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UNIFORMITY IN MASONRY
THE MASONIC REVIEW - 1858
ONE of the most gratifying circumstances to an observant Mason, on visiting different Lodges, is to observe a consistent uniformity among the Brethren in the practice of our rites, and in the mode of communicating Masonic information to novitiates. It is that unity of sentiment and of language that constitutes the universality of Masonry - without which our venerable Institution would dwindle in interest and usefulness to the stature of the multitude of benevolent institutions which have, in these latter days, been attempted to be modeled after its pattern. It is this quality which enables the American to recognize in the mercurial Frank or phlegmatic Saxon a friend and brother, without the aid of an interpreter, or the necessity of a "card." It is this that renders the Mason, so far as the practice of Masonry is concerned, in a manner independent of country or clime - latitude or language. Chance recently threw into my hands a copy of the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, at one of the very first meetings of that body, now near half a century ago. From that little fugitive pamphlet I learned that at that early day of Masonry in Ohio, in which the Institution was in the hands of such men as Burnet, and Beecher, and Cass, and Brush - names consecrated to Masonry - it was a matter of cardinal interest to the craft to secure this uniformity of action and of precept. And whoever will consult the annals of the Fraternity in this State, will find, that from that time to the present, the same solicitude has been evinced at brief intervals, to attain the same object. The peculiar location of our jurisdiction has in an eminent degree rendered necessary this frequent recurrence to first principles. The institution was originally derived to our fathers of Ohio, from three or four distinct or remote quarters; each, doubtless, with a shade of its own peculiarity; and as the Institution, grafted upon the State, grew with its growth, and extended with its extent, these peculiarities mingled with the common mass, and imparted their tinge in proportion as the art was propagated in particular localities.
To check this growing evil, and render the Order homogeneous in the State, the first expedient resorted to by the Grand Lodge was to constitute an officer denominated the Grand Lecturer, whose especial duty it was to reduce this jarring to order - this discord to harmony - this gibberish to intelligible common sense. Much good, no doubt, resulted from this expedient; but it was found to be an exhausting drain upon the resources of the Lodges, absorbing much of the means which should otherwise have been applied to the uses of charity. And then - other considerations arose, bringing strong doubts of the ultimate feasibility of this plan: In the first place, the brevity and uncertainty of human life, and the consequent necessity of frequent changes in the incumbency of that office. Then, the frailty of human memory, and the diversity of gifts for communicating instruction; with the natural ambition of the teacher to identify himself with the teachings. And more than all, the innate proneness for novelty among men, who are apt to neglect the tried and practicable, to try the experiment of seeking out some better way.
I am gratified to learn, from a communication from our M. W. Grand Master, in the March number of the REVIEW, that the plan suggested by his predecessor, and adopted by the Grand Lodge at the last meeting, promises favorable results. It possesses these advantages over any experiment heretofore made, namely: 1st. That the different teachers are first brought together, and made to harmonize each with the other, before they go forth to communicate instruction. 2dly. That they are to come together once a year, and in presence of each other and of the Grand Master, to compare their teachings. And, 3dly. That they are a comparatively permanent body, not liable to be changed with every change in the Grand Mastership - two-thirds of the body always remaining intact, so that the teachings of Masonry will not be so liable to be affected by the capriciousness of individuals, or of the Grand Lodge itself, as in days past. So that, if the Grand Master has been fortunate in his selections - and from what I know of two or three of them, I believe he has - much good may be anticipated from the effort now being made to harmonize the work and teaching of our Lodges.
But there is a sad want of harmony and unanimity in another particular, for which the action of the Grand Lodge makes no provision; and in regard to which, I am inclined to think, none of the Lodges of the State come up to the true standard. You will pardon me, my dear Brother, for this plainness of speech. I would arouse the attention of my Brethren of Ohio to a topic upon which I have reflected much, and which I think vital to their honor and prosperity; and in so doing, must be permitted to speak the truth without restraint. There is an evil among us which is great, increasing, and ought to be diminished. It is the evil of CHEAPENING MASONRY. Can you - can any one - assign a satisfactory reason why one Lodge confers the degrees of Masonry for fifteen dollars, while others require twenty, twenty-five, or thirty? Are these brethren of the low figure willing to admit that their membership is of an inferior quality, and worth only the inferior price? If so, the Grand Lodge should "shut up their shop." Do they not claim full equality when they come into Grand Lodge? Then why not maintain it in their own particular Lodge? Why under-work their neighbors? Does any one pretend that the privileges and benefits of Masonry are really worth no more than fifteen dollars? Such Masons should be allowed to demit, without applying to form a new Lodge. Indeed, no such Mason should be intrusted with either dispensation or charter.
Masonry has become quite popular within a few years past. It was not always so; nor are we to expect it will always remain so. And when the day of trial and of persecution arises, I apprehend these low priced Masons will be scattered like chaff before the wind. Those who think Masonry worth no more than fifteen dollars, will regard it as hardly worth contending for, when to maintain it would jeopard their popularity in their township, or require of them to face the bigotry of membership in their church. Really, Mr. Editor, I doubt whether you can find a Mason in Ohio, who would put so low an estimate upon his Masonic privileges, or agree to relinquish them at such a rate. Then why not raise the fees to the standard of his own unbiassed judgment?
It is an indisputable fact that the Brother who received the degrees twenty or twenty-five years ago, and paid twenty dollars fees, did actually pay higher than he who now receives them at twice that sum. In 1837, twenty dollars would purchase five barrels of flour-now, two and a half; it would then pay for forty days' labor-now, for fifteen. The same ratio will hold in other respects. Then why not advance tie fees of the Lodge, to correspond with the advance in other commodities?
Again - The Brother who entered the Lodge twenty or twenty-five years ago, did so at a sacrifice. The pulpit and the stump - bigotry and knavery were then combined in an alliance offensive against the Order; and those who had the moral courage to brook this spirit of low intolerance, were subject to annoyances such as Beelzebub and his coadjutors could invent. Now, he has none of these pestilent vexations to encounter. The one has been laboring twenty years to build up and sustain his favorite association; he has succeeded to the satisfaction of his highest ambition. Is it right - is it proper - that the other should now come in, and reap equally with him the fruits of these twenty years of labor and care?
I may be told that Masonry is not mercenary, and regards no man for his worldly wealth. I grant it. But that does not show why one Lodge should charge a third or a half less than another, without regard to the pecuniary ability of the applicant. I trust the Grand Lodge will take the matter in hand, and raise the minimum rate of fee to a degree of respectability at least; and if for the reason that rents and fuel are higher in cities than in country locations, the fees are also higher; let there be a proper discrimination, and the Institution not self-degraded by the miserable poverty of its own estimate.
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Last modified: March 22, 2014