The Principles of Masonic Law/Chapter XX

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Having occupied the last chapter in a consideration of what constitute masonic crimes, it is next in order to inquire how these offenses are to be punished; and accordingly I propose in the following sections to treat of the various modes in which masonic law is vindicated, commencing with the slightest mode of punishment, which is censure, and proceeding to the highest, or expulsion from all the rights and privileges of the Order.

Section I.
Of Censure.

A censure is the mildest form of punishment that can be inflicted by a lodge; and as it is simply the expression of an opinion by the members of the lodge, that they do not approve of the conduct of the person implicated, in a particular point of view, and as it does not in any degree affect the masonic standing of the one censured, nor for a moment suspend or abridge his rights and benefits, I have no doubt that it may be done on a mere motion, without previous notice, and adopted, as any other resolution, by a bare majority of the members present.

Masonic courtesy would, however, dictate that notice should be given to the Brother, if absent, that such a motion of censure is about to be proposed or considered, to enable him to show cause, if any he have, why he should not be censured. But such notice is not, as I have said, necessary to the legality of the vote of censure.

A vote of censure will sometimes, however, be the result of a trial, and in that case its adoption must be governed by the rules of masonic trials, which are hereafter to be laid down.

Section II.
Of Reprimand.

A reprimand is the next mildest form of masonic punishment. It should never be adopted on a mere motion, but should always be the result of a regular trial, in which the party may have the opportunity of defense.

A reprimand may be either private or public. If to be given in private, none should be present but the Master and the offender; or, if given by letter, no copy of that letter should be preserved.

If given in public, the lodge is the proper place, and the reprimand should be given by the Master from his appropriate station.

The Master is always the executive officer of the lodge, and in carrying out the sentence he must exercise his own prudent discretion as to the mode of delivery and form of words.

A reprimand, whether private or public, does not affect the masonic standing of the offender.

Section III.
Of Exclusion from the Lodge.

Exclusion from a lodge may be of various degrees.

1. A member may for indecorous or unmasonic conduct be excluded from a single meeting of the lodge. This may be done by the Master, under a provision of the bye-laws giving him the authority, or on his own responsibility, in which case he is amenable to the Grand Lodge for the correctness of his decision. Exclusion in this way does not affect the masonic standing of the person excluded, and does not require a previous trial.

I cannot entertain any doubt that the Master of a lodge has the right to exclude temporarily any member or Mason, when he thinks that either his admission, if outside, or his continuance within, if present, will impair the peace and harmony of the lodge. It is a prerogative necessary to the faithful performance of his duties, and inalienable from his great responsibility to the Grand Lodge for the proper government of the Craft intrusted to his care. If, as it is described in the ancient manner of constituting a lodge, the Master is charged "to preserve the cement of the Lodge," it would be folly to give him such a charge, unless he were invested with the power to exclude an unruly or disorderly member. But as Masters are enjoined not to rule their lodges in an unjust or arbitrary manner, and as every Mason is clearly entitled to redress for any wrong that has been done to him, it follows that the Master is responsible to the Grand Lodge for the manner in which he has executed the vast power intrusted to him, and he may be tried and punished by that body, for excluding a member, when the motives of the act and the other circumstances of the exclusion were not such as to warrant the exercise of his prerogative.

2. A member may be excluded from his lodge for a definite or indefinite period, on account of the non-payment of arrears. This punishment may be inflicted in different modes, and under different names. It is sometimes called, suspension from the lodge, and sometimes erasure from the roll. Both of these punishments, though differing in their effect, are pronounced, not after a trial, but by a provision of the bye-laws of the lodge. For this reason alone, if there were no other, I should contend, that they do not affect the standing of the member suspended, or erased, with relation to the craft in general. No Mason can be deprived of his masonic rights, except after a trial, with the opportunity of defense, and a verdict of his peers.

But before coming to a definite conclusion on this subject, it is necessary that we should view the subject in another point of view, in which it will be seen that a suspension from the rights and benefits of Masonry, for the non-payment of dues, is entirely at variance with the true principles of the Order.

The system of payment of lodge-dues does not by any means belong to the ancient usages of the fraternity. It is a modern custom, established for purposes of convenience, and arising out of other modifications, in the organization of the Order. It is not an obligation on the part of a Mason, to the institution at large, but is in reality a special contract, in which the only parties are a particular lodge and its members, of which the fraternity, as a mass, are to know nothing. It is not presented by any general masonic law, nor any universal masonic precept. No Grand Lodge has ever yet attempted to control or regulate it, and it is thus tacitly admitted to form no part of the general regulations of the Order. Even in that Old Charge in which a lodge is described, and the necessity of membership in is enforced, not a word is said of the payment of arrears to it, or of the duty of contributing to its support. Hence the non-payment of arrears is a violation of a special and voluntary contract with a lodge, and not of any general duty to the craft at large. The corollary from all this is, evidently, that the punishment inflicted in such a case should be one affecting the relations of the delinquent with the particular lodge whose bye-laws he has infringed, and not a general one, affecting his relations with the whole Order. After a consideration of all these circumstances, I am constrained to think that suspension from alodge, for non-payment of arrears, should only suspend the rights of the member as to his own lodge, but should not affect his right of visiting other lodges, nor any of the other privileges inherent in him as a Mason. Such is not, I confess, the general opinion, or usage of the craft in this country, but yet I cannot but believe that it is the doctrine most consonant with the true spirit of the institution. It is the practice pursued by the Grand Lodge of England, from which most of our Grand Lodges derive, directly or indirectly, their existence. It is also the regulation of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. The Grand Lodge of South Carolina expressly forbids suspension from the rights and benefits of Masonry for non-payment of dues, and the Grand Lodge of New York has a similar provision in its Constitution.

Of the two modes of exclusion from a lodge for non-payment of dues, namely, suspension and erasure, the effects are very different. Suspension does not abrogate the connection between the member and his lodge, and places his rights in abeyance only. Upon the payment of the debt, he is at once restored without other action of the lodge. But erasure from the roll terminates all connection between the delinquent and the lodge, and he ceases to be a member of it. Payment of the dues, simply, will not restore him; for it is necessary that he should again be elected by the Brethren, upon formal application.

The word exclusion has a meaning in England differing from that in which it has been used in the present section. There the prerogative of expulsion is, as I think very rightly, exercised only by the Grand Lodge. The term "expelled" is therefore used only when a Brother is removed from the craft, by the Grand Lodge. The removal by a District Grand Lodge, or a subordinate lodge, is called "exclusion." The effect, however, of the punishment of exclusion, is similar to that which has been here advocated.

Section IV.
Of Definite Suspension.

Suspension is a punishment by which a party is temporarily deprived of his rights and privileges as a Mason. It does not terminate his connection with the craft, but only places it in abeyance, and it may again be resumed in a mode hereafter to be indicated.

Suspension may be, in relation to time, either definite or indefinite. And as the effects produced upon the delinquent, especially in reference to the manner of his restoration, are different, it is proper that each should be separately considered.

In a case of definite suspension, the time for which the delinquent is to be suspended, whether for one month, for three, or six months, or for a longer or shorter period, is always mentioned in the sentence.

At its termination, the party suspended is at once restored without further action of the lodge. But as this is a point upon which there has been some difference of opinion, the argument will be fully discussed in the chapter on the subject of Restoration.

By a definite suspension, the delinquent is for a time placed beyond the pale of Masonry. He is deprived of all his rights as a Master Mason--is not permitted to visit any lodge, or hold masonic communication with his Brethren--is not entitled to masonic relief, and should he die during his suspension, is not entitled to masonic burial. In short, the amount of punishment differs from that of indefinite suspension or expulsion only in the period of time for which it is inflicted.

The punishment of definite suspension is the lightest that can be inflicted of those which affect the relations of a Mason with the fraternity at large. It must always be preceded by a trial, and the prevalent opinion is, that it may be inflicted by a two-thirds vote of the lodge.

Section V.
Of Indefinite Suspension.

Indefinite suspension is a punishment by which the person suspended is deprived of all his rights and privileges as a Mason, until such time as the lodge which has suspended him shall see fit, by a special action, to restore him.

All that has been said of definite suspension in the preceding section, will equally apply to indefinite suspension, except that in the former case the suspended person is at once restored by the termination of the period for which he was suspended; while in the latter, as no period of termination had been affixed, a special resolution of the lodge will be necessary to effect a restoration.

By suspension the connection of the party with his lodge and with the institution is not severed; he still remains a member of his lodge, although his rights as such are placed in abeyance. In this respect it materially differs from expulsion, and, as an inferior grade of punishment, is inflicted for offenses of a lighter character than those for which expulsion is prescribed.

The question here arises, whether the dues of a suspended member to his lodge continue to accrue during his suspension? I think they do not. Dues or arrears are payments made to a lodge for certain rights and benefits--the exercise and enjoyment of which are guaranteed to the member, in consideration of the dues thus paid. But as by suspension, whether definite or indefinite, he is for the time deprived of these rights and benefits, it would seem unjust to require from him a payment for that which he does not enjoy. I hold, therefore, that suspension from the rights and benefits of Masonry, includes also a suspension from the payment of arrears.

No one can be indefinitely suspended, unless after a due form of trial, and upon the vote of at least two-thirds of the members present.

Section VI.
Of Expulsion.[1]

Expulsion is the very highest penalty that can be inflicted upon a delinquent Mason. It deprives the party expelled of all the masonic rights and privileges that he ever enjoyed, not only as a member of the lodge from which he has been ejected, but also of all those which were inherent in him as a member of the fraternity at large. He is at once as completely divested of his masonic character as though he had never been admitted into the institution. He can no longer demand the aid of his Brethren, nor require from them the performance of any of the duties to which he was formerly entitled, nor visit any lodge, nor unite in any of the public or private ceremonies of the Order. No conversation on masonic subjects can be held with him, and he is to be considered as being completely without the pale of the institution, and to be looked upon in the same light as a profane, in relation to the communication of any masonic information.

It is a custom too generally adopted in this country, for subordinate lodges to inflict this punishment, and hence it is supposed by many, that the power of inflicting it is vested in the subordinate lodges. But the fact is, that the only proper tribunal to impose this heavy penalty is a Grand Lodge. A subordinate may, indeed, try its delinquent member, and if guilty declare 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. Besides, the general practice of the fraternity is against it. The English Constitutions vest the power to expel exclusively in the Grand Lodge.[2]

The severity of the punishment will at once indicate the propriety of inflicting it only for the most serious offenses, such, for instance, as immoral conduct, that would subject a candidate for initiation to rejection.

As the punishment is general, affecting the relation of the one expelled with the whole fraternity, it should not be lightly imposed, for the violation of any masonic act not general in its character. The commission of a grossly immoral act is a violation of the contract entered into between each Mason and his Order. If sanctioned by silence or impunity, it would bring discredit on the institution, and tend to impair its usefulness. A Mason who is a bad man, is to the fraternity what a mortified limb is to the body, and should be treated with the same mode of cure--he should be cut off, lest his example spread, and disease be propagated through the constitution.

The punishment of expulsion can only be inflicted after a due course of trial, and upon the votes of at least two-thirds of the members present, and should always be submitted for approval and confirmation to the Grand Lodge.

One question here arises, in respect not only to expulsion but to the other masonic punishments, of which I have treated in the preceding sections:--Does suspension or expulsion from a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons, an Encampment of Knights Templar, or any other of what are called the higher degrees of Masonry, affect the relations of the expelled party to Symbolic or Ancient Craft Masonry? I answer, unhesitatingly, that it does not, and for reasons which, years ago, I advanced, in the following language, and which appear to have met with the approval of the most of my contemporaries:--

"A chapter of Royal Arch Masons, for instance, is not, and cannot be, recognized as a masonic body, by a lodge of Master Masons. 'They hear them so to be, but they do not know them so to be,' by any of the modes of recognition known to Masonry. The acts, therefore, of a Chapter cannot be recognized by a Master Masons' lodge, any more than the acts of a literary or charitable society wholly unconnected with the Order. Again: By the present organization of Freemasonry, Grand Lodges are the supreme masonic tribunals. If, therefore, expulsion from a Chapter of Royal Arch Masons involved expulsion from a Blue Lodge, the right of the Grand Lodge to hear and determine causes, and to regulate the internal concerns of the institution, would be interfered with by another body beyond its control. But the converse of this proposition does not hold good. Expulsion from a Blue Lodge involves expulsion from all the higher degrees; because, as they are composed of Blue Masons, the members could not of right sit and hold communications on masonic subjects with one who was an expelled Mason."[3]


  1. I have treated this subject of expulsion so fully in my "Lexicon of Freemasonry," and find so little more to say on the subject, that I have not at all varied from the course of argument, and very little from the phraseology of the article in that work.
  2. In England, ejection from a membership by a subordinate lodge is called "exclusion," and it does not deprive the party of his general rights as a member of the fraternity.
  3. Lexicon of Freemasonry.