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Why We Open Meetings on the Master Mason Degree

by By Jeffrey D. Naylor, Grand Lecturer
Grand Lodge of Indiana, F. & A. M

For the past two years, resolutions have been introduced at Grand Lodge to permit local Lodges to open and conduct their stated business meetings on the Entered Apprentice degree (or not, as the language of the resolutions have allowed each Lodge to decide this for themselves). Both years, this resolution has gone down to defeat. Well-meaning brethren have stood on the floor of Grand Lodge and alleged that it would be “innovation” for this Grand Lodge to permit Lodges to open on the Entered Apprentice degree. Students of American Masonic history and of the Craft outside of the United States and our singular approach to certain Masonic practices know otherwise, however.

In fact, until the late 1840s and early 1850s, it was the practice of nearly every Grand Lodge in the United States to open their meetings on the Entered Apprentice degree, as it still is in most other jurisdictions in the world today. This article tells the story of why Grand Lodges turned away from centuries-old customs and committed real acts of innovation.

Our story begins in March of 1822 when a number of Masons who were also members of Congress called for the establishment of a General Grand Lodge for the United States of America. A “General Grand Lodge” is one that would govern the Craft in the whole country, not simply in a single state. These brethren called for a Conference to be held in February of 1823 in Washington, D.C. to organize this General Grand Lodge. Strong opposition by the Grand Lodges of Pennsylvania, New York and Kentucky, who were opposed to losing their sovereignty, put a quick end to the whole notion of a National Grand Lodge, but there remained calls for a convention to “standardize” certain aspects of American Freemasonry.

In 1826, William Morgan, a disgruntled Mason from New York, announced his pending publication of a book that purported to reveal the “secrets” of Freemasonry. Without getting into the details of the Morgan Affair (which can be read on-line at, Morgan disappeared, and local Freemasons were accused of his murder. Although no evidence was ever produced to prove that Masons were behind Morgan’s disappearance, or that he was ever harmed in any way, the allegations were devastating to Freemasonry. So damaging was this incident to the reputation of the Craft that a political party dedicated to the elimination of Freemasonry – the Anti-Masonic Party – formed, and nominated William Wirt (a Fellow Craft, who had previously spoken highly of Freemasonry) as its candidate for President of the United States in 1832. (Wirt won only Vermont in the general election, and the Anti-Masonic Party was largely absorbed into the Whig Party. Interestingly, Indiana’s William Henry Harrison was identified with the Anti-Masonic movement, and was elected as the Whig candidate in 1840.)

Although short-lived, this anti-Masonic fervor nearly destroyed the Craft. Kentucky, for example, lost over half their membership and 29 of their 66 lodges. Most American Grand Lodges were similarly affected. The anti-Masons had made available to the profane public a number of “exposures” of Freemasonry containing rituals, due guards and signs, grips and words, and it became increasingly difficult to know who actually was a Mason. Lodges turned away visitors who could not prove themselves Masons by the work as done by that particular lodge. In many instances the ritual (which was not printed in those days) had been forgotten, and new Masons received poor instruction.

In 1839, the Grand Lodge of Alabama revived the calls for a national convention to “standardize” American Freemasonry, and at their 1839 Communication they voted to request that all Grand Lodges send a delegate to Washington, D.C. on the first Monday in March of 1842, “for the purpose of determining a uniform mode of work throughout the United States and to make other lawful regulations for the interest and security of the Craft.” Ten Grand Lodges met on March 7, 1842, and requested that each Grand Lodge appoint a well-educated Mason to serve as Grand Lecturer, and that he act as a delegate to a convention to be held in Baltimore the following year. Indiana was not represented. The Grand Secretary, Austin W. Morris, introduced a resolution to the effect that it would be “impolitic” to send a representative to Washington because of “the jealousy entertained against Masonry,” and the fear that “the object, however laudable, might be misunderstood by the world.”

It was recommended by the convention organizers that each delegate carry a certificate of good standing from their Grand Lodge in order to prove themselves Masons. It was also decided that business should be conducted on the Master Mason degree, as “Entered Apprentices and Fellowcrafts (sic) were not members of the Lodge and not entitled to the franchises of members.” Some Grand Lodges began making permanent changes to their own constitutions based on the requirements of the convention, even before it had announced its findings. Maryland quickly began issuing certificates of good standing (dues cards) to all of its members, and Virginia was, in 1842, the first Grand Lodge to require that lodges conduct their business on the Master Mason degree. (It was 1851 before the Grand Lodge of Maine made this requirement of its lodges.)

The Baltimore Convention began on May 8, 1843 and met through May 17. Indiana, once again, was not represented. A resolution was drafted by Grand Secretary William H. Martin, declining the invitation because, “this Grand Lodge does not feel itself pecuniarily prepared to adopt the spirit and meaning of the Convention.” Sixteen of twenty-three American Grand Lodges were, however, represented at the Convention. An agenda was adopted declaring the objectives of the convention to be “1) To produce uniformity of Masonic work, and; 2) To recommend such measures as shall tend to the elevation of the Order to its due degree of respect throughout the world at large.”

To accomplish these stated objectives, the Convention formed four committees:

1) On the work and lectures in conferring Degrees;
2) On the Funeral Service;
3) On the ceremonies of Consecration and Installation, and;
4) On Masonic Jurisprudence

The Committee on Work and Lectures began meeting on the morning of May 10 and crafted opening and closing ceremonies for the First Degree, as well as the lectures. By Friday of that week, the three Degrees of Freemasonry had been completely standardized and adopted by the Convention. The fundamental changes involved alterations to the due guard and sign of the Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees to bring them into conformance with the explanations of the same in the Entered Apprentice degree. Additionally, the immovable jewels were changed from the Rough Ashlar, Perfect Ashlar and Trestleboard to the Square, Level and Plumb, reversed from the English standards.

The Committee on Consecrations and Installations reported that “the forms in the ‘Monitor’, under the authorship of M.W. Thomas S. Webb, republished in 1812, possesses the least faults of any which have been before them, and has a high claim to antiquity, and having been in general use as a standard of work for nearly half a century, and possess no errors of material as to require alteration…” The Committee then proceeded to alter it in six separate instances.

The Committee on Jurisprudence reported that it considered whether or not “the evils from which this Convention has met to rectify and remove, have arisen from any defect or fault in the present system of organizations as adopted by the Fraternity of the United States.” It went on to state, “because of the actions of individual Grand Lodges and the lack of unity between them, the purity and unity of the work prevalent in Europe was therefore missing.”

According to the Committee’s report, “UNITY throughout the whole Masonic family is essential. Any system of polity tending to throw obstacles in its way must be wrong. The simple truth is that we are all Brethren of one family, and look up to one common Father, the Lord our God, is the basis of all the ancient constitutions.” This is an interesting statement, considering that the Convention passed a measure completely contrary to the principles of European Masonry, from which American Masonry sprang, namely the near total disenfranchisement of Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts.

In order to correct what it perceived as the “evils” pervading American Freemasonry, the Committee reported that it had considered two potential plans:

1) A General Grand Lodge of the United States, and;
2) A triennial convention of representatives of the several Grand Lodges of the United States.

The Committee went on to recommend the second course of action. The Baltimore Convention, contrary to popular belief, did not recommend the establishment of a General Grand Lodge, but it was certainly considered. The Convention resolved that the next triennial convention would be held in Winchester, Virginia, on the second Monday in May, in the year 1846. In that year, only eight delegates attended. The next convention was scheduled for September 23, 1847 in Baltimore. Seven delegates attended that meeting. It was at the 1847 convention that the delegates wrote a proposed constitution for a “Supreme Grand Lodge” of the United States… and this constitution was ratified by the Grand Lodge of Indiana, upon the recommendation of the Grand Master, Elizur Deming, and a committee of five Worshipful Masters formed to study the question. However, the requisite sixteen Grand Lodges did not concur, and the Supreme Grand Lodge was never formed. There were calls for conventions again in 1855 and 1859, but they were never held. The Supreme Grand Lodge was never created, but very real innovations occurred nevertheless.

To summarize this very long story, European Masonry opens business meetings on the Entered Apprentice degree, and there is little ritual standardization. Lodges are at liberty to make reasonable modifications to the ritual, as long as it remains regular. In London alone six separate Ritual Associations (Aldersgate, Domatic, Emulation, Logic, Taylors and Universal) work variations of the ritual, and many individual lodges work variations of those. Indiana Masons, however, are deprived of the same opportunities to educate and enjoy the fellowship of our Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts at our meetings, or to enjoy the diversity of practicing the Webb/Preston, Emulation or Scottish Rite rituals (or variations thereof) as do our European brethren. This because of a convention in which Indiana did not participate, called 159 years ago in reaction to events in New York.

Would it be “innovation” to put things back as they were before this aberration in international Masonic practice and allow Entered Apprentices to attend our deliberations? I do not believe so, and sixteen Grand Lodges, Connecticut, Missouri, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Arizona, Nevada, Alabama, Minnesota, Oregon, Montana, Maryland, New Mexico, Utah and the District of Columbia, agree with me. Those Grand Lodges have voted to permit their lodges to open on the Entered Apprentice degree and allow their EAs and FCs opportunities for Masonic fellowship and education.

In this day of one-day classes, a practice decried by so many of our members, does it make sense to prohibit a man who has elected to receive the degrees in the traditional manner from attending our meetings? It’s not even correct to say, “We’ve always done it that way,” because I have shown you how that is not so.

Brethren, the difference between a one-day and a three-day Mason is two days – not any measure of understanding of Freemasonry. Let us resolve ourselves to the idea that more important than the length a time a man has been a Mason, or the number of degrees he has witnessed, is what we do with him once we begin to call him “Brother.” Do we treat him as if he were a brother, teaching him the gentle Craft of Freemasonry, getting to know and to care for him and his family, and he us? Or do we begin to establish the precedent of pushing him to the next thing as quickly as possible – ready or not – into his Fellow Craft degree, then on to the Master Mason degree (so he can pay dues and take a chair). Then, of course, he’s eligible for membership in the Rites and the Shrine, and he and his wife can join the OES.

Let us not worry about whether our members are “members enough.” Let it be sufficient that they are our brothers, and allow those lodges that want them to attend our meetings to do so.


“Goodly Heritage,” Dwight L. Smith, 1968

Short Talk Bulletin, “Baltimore Convention of 1843,” Henry C. Chiles, January 1936

Short Talk Bulletin, “The Convention that Changed the Face of Freemasonry,” Allen E. Roberts, October 1986

“The Baltimore Convention of 1843,” The Philalethes, 1994, Bob J. Jensen

“U.S. Grand Lodges that Permit Business on the 1st Degree,”, Paul M. Bessel, Executive Secy., Masonic Leadership Center

“U.S. Lodges Conducting Business on the 1st Degree, History and Current Status of this Issue,” Pythagoras Lodge of Research, F.A.A.M., District of Columbia, Feb. 2000, Paul M. Bessel

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