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The ordinary meaning of this word is secret, hidden. The French word clandestin, from which it is derived, is defined by Boiste to be something fait en cachette et contre les lois, a phrase meaning in the French language Done in a hidingplace and against the laws, which better suits the Masonic signification, which refers to what is illegal, or not authorized. Irregular is the word which is often used for small departures from custom.
Brothers Newton R. Parvin, former Grand Secretary of Iowa, and C. C. Hunt, who succeeded him in office, have sent us an account of the American Masonic Federation.
A book, the Thomson Masonic Fraud, a Study in Clandestine Masonry, has also been written by Brother Isaac Blair Evans, United States Attorney for Utah in 1921, who not only prepared the case, with the assistance of Brother M. G. Price, for presentation to the Grand Jury but also drew the indictment upon which Messrs. Thomson, Perrot, and Bergera were convieted.
The principal reason for the financial success of the American Masonic Federation was, as Brothers Parvin, Hunt and Blair point out, due to the general ignorance of the Craft on the subject of Masonic history and Law. By setting forth claims on this subject, which very few Freemasons because of lack of knowledge were able to disprove, the convicted persons were able to impose upon the public. We may here point out that neither the Judge nor any member of the jury were Freemasons. From these two sources of first hand information the following particulars are obtained.
Brother Evans says in the introduction to his book, page1:
The conviction in the Federal Court at Salt Lake City, Utah, on May 15, 1922, of Matthew A.McBlain Thomson, Thomas Perrot and Dominic Bergera, of using the mails to defraud, was the culmination of efforts of the United States Government, begun in 1915, to have a reckoning with the perpetrators of one of the most ingenious mail frauds, and the most daring and spectacular Masonic imposture in American history. No one can study the facts in the case without sensing keenly the great importance of this trial, both in the history of crimes and the history of Masonry. Future acounts of celebrated American mail frauds will surely be incomplete without some mention of this bold swindle which had gone its way without molestation for more than a decade.
For about fifteen years there had been an organization at work in the United States headed bv one Matthew McBlain Thomson, formerly a member of two Lodges in Scotland and a Past Master of one of them. He came to America and affiliated with King Solomon Lodge No. 27 of Montpelier, Idaho. Later on he took a dimit from this Lodge and then formed an organization, which became the American Masonic Federation. Thomson claimed to have 10,000 members, and that his organization had been recognized in practically every country in the world. He put forth plausible arguments to convince people that he had authority to form his organization and confer Masonic degrees.
This he was able to do by making statements which only those who were posted in Masonic history and jurisprudence could refute. He claimed that with the exception of Louisiana, the United States was unoccupied territory Masonically, and that not one of the Grand Lodges in the United States had a Charter authorizing it to work ; that each of the thirteen Colonies organized a Grand Lodge of its own, without obtaining consent of the Grand Lodge from which their Charters had originally been issued; that the Lodges in the Colonies, by this breaking away from the home Grand Lodges of Great Britain without first obtaining consent, became irregular and clandestine organizations, and that, therefore, the field in the United States was open to any regular organization that chose to occupy it; that later recognition by the Grand Lodges of Great Britain did not make these self-formed Grand Lodges of the United States legitimate; that they are clandestine, also, because of the alleged fact that they are not universal and refuse to recognize Freemasons in other countries on account of religion, race, or some other assumed reason, contrary to the principles of universality.
As for himself, Thomson claimed descent through lawful Charters from Mother Kilwinning Lodge No. 0, of Scotland, to Saint Johns Mother Lodge at Marseilles, France, and that this latter body chartered Polar Star Lodge in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1794; that Polar Star Lodge became a constituent part of the Supreme Council of Louisiana, and that this Supreme Council, on September 14, 1906, granted a Charter of authority to Matthew McBlain Thomson to form Craft or Symbolic Grand and Subordinate Lodges of Masons, and that by virtue of this Charter he, Thomson, granted a Charter to the Grand Lodge Inter-Montana.
Thus, he claimed that he alone had the true Scottish Rite Masonry since his came from Scotland, while the so-called Scottish Rite Masonry of the United States either originated in the United States or came from France, not Scotland.
For the Higher degrees of Masonry, as he called them, he claimed authority by virtue of a Charter from the Grand Council of Rites of Scotland, which he asserted to be "The oldest High degree Body in the world and all High Degree Diplomas came directly from the Grand Council in Scotland." He also claimed that the Grand Council of Rites derived from Mother Kilwinning Lodge. Such in brief is the "chain of title" claimed by Thomson. As a matter of fact there is not a sound link in the entire chain, but only a student of Masonic history could disprove his claim, and from among his statements, pick the true from the false.
Thomson sent out paid organizers whose duty it was to organize Lodges and confer Masonic degrees. The charge for the Craft degrees ranged from 535 up to 550 or more, the usual charge being about 550.
For the Scottish Rite degrees from the Fourth to the Thirty-third the charge was from $135 to $200. Sometimes for this amount were added the Shrine and Templar degrees. Occasionally these organizers would be arrested by the police on the charge of obtaining money under false pretenses. Sometimes convictions were had, but usually these were hard to obtain, for the reason that it was difficult to disprove statements made by Thomson and his organizers. This difficulty existed because of lack of knowledge by Freemasons called to testify in such trials. In 1915 one of these organizers by the name of Ranson was arrested in Saint Louis. The Post Office Inspector in charge at Saint Louis concluded that the United States Government take up the charge of using the mails to defraud.
He assigned his inspector, M, G. Price, to investigate. Price was not able to enter actively upon this work until 1919. Since then and up to the date of the trial he spent practically his entire time making an investigation in the United States, Scotland and France. As a result an indictment was found against Matthew McBlain Thomson, Thomas Perrot, Dominic Bergera and Robert Jamieson, and the case came to trial in the United States District Court at Salt Lake City, Utah. As the reguIar judge in this district was a Freemason, Judge Wade of Iowa was assigned to try the case and he impressed all who attended the trial with his absolute fairness to both prosecution and defense. As witnesses for the Govemment there were summoned several ex-members of Thomson's organization, three officers of various Masonic Grand Bodies of Scotland, and several Brethren representing the regular Masonic organizations in the United States. The former members of Thomson's organization testified as to methods used and representations made in obtaining members.
The Scotch Brethren testified as to Masonic history and Law in Scotland. They also testified that Mother Kilwinning Lodge had a copy of every Charter issued by her and that she never chartered a Lodge in Marseilles, France; as for the Grand Council of Rites of Scotland, it was considered clandestine and that members of legitimate Lodges in Scotland were forbidden to be members of it or have anything to do with it Masonically.
Two officers of the Supreme Council of Louisiana testified that their Council never granted a Charter to Thomson to work Craft degrees. The Government also was able to show contradictory statements in Thomson's publications. The jury brought in a verdict of guilty, and the Judge sentenced each of the defendants to serve a term of two years in the penitentiary and pay a fine of $5,000.
Judge Wade, in passing sentence upon the defendants, said:
Nobody can hear this evidence in this case without being convinced, absolutely convinced, that this thing has been a fraudulent scheme from the beginning. I can see where an ignorant person might find some possible excuse for the methods employed in this case. For intelligent people and experienced people to try to convince the Court that this organization and this plan and this work that had been going on is on the square-it can't be done. Of course now we are living in a time when some of the brightest minds in the country are devoting themselves to securing money by short cuts, by taking advantage of the gullible for their enterprises.
In fact that is one of the dominant crimes of the present time. I know of one state in which in the last two years, within two, there has been sold over twenty-nine million dollars worth of stock in packing houses which never were built, and practically every dollar of the money lost, just by shrewd practises, by trying to get the other fellow's money in some way without working for it.
Now, of course, after all that was stated in this case from the beginning and all through I confess that I was astounded when I heard Mr. Thomson testify that there was no pretense, that there was no record anywhere of a Charter to Marseilles Lodge, on the existence of which lay the right and practically the foundation of all claims of legitimacy on that branch of the case and to have him admit that such a lodge existed only in tradition-I realize that some things can be proven by tradition, but tradition cannot exist with one man tradition must have-before it has any force as proof- such general recognition among men in that particular occupation or relation that it forces itself upon the mind as it truth the record of which has been lost-and it was conceded on the witness stand that so far as this particular thing was concerned there was no record anywhere and no one who was skilled in the history of Freemasonry had ever met any such a tradition so far as the record in this case is concerned, in any history or book or pamphlet or anything else outside of this organization. So was I surprised when I found that the Council of Rites of Scotland which had been one of the chieif points urged by these gentlemen, had no record behind it but a few years and it was represented-entirely aside from the question of the origin and history of this organization and those that preceded it-it was represented time and time again without dispute to these poor devils that were led largely by their attraction to an ancient organization and to the rites and rituals of the organization, it was represented to them specifically and it has not been denied that by virtue of their association with this organization the doors of Freemasonry the world over were open to them outside of the United States, which is of ¨ourse an absurd claim under the evidence in this case.
Then the trip that Bergera made to Europe on the investigation, in view of what transpired according to his own testimonv, has all the appearance of being a plan or scheme th the might come back here and state to those whose membership was sought his capacity to enter the Lodges of Europe to supptort their claim, that the members immediately on getting across the water would have the doors wide open to them. And then after making a trip and going to one or two Lodges or three under peculiar circumstances, in fact never going to the Grand Lodge of Scotland, and that was included in the representation made, that is to say, all Europe was included, never going m the Grand Lodge of Scotland, the Grand Lodge of England and never going to the Grand Lodge of France, whatever it is called, and coming back here no doubt to back up the representation that membership in this organization was opening the doors of all Masonic Orders, all of the regular Masonic orders in Europe-it was a pretense, gentlemen, you can't come to any other conclusion. If Bergera went over there for the purpose of confirrning what these organizers were representing and which is not denied here he certainly would have gone to the Grand Lodge of Scotland or England or France or Germany or somewhere to find out whether the doors would be open to theso fellows that were joining their ranks.
But it is not necessary to recite the details. One cannot listen to this evidence without being forced to the conclusion that so far as the representation as to the standing and the brotherhood and the association of people with which they would become immediately affiliated was concerned, that aside entirely from the genealogy of the lodge, nobody can claim that there was any truth in what was said except insofar as they had access to certain Lodges with which Mr. Thomson through his relation had some affiliation. The spectacle of Mr. Thomson going to Switzerland to this great conference, and parading afterwards through the journal a cenference where eight men from the entire world were present-that in itself is suflicient to condemn the whole thing and the manner in which this business had been done. is sufficient in itself.
No pretense here on the part of the defendants that this money was kept in any business-like way for the benefit of this organization.
What became of it I don't know but there was more than a million dollars taken in here, of that there can ce no question in view of the prices charged for little printed sheets of paper in the form of diplomas and certificates and things of that kind, entirely, aside from the membership fee. What became of that money is not indicated here. The head of this organization testified before the Court that he didn't know and in fact had some difficulty in recalling whether there was ever an account of the organization in a bank anywhere in the world. As far as the Secretary is concerned, there is no suggestion of a report indicating that this business was conducted as an honest organization, not a word.
So that, gentlemen, there is only one thing for the Court to do. If it were not for the age of Mr. Thomson at this time there would be a long prison sentence because I think he is the chief actor. I think he is more responsible than anyone else. As far as Bergera is concerned, of course, I cannot understand at all how a man would presume to parade himself as the Treasurer General of the organization of ten thousand members which had received from them in the neighborhood of a million or more dollars and never handle a cent of the money.
I cannot understand it at all, that is all, that any honest man would allow his name to be used in that connection under such condition and the concealment of the methods of doing business and where this money went even up to the present time. I cannot comprehend the whole thing. There is only one thing that saves these men a long prison term. I don't feel justified in sending any of these men to prison any longer than I do Mr. Thomson. As I say, when it comes to this point, in a trial of the case the charity of the law asserts itself.
Old age and sickness, of course, has a strong appeal to the Court, when it comes to the question of a prison term and I think that the district Attorney has been very generous in his suggestion. This Court hasn't really any power to impose a penalty here which would be adequate punishment for this thing that has been going on when we step to think of the honest fellows who parted with their fifty or seventy-five or a hundred and fifty dollars for membership in this organization.
So far as the evidence in this case is concerned not one dollar of it was ever used for any, of the business of the society except to carry on this work of getting members.
Not a word of charity or charitable funds or anything of that kind before this Court. I am very much inclined to be lenient in all things. I am inclined to look in a charitable way upon the mistakes of men, but this thing has in it that deliberateness and continuous conduct which sort of overcomes my tendency.
Stand up, gentlemen. The judgment of this Court is that each one of you serve a period of two years in Fort Leavenworth Prison and each one of you pay a fine oi five thousand dollars and costs Brother Evans says in his work that although the public at large knows little of Freemasonry it expects much of Freemasons. In the eyes of those who are not Freemasons one Freemason would have the same standing as another. How could the public know a spurious from a genuine Freemason? No argument is needed to show that the misdeeds of one such spurious claimant can do more damage to the Fraternity than can be overcome by the good conduct of regular Freemasons. Thus, the Fraternity at large has to answer to the pubfic for any bad conduct of both the genuine and the bogus who claim to be members of the Craft. This is indeed a truth which all Freemasons may well afford to take to heart.
Brother Evans says further, on page 7 of his book: Thomson also knew some other things about regular Masons. He knew that they read very little about their own institution, and that, therefore, they are generally ill-informed in matters of Masonic history and law.
Many times his degree peddlers were haled into petty criminal courts to answer to the charge of obtaining money under false pretenses. In as too many instances the prisoner was discharged because the prosecution could not show wherein the fraud lay. The prosecution was dependent, of course, for its proof of fraud upon the testimony of regular Masons. This testimony was often without value and all Masons will know why. Every little victory won by Thomson in the courts gave him just one more argument to make to his dupes.
Thomson also knew that regular Masons in general entertain acute indifierence towards as things clandestine. The chances of his being caught up for his gross falsehoods were few, because, first, no one knew enough both about his institutions and regular Masonry to answer him, and, secondly, no one would take the pains to run his lies to earth. These things account, in part, for his enormous success for so many years.
This Thomson case is typical and because of its scope deserves liberal space. Other instances are numerous where the Masonic Institution has defended itself in the courts of law. Volumes two and three, History of Freemasonry in Ohio, 1914, contain many references to the seceders from the Grand Lodge and the lawsuits resulting from "Cerneauism" in that State. On the latter subject see Mackey's revised History of Freemasonry (volume vi) ; General Albert Pike's Cerneauism, 1885, his report on Joseph Cerneau, 1886, and other works; A History of Spurious Supreme Councils in the Northern Jurisdiction, William Gardiner, Past Grand Master, Massachusetts, 1863-4, republished 1884; The History of the Peckham Supreme Council, E. T. Carson, 1884; The Ancient Acceptet Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, William Homan, 1905, this latter work containing valuable reports on proceedings against unauthorized conferring of Craft as well as other degrees.
Forrest Adair, 33°, a Brother memorable for his labors for crippled children, spent freely his time and money protecting Masonic interests, as in the rights of the Noblesof the Mystic Shrine determined by the Supreme Court of Georgia in 1915, and the Supreme Court of the United States in 1918. A Committee headed by Brother Frank C. Jones on behalf of the Imperial Council continued this work successfully for the Shrine in other States, as in Texas, 1925, and the results will probably, end the matter for the whole country (see Infringing upon Freemasonry).
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