The Authorities for Masonic Law
the principles of masonic law
Albert Gallatin Mackey
The laws which govern the institution of Freemasonry are of two kinds,
unwritten and written, and may in a manner be compared with
the "lex non scripta," or common law, and the "lex seripta," or statute
law of English and American jurists.
The "lex non scripta," or unwritten law of Freemasonry is
derived from the traditions, usages and customs of the fraternity as they
have existed from the remotest antiquity, and as they are universally
admitted by the general consent of the members of the Order. In fact, we
may apply to these unwritten laws of Masonry the definition given by
Blackstone of the "leges non scriptæ" of the English constitution—that
"their original institution and authority are not set down in writing, as
acts of parliament are, but they receive their binding power, and the
force of laws, by long and immemorial usage and by their universal
reception throughout the kingdom." When, in the course of this work, I
refer to these unwritten laws as authority upon any point, I shall do so
under the appropriate designation of "ancient usage."
The "lex scripta," or written law of Masonry, is derived from a variety
of sources, and was framed at different periods. The following documents I
deem of sufficient authority to substantiate any principle, or to
determine any disputed question in masonic law.
1. The "Ancient Masonic charges, from a manuscript of the Lodge of
Antiquity," and said to have been written in the reign of James II.1
2. The regulations adopted at the General Assembly held in 1663, of
which the Earl of St. Albans was Grand Master.2
3. The interrogatories propounded to the Master of a lodge at the time
of his installation, and which, from their universal adoption, without
alteration, by the whole fraternity, are undoubtedly to be considered as a
part of the fundamental law of Masonry.
4. "The Charges of a Freemason, extracted from the Ancient Records of
Lodges beyond sea, and of those in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the
use of the Lodges in London," printed in the first edition of the Book of
Constitutions, and to be found from p. 49 to p. 56 of that work.3
5. The thirty-nine "General Regulations," adopted "at the annual
assembly and feast held at Stationers' hall on St. John the Baptist's day,
1721," and which were published in the first edition of the Book of
Constitutions, p. 58 to p.
6. The subsequent regulations adopted at various annual communications
by the Grand Lodge of England, up to the year 1769, and published in
different editions of the Book of Constitutions. These, although not of
such paramount importance and universal acceptation as the Old Charges and
the Thirty-nine Regulations, are, nevertheless, of great value as the
means of settling many disputed questions, by showing what was the law and
usage of the fraternity at the times in which they were adopted.
Soon after the publication of the edition of 1769 of the Book of
Constitutions, the Grand Lodges of America began to separate from their
English parent and to organize independent jurisdictions. From that
period, the regulations adopted by the Grand Lodge of England ceased to
have any binding efficacy over the craft in this country, while the laws
passed by the American Grand Lodges lost the character of general
regulations, and were invested only with local authority in their several
Before concluding this introductory section, it may be deemed necessary
that something should be said of the "Ancient Landmarks of the Order," to
which reference is so often made.
Various definitions have been given of the landmarks. Some suppose them
to be constituted of all the rules and regulations which were in existence
anterior to the revival of Masonry in 1717, and which were confirmed and
adopted by the Grand Lodge of England at that time. Others, more stringent
in their definition, restrict them to the modes of recognition in use
among the fraternity. I am disposed to adopt a middle course, and to
define the Landmarks of Masonry to be, all those usages and customs of the
craft—whether ritual or legislative—whether they relate to forms and
ceremonies, or to the organization of the society—which have existed from
time immemorial, and the alteration or abolition of which would materially
affect the distinctive character of the institution or destroy its
identity. Thus, for example, among the legislative landmarks, I would
enumerate the office of Grand Master as the presiding officer over the
craft, and among the ritual landmarks, the legend of the third degree. But
the laws, enacted from time to time by Grand Lodges for their local
government, no matter how old they may be, do not constitute landmarks,
and may, at any time, be altered or expunged, since the 39th regulation
declares expressly that "every annual Grand Lodge has an inherent power
and authority to make new regulations or to alter these (viz., the
thirty-nine articles) for the real benefit of this ancient fraternity,
provided always that the old landmarks be carefully preserved."
1. They will be found in Oliver's edition of Preston, p. 71, note,
(U.M.L., vol. iii., p. 58), or in the American edition by Richards,
Appendix i., note 5.
2. Found in Ol. Preston, n. 3 (p. 162. U.M.L., vol. iii., p.
3. In all references to, or citations from, Anderson's Constitutions, I
have used, unless otherwise stated, the first edition printed at London in
1723—a fac simile of which has recently been published by Bro. John W.
Leonard, of New York. I have, however, in my possession the subsequent
editions of 1738, 1755, and 1767, and have sometimes collated them
back to top