispensed with by the members.

Section II.
Of Appeals from the Decision of the Chair.

Freemasonry differs from all other institutions, in permitting no appeal to the lodge from the decision of the presiding officer. The Master is supreme in his lodge, so far as the lodge is concerned. He is amenable for his conduct, in the government of the lodge, not to its members, but to the Grand Lodge alone. In deciding points of order as well as graver matters, no appeal can be taken from that decision to the lodge. If an appeal were proposed, it would be his duty, for the preservation of discipline, to refuse to put the question. It is, in fact, wrong that the Master should even by courtesy permit such an appeal to be taken; because, as the Committee of Correspondence of the Grand Lodge of Tennessee have wisely remarked, by the admission of such appeals by courtesy, "is established ultimately a precedent from which will be claimed the right to take appeals."[3] If a member is aggrieved with the conduct or the decisions of the Master, he has his redress by an appeal to the Grand Lodge, which will of course see that the Master does not rule his lodge "in an unjust or arbitrary manner." But such a thing as an appeal from the Master to the lodge is unknown in Masonry.

This, at first view, may appear to be giving too despotic a power to the Master. But a little reflection will convince any one that there can be but slight danger of oppression from one so guarded and controlled as the Master is by the obligations of his office and the superintendence of the Grand Lodge, while the placing in the hands of the craft so powerful, and, with bad spirits, so annoying a privilege as that of immediate appeal, would necessarily tend to impair the energies and lessen the dignity of the Master, at the same time that it would be totally subversive of that spirit of strict discipline which pervades every part of the institution, and to which it is mainly indebted for its prosperity and perpetuity.

In every case where a member supposes himself to be aggrieved by the decision of the Master, he should make his appeal to the Grand Lodge.

It is scarcely necessary to add, that a Warden or Past Master, presiding in the absence of the Master, assumes for the time all the rights and prerogatives of the Master.

Section III.
Of the Mode of Taking the Question.

The question in Masonry is not taken viva voce or by "aye" and "nay." This should always be done by "a show of hands." The regulation on this subject was adopted not later than the year 1754, at which time the Book of Constitutions was revised, "and the necessary alterations and additions made, consistent with the laws and rules of Masonry," and accordingly, in the edition published in the following year, the regulation is laid down in these words--"The opinions or votes of the members are always to be signified by each holding up one of his hands: which uplifted hands the Grand Wardens are to count; unless the number of hands be so unequal as to render the counting useless. Nor should any other kind of division be ever admitted among Masons."[4]

Calling for the yeas and nays has been almost universally condemned as an unmasonic practice, nor should any Master allow it to be resorted to in his lodge.

Moving the "previous question," a parliamentary invention for stopping all discussion, is still more at variance with the liberal and harmonious spirit which should distinguish masonic debates, and is, therefore, never to be permitted in a lodge.

Section IV.
Of Adjournments.

Adjournment is a term not recognized in Masonry. There are but two ways in which the communication of a lodge can be terminated; and these are either by closing the lodge, or by calling from labor to refreshment. In the former case the business of the communication is finally disposed of until the next communication; in the latter the lodge is still supposed to be open and may resume its labors at any time indicated by the Master.

But both the time of closing the lodge and of calling it from labor to refreshment is to be determined by the absolute will and the free judgment of the Worshipful Master, to whom alone is intrusted the care of "setting the craft to work, and giving them wholesome instruction for labor." He alone is responsible to the Grand Master and the Grand Lodge, that his lodge shall be opened, continued, and closed in harmony; and as it is by his "will and pleasure" only that it is opened, so is it by his "will and pleasure" only that it can be closed. Any attempt, therefore, on the part of the lodge to entertain a motion for adjournment would be an infringement of this prerogative of the Master. Such a motion is, therefore, always out of order, and cannot be; and cannot be acted on.

The rule that a lodge cannot adjourn, but remain in session until closed by the Master, derives an authoritative sanction also from the following clause in the fifth of the Old Charges.

"All Masons employed shall meekly receive their wages without murmuring or mutiny, and not desert the Master till the work is finished."

Section V.
Of the Appointment of Committees.

It is the prerogative of the Master to appoint all Committees, unless by a special resolution provision has been made that a committee shall otherwise be appointed.

The Master is also, ex officio, chairman of every committee which he chooses to attend, although he may not originally have been named a member of such committee. But he may, if he chooses, waive this privilege; yet he may, at any time during the session of the committee, reassume his inherent prerogative of governing the craft at all times when in his presence, and therefore take the chair.

Section VI.
Of the Mode of Keeping the Minutes.

Masonry is preeminently an institution of forms, and hence, as was to be expected, there is a particular form provided for recording the proceedings of a lodge. Perhaps the best method of communicating this form to the reader will be, to record the proceedings of a supposititious meeting or communication.

The following form, therefore, embraces the most important transactions that usually occur during the session of a lodge, and it may serve as an exemplar, for the use of secretaries.

"A regular communication of ---- Lodge, NO. ----, was holden at ----; on ----, the ---- day of ----A.: L.: 58--.

Bro.: A. B----, W.: Master.
" B. C----, S.: Warden.
" C. D----, J.: Warden.
" D. E----, Treasurer.
" E. F----, Secretary.
" F. G----, S.: Deacon.
" G. H----, J.: Deacon.
" H. I----, } Stewards.
" I. K----, }
" K. L----, Tiler.
Bro.: L. M----
M. N----
N. O----
O. P----
P. Q----
Q. R----
R. S----
S. T----

The Lodge was opened in due form on the third degree of Masonry.

"The minutes of the regular communication of ---- were read and confirmed.[5]

"The committee on the petition of Mr. C. B., a candidate for initiation, reported favorably, whereupon he was balloted for and duly elected.

"The committee on the application of Mr. D. C., a candidate for initiation, reported favorably, whereupon he was balloted for, and the box appearing foul he was rejected.

"The committee on the application of Mr. E. D., a candidate for initiation, having reported unfavorably, he was declared rejected without a ballot.

"The petition of Mr. F. E., a candidate for initiation, having been withdrawn by his friends, he was declared rejected without a ballot.

"A petition for initiation from Mr. G.F., inclosing the usual amount and recommended by Bros. C. D.---- and H. I.----, was referred to a committee of investigation consisting of Bros. G. H.----, L. M.----, and O. P.----.

"Bro. S.R., an Entered Apprentice, having applied for advancement, was duly elected to take the second degree; and Bro. W.Y., a Fellow Craft, was, on his application for advancement, duly elected to take the third degree.

"A letter was read from Mrs. T. V.----, the widow of a Master Mason, when the sum of twenty dollars was voted for her relief.

"The amendment to article 10, section 5 of the bye-laws, proposed by Bro. M. N. ---- at the communication of ----, was read a third time, adopted by a constitutional majority and ordered to be sent to the Grand Lodge for approval and confirmation.

"The Lodge of Master Masons was then closed, and a lodge of Entered Apprentices opened in due form.

"Mr. C. B., a candidate for initiation, being in waiting, was duly prepared, brought forward and initiated as an Entered Apprentice, he paying the usual fee.

"The Lodge of Entered Apprentices was then closed, and a Lodge of Fellow Crafts opened in due form.

"Bro. S. R., an Entered Apprentice, being in waiting, was duly prepared, brought forward and passed to the degree of a Fellow Craft, he paying the usual fee.

"The Lodge of Fellow Crafts was then closed, and a lodge of Master Masons opened in due form.

"Bro. W. Y., a Fellow Craft, being in waiting, was duly prepared, brought forward and raised to the sublime degree of a Master Mason, he paying the usual fee.

Amount received this evening, as follows:

Petition of Mr. G. F., $5
Fee of Bro. C. B., 5
do. of Bro. S. R., 5
do. of Bro. W. Y., 5--Total, $20

all of which was paid over to the Treasurer.

There being no further business, the lodge was closed in due form and harmony.

E. F----,


Such is the form which has been adopted as the most convenient mode of recording the transactions of a lodge. These minutes must be read, at the close of the meeting, that the Brethren may suggest any necessary alterations or additions, and then at the beginning of the next regular meeting, that they may be confirmed, after which they should be transcribed from the rough Minute Book in which they were first entered into the permanent Record Book of the lodge.


  1. Hats. quoted in Jefferson, p. 14.
  2. One of the ancient charges, which Preston tells us that it was the constant practice of our Ancient Brethren to rehearse at the opening and closing of the lodge, seems to refer to this rule, when it says, "the Master, Wardens, and Brethren are just and faithful, and carefully finish the work they begin."--Oliver's Preston, p. 27, note (U.M.L., vol. iii., p. 22).
  3. Proceedings of G.L. of Tennessee, 1850. Appendix A, p. 8.
  4. Book of Constitutions, edition of 1755, p. 282.
  5. If it is an extra communication, this item of the transaction is, of course, omitted, for minutes are only to be confirmed at regular communications.