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When King Henry III was in want of money to carry on his war against the Barons he announced to the Prior of the Templars that he intended to commandeer some portions of the riches with which their vaults were crowded (The Templars, the Knights of St. John, and the Church among them owned one-third of England) and in spite of the Charters he had given them, the Prior of the Templars replied: "What sayest thou, O King? Far be it that thy mouth should utter so disagreeabIe and silly a word. . . Thou wilt cease to be king."
The Prior took his defiant stand on his Charter, the solidest thing in the Middle Ages. Even the Tudor Kings, unafraid of man or devil, were smitten with fear at the mere thought of Charter breaking. There are in modern use contracts, deeds, charters, warrants, and similar instruments through which authority acts, and in which sovereignty resides; but no one of those documents is what a Medieval Charter was. For in the Middle Ages, a Charter was a document which possessed sovereignty, power, authority in ilself, not as delegated, but as original. If a town received a Charter (a town might pay the king a large sum for one) it was thereby made a free, independent, sovereign, self-governing incorporation which could levy taxes, conscript soldiers, hold courts, execute criminals, buy, sell, or construct property; subject only to the national sovereignty it was almost a small nation
The town of Cambridge was such a chartered incorporation; the University of Cambridge, though a school and not a city, and only a short distance from the town, also had a Charter, and therefore had its own courts and peace officers; and in the Town and Gown battles the two were more than once virtually at war with each other. If a gild of craftsmen or churchmen or merchants received a Charter, they became a self-governing unit even though they had no territory or property. Chartered Colonies, chartered trading companies like the East India, West India African Companies, were English governments in pello in foreign places. Medieval England was almost a govemment by Charters. Magna Carta was epochmaking because it was a charter granted to the people of London; it was therefore the guarantee of the liberties named in it, and as against any King or Parliament, because it was a Charter.
It is evident from the Old MSS., the Craft's oldest existing written records, that the Freemasons, a fraternity spread over England, claimed to possess a Charter as a fratemily, and that it had been granted to them by Prince Edwin in the Tenth Century; from this "Great Charter" they claimed authority to constitute themselves as Lodges, to hold assemblies (so often forbidden by the Kings), to hold their own courts, to have their own laws, to make contracts (as often they did), to hold property, to regulate their own hours and wages, to take apprentices under bond, and to regulate their own affairs wherever one Freemason or a Lodge of them might be.
When any city, university, or society petitioned for a Charter it usually gave the grounds upon which it felt a right to ask it, and among the more common grounds were a great antiquity, a record of peaceableness, the prestige of names among its members, etc. ; the writer of the original book of the Old Charges (old MSS.), of which nearly two hundred copies have been found, sets out in the first half of his document, though with great brevity, and disconnectedly, the grounds upon which the Fraternity of Freemasons had obtained a Charter from Prince Edwin. Freemasonry was ancient, because building went back to Adam; among its earliest founders (men who made the art possible) were such famous and learned men as Pythagoras and Euclid; such great kings as Charlemagne and Athelstan had been arnong its patrons; Freemasons had always been educated men, not lewd fellows ("lewd" meant illiterate) or churls, but lovers of the Liberal Arts and Sciences (curriculum of the schools and universities) ;
they had never held unlawfuI assemblies to conspire against lawful rulers, and it was while holding one of their lawful and peaceable assemblies that Edwin had given them their Great charter. Copies of such a charter, duly authenticated, were suflicient authority for regular Freemasons anywhere to hold Iocal assemblies and constitute themseIves into Lodges, nor could local prelates or lords forbid them.
Having thus shown the ground of authority the document then goes on to set down the set of rules and charges which, on Charter authority, the Masonic Fraternity imposed upon its membership.
Boys come to be made apprentices, though of gentle birth, need not expect that they would be in a loose and carefree circle, to act as they wished; they would be governed under strict laws. This grounding of the authority uf the Craft on an original Charter is repeated in the records of the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the formation of which was not attempted until after the ancient family holding the rights of Masonic Charter had made over those rights to the governing body to be.
It has been assumed by some Masonic writers that the Old charges were a mere "tradition" of legendary Graft ,,history," to be piously believed, and to be read to Apprentices to give them an impression of the Craft's antiquity; and they took the charges and the rules and regulations, to be mere by-Iaws of a voluntary social iratemity, or sodality. It is submitted on the basis of facts given above that this is an error. A copy of the old Charges was a Lodge's Charter, its legal right to exist. From its Minute Book it is evident that Antiquity Lodge insisted that it never had surrendered its own Charter to the new Grand Lodge in 1717; when later it believed that the Grand Master had violated Antiquity's Charter, Antiquity withdrew and continued to work in independence for more than ten years. The new Grand Lodge was not to replace the authority inherent in each Lodge but was to supervise only such matters as lay among the Lodges. And it is certain that most of the old Lodges looked upon the Book of Constitutions as a Grand Lodge Charter, and that the old Masons (represented by fourteen members) had insisted on incorporating in it the old grounds on which the original Charter (as they believed) had been given by Prince Edwin ; so that the first half of the Book was not, as Gould and Hughan erroreously believed, a fabulous and pleasing tale or legend but a claim to original Charter authority one thousend years old.
The "new men," the "gentlemen" or "accepted" Masons who followed the Duke of Montague into the Craft in a stream, and who came into control of the Fraternity had only a sketchy knowledge of Masonry and little understanding of its ancient customs and landmarks
They committed one fateful blunder after another One of the cardinal discoveries, as even the young and green Grand Lodge found out in thirty years was that a Grand Master, privately and personally , and at his own pleasure, could not "make" a Lodge though until 1757 he undertook to do so; for if he could make a Lodge at his own pleasure he could break a Lodge at his pleasure (and often did), could control the making of Masons and decide whom to admit etc., would leave a Lodge no authority or souvereignty of its own, and would reduce it to a number of members meeting under club rules. When the Grand Lodge ordained that Master Masons could "be made only at Grand Lodge, Masons everywhere rebelled Lodges withdrew by the score, and the erection of the Antient Grand Lodge, no such innovator' was one of the consequenses.
Come to its senses the Grand Lodge( of 1757, ) began in 1757 following Ireland by two years, to issue no more Grand Master's written consents, for that is what the Deputations or Warrants had been, but Charters, ducuments possessing riginal authority in themselfs.
These charters did not create the right of Freemasons to form a Lodge, they reconized it, they were an official evidence that a given Lodge recieved one was deemed regular by other Lodges and entitled to be represented at Craft Assemblies in the Grand Lodge.
This means that a regular Lodge possesses inherent authority, by time immemorial rights, and not a merely provisional and delegated authority; and it is one that cannot be usurped by any faction among its own members, or by other Lodges, or by the Grand Master or by the Grand Lodge. It was this which he had in mind when Albert G. Mackey stated that Masons' right to form and to assemble in Lodges is an Ancient Landmark, as indubitably it is; and it is for the same reason that Lodges are not "subordinate'' to Grand Lodge, mere local branches of it, but are constituents of it, and hence are properly called Constituent Bodies.
Thus it tums out at the end of some eight or so centuries of Masonic history that modern Speculative Freemasonry discovered what the original authors of the Old Charges knew and affirmed, that a Lodge, or assembly of Masons, without a Charter will find in experience that their Lodge and assembly is an empty vanity; and that each Lodge has inherent and alienable Charter rights.
American Masons are separated by the Atlantic Ocean and centuries of time from the Middle Ages : in the nature of things they cannot be expected to have a clear and adequate knowledge of Medieval history. The fact explains the acceptance by many American Masons of the theory, often set out in Masonic periodicals and in Grand Masters' Addresses, that the original and sovereign Masonic authority was the Holy Bible. l. During almost one-half of the total history of the Craft, Masons had no copies of the Bible. In the earliest centuries they did not, excepting only a few, even know of the existence of such a Book. They had from it only a few stories, such as Adam's fall, Noah's Ark, etc., and some portions of the New Testament, and those they had not from any text directly, but only as they were used by the Church, which had modified them out of recognition by accretions of stories and legends.
2. If there had been a Bible available, the Masons could not have been persuaded to use it by any cajolery or the direst threats, because to do so would have meant a march to the stake, or the dreaded excommunication. Holy Church forbade laymen to own or use copies of any Holy Scriptures, and often forbade laymen to read the Scriptures under any circumstances. In the eyes of the Masons It would have been an unspeakable heresy for them to employ the Scriptures in their own Lodges. They left the Church to itself; never intruded upon it or interfered with it, nor permitted it to interfere with Lodges ; they taught no religious doctrines, nor made any theological pronouncements. Masons like other men of the time were men of religion but they incorporated nothing of theology in their own Fratemity, and never have; they did not see that Church and Theology had anything more to do with the Chartered Craft of builders than with a Chartered Company of Hierohants.
3. The "book" on which Apprentices made their oath was in the beginning not the Bible but the Old Charges. In the first years of the new Grand Lodge officers of Antiquity Lodge held a copy of the Old Charges aloft on a cushion and carried it around the Grand Lodge Room, thus exhibiting the authority on which the Grand Lodge was being assembled. In the minutes of the oldest Lodges and in the engravings they printed it is seen that a copy of the Old Charges (not the Bible) is placed on a pedestal directly in front of the Master. The Bible is used in the Lodge not as an original warrant of authority and constitution, but symbolically, like the Square and Compasses, and is one of the Great Lights. Its power and authority in its own place and for its own proper use is none the less for that, but the authority on which every Lodge works is not, and never was, a religious or theologieal authority, but is in the written, signed, and sealed Charter which hangs on the Lodge Room walls, and which is in essence and meaning as ancient as Freemasonry itself. Whether such a Charter goes back in unbroken succession to a particular sealed document issued by Prince Edwin at York does not matter; it goes back to written Charter, or Charters, issued to the Freem asons in the beginnings of their Fraternity.
The absence of Lord Chesterfield and Beau Nash from the Masonic histories thus far published is yet another of the proofs that no really complete Masonic history has been written. They were eminent men and Masons but so were thousands of others ; their distinction is that they were leaders and spokesmen for one of the most drastic reforms by which England has ever been purged, the reform of manners. Chesterfield was asked to take the Grand East of the Antient Grand Lodge; it is unfortunate that a journey he was about to take made it impossible because his name in the list would have been both a reminder and a monument to one of the largest services the British and American Lodges rendered their countries in the Eighteenth and the first quarter of the Nineteenth Centuries. Chesterfield's letters to his son (the family name was Dormer) circulated privately for years before they were published and became one of the classics of English literature.
In one of his histories of England, Trevelyan, summarizing hundreds of reports and findings about the manners of the Eighteenth Century, notes that between 1700 and 1725 (the first Grand Lodge was erected in 1717), somebody found a way to manufacture cheap gin ; this hard liquor replaced beer and ale, children as well as women joined the men at the pubs, and thousands increasingly began to die in delirium tremens; this' national orgy of drunkenness was at home among the other fatal vices which accompanied it: lust, uncounted prostitution, universalprofanity, gambling, filth, slums, vomitarian feasts, rowdyism, mobs.
The fight against this lunatic determination of the masses to commit suicide was a grim business. To Chesterfield it was a question of Iife or death. Beau Nash managed to make his resort at Bath popular with the aristocracy; but he compelled the young bloods from the city and the young squires from the country to bathe every day, excluded them if drunk, stopped their profanity, and pounded into them the rudiments of manners.
The Masonic Lodges set themselves against vulgarity with thin-lipped determination. At the Lodge in Highen, wealthy and aristocratic, meeting in a dining room that one of the kings had himself designed, a member rode his horse upstairs and j umped it over the banquet table. Tilers here and there had fist fights with young bloods determined to wear their swords in Lodge. When almost every Lodge was a small circle of close friends who sat around the table while conducting the Order of Business or initiating candidates, vulgarity, quarreling, profanity were fatal to it. Minute books are filled with cases where members were fined for swearing, refused admittance for arriving "disguised with liquor," rebuked, or reprimanded or excluded for quarreling, expelled for insolence or bad manners.
The Lodges were determined to wipe out this new species of barbarism or perish in the attempt ; hundreds perished, but more hundreds succeeded. For decades on both sides of the Atlantic, Lodges were schools of good manners, and the fact is more important for any history of them than whole chapters about the election of officers or the names of committees.
Washington was to American Lodges what Chesterfield had been to the English, at once the ideal and the embodiment of the gentleman Mason; if biographers and historians complain that he was too stiff, too formal, too correct it is because they do not realize the dreadful dangers both to the American Fraternity and American society there was in lust, dronkenness, and vulgarity, or how much continuing power of the wiII was required, as it was required of Washington himself, to stand out against it.
(The literary references for this subject, and authority for the statements made above, have never been collected into one chapter or volume; they lie in thousands of entries in the Minute Books and histories of some 200 of the oldest British and American Lodges.)
Chesterfield was very early made a Mason, probably in the Lodge which met at the Horn Tavern and had been No. 4 among the "four old Lodges" which had formed the first Grand Lodge in 1717. while on a tour in Italy he met Montesquieu and the two become fast friends. When Montesquieu was on a visit to London in the early 1720's he was made a Mason, and the indications are that since he was visiting Chesterfield he was introduced and made a Mason in Chesterfield's own Lodge. When Montesquieu helped to Set up the first Lodge in Paris in 1725 it also is probable that Chesterfield and his English friends Iiving in Paris had a hand in it. A number of famous men in that period were initiated but took no active Part in Lodge work afterwards; not so Chesterfield and Montesquieu, both of whom were Masonic leaders for many years. (See article on MONTESQUIEU).
After the murrain of bad manners with its profanity, vulgarity, lust, gambling, and drunkenness had raged Unchecked for decades the English discovered (what every other people in a like case have discovered) that the collapse of manners leads to a plague of crime; for the end of vulgarity is not, as often thought, the decay of religion (though there is much of that) because vulgarians cling to a superstitious form of religion, but to murder, thievery, rape, robbery, mobbing, arson, piracy, etc. The English at home suddenly lost interest in their great war in France where the Duke of Marlborough was winning his famous victory of Malplaquet and began assiduously to read Addison, and Steele, and Chesterfield's Letters. This has been a mystery to many historians. The explanation is that the English at home had suddenly discovered themselves in greater danger from the flood of vulgarity in which they were engulled than from their foreign foe, and were moving heaven and earth to stem that flood. They had to stop it or perish.
The History of Freemasonry in Northern China: 1913-1937 Shanghai; privately printed in 1938; cloth; 435 pages. This invaluable work is baedeker as well as history. As of 1937 there were 11 Lodges in China under Charters from the United Grand Lodge of England; five Lodges of Instruction; a District Grand Lodge of Northern China; two Mark Lodges ; and one Knight Templar Body.
There was one Lodge under Irish Constitution (Shanghai). Under Scottish Charters were seven Lodges, including one Lodge of Instruction ; one District Grand Lodge ; two Royal Arch Chapters and one Council ; one Body of Royal Order of Scotland. Under Charters from the United States there were eight Lodges; one Lodge of Instruction; one District Deputy Grand Lodge (sic); two Royal Arch Chapters; one K. T. Commandery; eight Scottish Rite Bodies, four in Shanghai and four in Peking. Under the Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands were six Lodges, including one U. D. ; and one District Grand Lodge.
The eight Lodges under American charters were constituted by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, which long has led other Grand Jurisdictions in work for foreign countries, followed by New York. The Mother Lodge of America in China was Ancient Landmark Lodge, Shanghai, Chartered Dec. 14, 1864.
(The Hislory referred to at the beginning of the paragraph above is the second of two; it was preceded by an earlier volume of the same name, and included a history of Ancient Landmarks Lodge.) In 1937 it had 95 members. Shanghai Lodge w,as Chartered September 14, 1904; Sinim Lodge in 1904, at Shanghai; InternationaI Lodge at Peking (Peiping) was Chartered in June, 1916; Hykes Memorial Lodge, Tientsin, was Chartered in September, 1922; Pagoda Lodge, Mukden, in March, 1926; Sungari Lodge, Harbin, in March 1929. From 1864 uhtil 1915 the Massachusetts Lodges in China (and Manchuria) were supervised by a District Deputy Grand Master, of which there were five during the period. In 1915 the District Grand Lodge of China was formed.
The true and authentic sources of information about this Society over which there has been so much debate ever since 1783 are in transactions, proceedings, and other papers published by the Society itself. Chief among these is Proceedings of lhe General Sociely of the Cincinnati with lhe Original Institution of the Order (C.Sherman, printer; Philadelphia; 1847). This perpetuates in a better form a copy of the Institution that had been published in Philadelphia by John Steele, in 1785, except that it omits a number of letters included in the latter.
A suflicient amount of original sources is accumulated if to the above two brochures is added A Journal of the General Meeting of The Cincinnati in 1784, by Major Winthrop Sargent; Philadelphia; 1859. Of the storms of printed objections to the Society the most famous was Consideralions of the Order of Cincinnali, by The Count De Mirabeau; London ; 1785. The plan as stated in the General Institution was to enable the officers of the Revolutionary Army to have a national society of their own with a branch in each state; that its first purpose was to perpetuate the fellowship of the army in the field, and its second purpose to give relief to the needy in its circles; it was assumed that to be a member would in itself be a military honor; and-it was this which aroused the storm of objections-"as a testimony of aoEection to the memory and the offspring of such officers as have died in the service, their eldest male branches shall have the same right of becoming members as the children of the actual members of the society."
This constitution was adopted and the Society was formed on it at the Verplanck House, Steuben's Headquarters, near Fishkill, shortly before demobilization.
Washington was the first President-General, elected in 1787, two years before his inauguration as first President; he was succeeded by Alexander Hamilton; C. C. Pinckney; Thomas Pinckney; Aaron Ogden ; Morgan Lewis; William Popham, H. A. S. Dearborn; Hamilton Fish ; William Wayne; Winslow Warren. The last original member died in 1854. The Society is still in existence.
In the accumulated Iiterature belonging to the Society the most valuable is a series of sermons and orations delivered before the General Societies or the State Branches between 1784 and about 1825 ; almost without exception they are discussions by able spokesmen of the nation (President Timothy Dwight of Yale was one of them), of its problems, anxieties, and of the conceptions of the American republican system and of its National Government. They are a better portrait of what was going on in the minds of responsible and representative Americans in the critical period between 1787 and 1825 than many volumes of general history.
(The documents referred to above, along with a number of others, are preserved in the Iowa Masonic Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.)

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