IT may be well, before proceeding further, to consider the
authority of the Charges and Regulations, as they were reported by
Anderson, adopted by the Grand Lodge, and have been handed
down to succeeding generations. In the rituals of the Order, the
charges to Masters and other officers, in Dispensations and
Charters, and indeed in all that pertains to Masonry, there is a
constant reference to the "Constitutions, laws, and edicts" - as well
as to the established "usages and customs of the fraternity;" and
these references recognize their obligatory character, and the
perpetual duty of every Mason to conform to and abide by them in
all their requirements. The question, therefore, very properly
arises, to what do these obligations refer? Must the Craft conform
to, obey, and abide by all, and all parts of the Charges and
Constitutions? And, also, whether, when the "Ancient Charges,
Constitutions, rules and regulations" are referred to, these of
Anderson's, whose history we have sketched, and which follow in
this work, are those intended? Let us look at these questions in
their order, for they are worthy of serious and critical examination.
I have no hesitation in saying that these are the "Ancient
Constitutions." They, and no others, are intended when reference is
had to such matters in our rituals, charges, lessons, &c. There are
no others of equal antiquity or authority, and they have been
recognized from the earliest introduction of Masonry on this
continent. They were revised, examined, and reaffirmed by the
Grand Lodge of England, as we have already seen, in 1722, and
have remained as the standard authority in that Grand Lodge to the
present day. It is true that there was another Grand Lodge in
England, (at York,) at the same time; but we have a right to
presume that the "Charges and Constitutions" recognized by that
body were essentially the same as these of Anderson's. The two
Grand bodies, in after years, had some difficulties, growing out of
a conflicting claim of jurisdiction; and some disaffected brethren in
London, who acknowledged allegiance to the Grand Lodge at
York, chose to designate that body as ancient Masons, while they
affixed to the Grand Lodge in London, as a stigma, the term
modern. It is true that the London Grand Lodge had ceased to
exist, as an organization, at the close of the seventeenth century;
but Masonry had not expired in London. Four Lodges, at least,
continued to work, and the vital elements were there for the
reorganization of the Grand Lodge whenever sufficient zeal could
be awakened in the Craft to accomplish the work. The organization
of the Grand Lodge in 1717, was not, then, a beginning; it was a
reviving. The vitality, the powers and prerogatives of Masonry,
had not become extinct: they were only in abeyance, and subject to
be reclaimed whenever the Craft were so disposed. Their charge
against the Grand Lodge in London, of being modern was,
therefore, the mere ebullition of personal feeling, and supported by
no foundation whatever.
It may be, and probably is, true, that the York Grand Lodge had
not suspended its functions; that while Masonry was slumbering in
the Metropolis, the Craft at York were actively engaged in their
mystic labors. But admitting this to be the case, it would not
detract in the slightest degree from the legitimacy and antiquity of
the Craft in London. Farther than this: during the pendency of
certain difficulties between the brethren recognizing the rival
Grand Lodges, respectively, there is not one word nor innuendo in
all the controversy, which has come down to us, that the code
reported by Anderson, and approved and published by the Grand
Lodge of England, was not the ancient, well-established, and
universally recognized code. If it had been something new, a
departure from immemorial usage, and an "innovation upon the
body of Masonry," that fact would surely have been made known
during the controversy, and as certainly have proved the ruin of the
London Grand Lodge. But we hear nothing of the kind from the
disaffected brethren in London, nor from the Grand Lodge at York.
The legitimacy and legality of the London brethren, and their claim
to "regular succession," was never called in question at the time,
and it is now too late to attempt it. But besides all this, the Grand
Lodge at York ultimately became extinct: its organization died out
in the shade of its more vigorous and prosperous rival in London,
and its Constitutions and charges, its claims to power and
precedence, and its venerable archives are all buried with it in the
grave. It quietly and gracefully yielded the government of the Craft
in England to its younger, but legitimate brother, and then "slept
with its fathers." There is no doubt but it was the older body of the
two; but it is equally as clear that the Masonry of London, in all its
essential features, was as pure and unadulterated as that of York;
and that its Constitutions, charges, laws, rules, regulations, and
customs were essentially the same.
Having seen that the Grand Lodge of England was legally
descended and properly constituted; that it preserved and
propagated ancient Masonry in every particular; that it was the
custodian of every thing that was vital in the Order, and finally, by
right of survivorship, became invested with the sole government of
the Craft in England, now let us sea through what channel Masonry
reached America, and what code was recognized here at the time
of its introduction.
The first Lodge organized in America, was at Boston,
Massachusetts. This was what might be called a Provincial Grand
Lodge. This country then belonged to England, and all the
institutions of the new world, social, civil, and political, came from
England. Several brethren had emigrated to New England, and
desiring to enjoy the privileges of organized Masonry, they
petitioned the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of England, (the
London Grand Lodge, for a dispensation to organize a Provincial
Grand Lodge in Boston. The request was granted, and
ANTHONY, Lord Viscount MONTAGUE, then Grand Master,
constituted and appointed HENRY PRICE, of Boston, "Provincial
Grand Master of New England." Having received his commission,
he assembled the brethren on the 30th of July, 1733; "and the
charter of constitution being read, and the Right Worshipful Grand
Master duly invested and congratulated, a Grand Lodge was
formed under the title and designation of ST. JOHN'S GRAND
LODGE." The officers were, Henry Price, G. Master, by virtue of
his appointment aforesaid, and the following chosen: Andrew
Belcher, D.G. Master; Thomas Kennelly, S.G. Warden; and John
Quann, J.G. Warden. A petition was then presented by several
worthy brethren residing in Boston, praying to be constituted into a
regular lodge; and it was voted that the same be granted. This was
the first lodge organized in New England, and probably the first on
the American continent, and was a legal off-shoot from the Grand
Lodge in London. It would hardly be necessary to ask by what
code or Constitution the Craft in Boston were governed; or what
charges, rules, and regulations, they received and recognized as of
supreme authority. The Grand Lodge of England, but ten years
before, had published Anderson's work, and at this very time, as it
has always since, recognized it as in full force. They had no other;
they never have had any other. We have a right, therefore, to
presume that the Craft in New England received and recognized
Anderson's work as the only ancient Charges and Constitutions,
and of supreme authority; that they were directed and governed by
it in their legislation and rituals, and acknowledged it as fully and
freely as the Grand Lodge of England itself. It was impossible they
should do otherwise, for there was no other work extant to which
they could refer. That, and that alone, so far as printed directions
went, was the only rule of action in the government of the Craft;
and there can not be the slightest doubt that that work was
presented to the first Master of the first lodge organized in
America, and that he and his officers were installed according to
the form and manner prescribed therein. And furthermore, that no
other work of the kind was ever recognized, used, or seen in
America for mare than twenty, years after that; and not until the
"Ahiman Rezon," by Laurence Dermott, was publish in London, in
We are not left to conjecture, however, in this matter, however
conclusive the reasoning on which that conjecture may rest. We
have fact, stubborn, existing fact, proving beyond the possibility of
a doubt, that Anderson was the recognized authority, not only in
England, but also in America; and this we shall now proceed to
It will be remembered that a Provincial Grand Lodge was formed
in Boston, in July, 1733, invested with Masonic jurisdiction over
New England, but not beyond that. Within a year thereafter, the
Provincial Grand Master, Henry Price, "received orders from the
Grand Lodge in England, to establish Masonry in all North
America." This increase of power was commensurate with the
wants of Society, and enabled him to introduce Masonry into other
portions besides New England. In 1734, Benjamin Franklin,
(afterwards the great Dr. Franklin, then residing in Philadelphia, in
conjunction with several other brethren in that city, petitioned for a
lodge there. The petition seems to have been presented at a session
of the Provincial Grand Lodge, on the 24th of June, 1734. This
petition was granted, and Benjamin Franklin was appointed the
first Master of the new lodge. Thus we see that Masonry, as
originally introduced and established in Philadelphia, came from
the Grand Lodge of England, through the Provincial Grand Lodge
at Boston.
Now, to prove beyond a doubt that Anderson's Constitutions were
recognized as the highest and only authority in this country at that
time, we have this fact, that Anderson's work was reprinted in
Philadelphia, in 1734, expressly, as it states in the title-page, "by
special order, for the use of the brethren in North America." We
are fortunate in having a copy of this reprint of Anderson in our
library, the only copy we have ever seen, and, so far as we know,
the only one extant. The fact of this work being reprinted in
Philadelphia at that early day, "by special order, for the use of the
brethren in North America," must forever settle the question as to
whether Anderson or Dermott was originally recognized as the
standard, for Anderson was first received and used, and "by special
order;" and, indeed, as we have already shown, Dermott's work did
not appear until twenty years afterwards.
This fact, then, is settled, that whenever and wherever "the Ancient
Constitutions" are referred to in our rituals or duties, Anderson's is
intended, for that was published more than thirty years before any
other, and distinctly recognized as the standard of authority, both
in England and America.
The next inquiry which merits attention, is as to the changeless
perpetuity of Anderson's work. Can it be changed or altered? Can
its provisions be modified, or their obligations suspended, by the
Grand Lodge, or by any other power known to Masonry? Or must
these old "laws, rules, and regulations," forever remain just as they
have come down to us, prescribing faith and practice, and
challenging universal obedience? These are important questions
and should be carefully considered. We will frankly state "our
opinion," and the basis on which it rests; but let each one "be fully
persuaded in his own mind."
Anderson's compilation, aside from its historical portion, is divided
into two parts or divisions: One is, "THE CHARGES OF A
FREEMASON, extracted from the ancient record of lodges beyond
sea, and of those in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the use of
the lodges in London: To be read at the making of new brethren, or
when the Master shall order it." The other portion is comprised
under the head of "GENERAL REGULATIONS."
The first portion, THE CHARGES, may properly be denominated
LANDMARKS, as they are not subject to change or alteration. No
power known to Masonry, be it Grand Master or Grand Lodge, can
add to, subtract from, change, alter, or abrogate any of the
doctrines, principles or requirements of these venerable Charges.
They are to-day what they were when collected and arranged into
form by Anderson, and must ever remain the same. Any act, either
by a subordinate or Grand Lodge, a Master or Grand Master, or
any other officer or member of the Craft, which is contrary to these
Charges, is void, ab initio. Wherever ancient Craft Masonry exists,
in whatever language it may be "worked," or in however distant
portions of the world, these Charges constitute the fundamental
law. They are the great "declaration of rights," the foundation
principles, the organic law of the raft. Any provision or enactment
made by a Grand Lodge, in conflict with its constitutional
provisions, is void and of none effect. So any constitutional rule of
a Grand Lodge, not in harmony with these Charges, is also
inoperative. These Charges constitute the standard by which all
constitutional rules, Grand Lodge enactments and regulations, are
to be judged: if they do not conform to these unchanging
principles, they can not be enforced.
The Grand Lodge of England revised and republished her
Constitutions in 1738; again, in 1756; again, in 1766; again, in
1784; again, in 1815, once more, in 1847, and finally, in 1853. In
each of these editions, additions or changes have been made; some
rules altered, some entirely repealed, and many new ones added.
But she has never laid her hand upon the Charges: they were
published in each edition, but remain intact to this day, precisely
what they were in 1722. Slight verbal changes have been made,
merely to express the same thing better or more expressively, or to
explain something that seemed obscure, but the principles
themselves have never been disturbed, and never can be.
The Regulations are subject to change, and any independent Grand
Lodge has the power to make regulations for its own government;
to adopt these in whole or in part, or to change them to suit the
peculiarities of the people and circumstances within its
jurisdiction; provided, always, that such regulations do not violate
any of the great fundamental principles recognized in the Charges.
The regulations are merely the constitution of the particular Grand
Lodge that adopts them, and are designed exclusively for its own
government and the government of its subordinates; while the
Charges are the universal and unchangeable law of Masonry. The
former may be made to meet the wants of the governed, under the
conditions heretofore expressed; while the latter bend to no
circumstances, but require all those who would be Masons to come
to its requirements.
As an illustration: A Grand Lodge may change the number of its
officers, and either increase or diminish them; but it cannot permit
an atheist to be made a Mason. The former is a discretionary
provision of the Regulations; while the latter is forbidden by the
Charges - sternly and forever. The third section of the old
Regulation says, "the Master of each particular lodge, or one of the
Wardens, or some other brother by his order, shall keep a book
containing their by-laws, the names of their members, with a list of
all the lodges in town, and the usual times and places of their
forming, and all their transactions that are proper to be written." It
will be seen at once that this is a mere prudential regulation, and
may be altered to suit the views or wishes of the Grand Lodge. Or
it may be omitted altogether, and a secretary elected to discharge
the duty, as is now universally the practice. Now take the first
section of the Charges: A Mason is obliged by his tenure to obey
the moral law," &c. This can not be changed, abrogated, nor
modified. It must forever remain just as it stands; a clear and
explicit recognition of the claims of the Divine law to the end of
time. Again, in the third section: A lodge is a place where Masons
assemble and work. Hence that assembly, or duly organized
society of Masons, is called a lodge, and every brother ought to
belong to one, and be subject to its by-laws and the General
Regulations." Here, it will be seen, is a definition and a principle
of action: it first defines what is meant by a lodge, and then
declares, as an immutable principle, that "every brother ought to
belong to one." Such is the difference between a great vital
principle and a mere prudential rule.
Once more. The Charges say that "the persons admitted members
of a lodge must be good and true men, free born, and of mature and
discreet age; no bondmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous
men, but of good report." Here, also, is a great unalterable
principle; but one, in some features, subject to an explanation or
construction by a Grand lodge. It says a candidate must be of
"mature and discreet age." But what is "mature and discreet age?"
The old Regulations explain: the fourth section declaring that he
must not be "under the age of twenty-five." The Grand Lodge of
England has changed this regulation, perhaps more than once, and
its rule now is that he must not be under the age of twenty-one,
unless the Grand Master permit it by Dispensation. Other Grand
Lodges fix a different age, but in all cases it must be what the
Grand Lodge enacting it consider "mature and discreet age." A
Grand Lodge could not fix ten years as the age at which one could
be admitted, because the applicant is then a child, not a man; nor
would he be of mature age, or discreet age.
Take one more example. The fourth section of the Charges declare
that "no brother can be a Warden, until he has passed the part of a
Fellow Craft; nor a Master, until he has acted as a Warden; nor
Grand Warden, until he has been Master of a lodge." Now, no
constitutional regulations of a Grand Lodge can set aside this
fundamental rule. A Grand Lodge may explain it, or modify it, but
cannot disturb the principle involved. For instance: the Regulations
may require not only that a brother must have reached the degree
of Fellow-Craft, before he is eligible to serve as Warden, but that
he must also be a Master Mason. The rule requiring him to have
served as a Warden, before he can be eligible to the office of
Master, may not be changed; but the expression can be made
certain and definite by requiring the candidate to have been
elected, installed, and served as a Warden - that mere service by a
pro tempore appointment will not meet the demands of the original
Charges. And the Grand Lodge may further say that, to be eligible
to the office of Grand Warden, a brother must have been first
elected and installed as Master of a chartered lodge, and not merely
appointed as Master of a lodge working under dispensation. But it
is presumed enough has been said to explain what we conceive to
be the difference between the old Charges and the old Regulations
of Masonry. The Charges are great fundamental principles which
lie at the foundation of the Order; irrepealable, unchangeable, and
of perpetual obligation. The Regulations are the practical rules of
action, based upon those principles; many of them are of a
prudential character, and may be changed, modified, or entirely
abrogated, as may best suit the views and wishes of the Grand
The study of Freemasonry is the study of man as a candidate
for a blessed eternity. It furnishes examples of holy living, and
displays the conduct which is pleasing and acceptable to God.
The doctrines and examples which distinguish the Order are
obvious, and suited to every capacity. It is impossible for the most
fastidious Mason to misunderstand, however he might slight or
neglect them. It is impossible for the most superficial brother to
say that he is unable to comprehend the plain precepts and the
unanswerable arguments which are furnished by Freemasonry.
- Oliver.