from the book "THE PRINCIPLES OF MASONIC LAW"
A Treatise on the Constitutional Laws, Usages And Landmarks of Freemasonry
by Dr.Albert Gallatin Mackey, 1856
The office of Grand Master of Masons has existed from the very origin of the institution; for it has always been necessary that the fraternity should have a presiding head. There have been periods in the history of the institution when neither Deputies nor Grand Wardens are mentioned, but there is no time in its existence, when it was without a Grand Master and hence Preston, while speaking of that remote era in which the fraternity was governed by a General Assembly, says that this General Assembly or Grand Lodge "was not then restricted, as it is now understood to be, to the Masters and Wardens of private lodges, with the Grand Master and his Wardens at their head. It consisted of as many of the Fraternity at large as, being within a convenient distance, could attend, once or twice in a year, under the auspices of one general head, who was elected and installed at one of these meetings; and who for the time being received homage as the sole governor of the whole body" .[Preston, p. 131, n., Oliver's Edit. (U.M.L., vol. iii.,p. 109)]
The office is one of great honour as well as power and has generally been conferred upon some individual distinguished by an influential position in society; so that his rank and character might reflect credit upon the craft.
[Of the thirty-six Grand Masters who have presided over the craft in England since the revival of Masonry in 1717, thirty have been noblemen and three princes of the reigning family]
The Grand Mastership is an elective office, the election being annual and accompanied with impressive ceremonies of proclamation and homage made to him by the whole craft. Uniform usage, as well as the explicit declaration of the General Regulations, [Article xxxiv] seems to require that he should be installed by the last Grand Master. But in his absence the Deputy or some Past Grand Master may exercise the functions of installation or investiture. In the organization of a new Grand Lodge, ancient precedent and the necessity of the thing will authorize the performance of the installation by the Master of the oldest lodge present, who, however, exercises, pro hac vice, the prerogatives and assumes the place of a Grand Master.
The Grand Master possesses a great variety of prerogatives, some of which are derived from the "lex non scripta," or ancient usage; and others from the written or statute law of Masonry [His most important prerogatives are inherent or derived from ancient usage.]
I. He has the right to convene the Grand Lodge whenever he pleases and to preside over its deliberation. In the decision of all questions by the Grand Lodge he is entitled to two votes. This is a privilege secured to him by Article XII. of the General Regulations.
It seems now to be settled, by ancient usage as well as the expressed opinion of the generality of Grand Lodges and of Masonic writers, that there is no appeal from his decision. In June, 1849, the Grand Master of New York, Bro. Williard, declared an appeal to be out of order and refused to submit it to the Grand Lodge. The proceedings on that eventful occasion have been freely discussed by the Grand Lodges of the United States and none of them have condemned the act of the Grand Master, while several have sustained it in express terms. "An appeal," say the Committee of Correspondence of Maryland, "from the decision of the Grand Master is an anomaly at war with every principle of Freemasonry and as such, not for a moment to be tolerated or countenanced." [Proceedings G.L. Maryland, 1849, p. 25.]
This opinion is also sustained by the Committee of the Grand Lodge of Florida in the year 1851and at various times by other Grand Lodges. On the other hand, several Grand Lodges have made decisions adverse to this prerogative and the present regulations of the Grand Lodge of England seem, by a fair interpretation of their phraseology, to admit of an appeal from the Grand Master. Still the general opinion of the craft in this country appears to sustain the doctrine, that no appeal can be made from the decision of that officer. And this doctrine has derived much support in the way of analogy from the report adopted by the General Grand Chapter of the United States, declaring that no appeal could lie from the decision of the presiding officer of any Royal Arch body.
Since we have enunciated this doctrine as Masonic law, the question next arises, in what manner shall the Grand Master be punished, should he abuse his great prerogative? The answer to this question admits of no doubt. It is to be found in a regulation, adopted in 1721, by the Grand Lodge of England and is in these words:"If the Grand Master should abuse his great power and render himself unworthy of the obedience and submission of the Lodges, he shall be treated in a way and manner to be agreed upon in a new regulation." But the same series of regulations very explicitly prescribe, how this new regulation is to be made; namely, it is to be "proposed and agreed to at the third quarterly communication preceding the annual Grand Feast and offered to the perusal of all the Brethren before dinner, in writing, even of the youngest entered apprentice; the approbation and consent of the majority of all the Brethren present being absolutely necessary, to make the same binding and obligatory." [Art. xxxix.] This mode of making a new regulation is explicitly and positively prescribedit can be done in no other wayand those who accept the old regulations as the law of Masonry, must accept this provision with them. This will, in the present organization of many Grand Lodges, render it almost impracticable to make such a new regulation, in which case the Grand Master must remain exempt from other punishment for his misdeeds, than that which arises from his own conscience and the loss of his Brethren's regard and esteem.
II. The power of granting dispensations is one of the most important prerogatives of the Grand Master. A dispensation may be defined to be an exemption from the observance of some law or the performance of some duty. In Masonry, no one has the authority to grant this exemption, except the Grand Master; and, although the exercise of it is limited within the observance of the ancient landmarks, the operation of the prerogative is still very extensive. The dispensing power may be exercised under the following circumstances:
1. The fourth old Regulation prescribes that "no lodge shall make more than five new Brothers at one and the same time without an urgent necessity." [The word "time" has been interpreted to mean communication. ] But of this necessity the Grand Master may judge and, on good and sufficient reason being shown, he may grant a dispensation enabling any lodge to suspend this regulation and make more than five new Brothers.
2. The next regulation prescribes "that no one can be accepted a member of a particular lodge without previous notice, one month before given to the lodge, in order to make due inquiry into the reputation and capacity of the candidate." But here, also, it is held that, in a suitable case of emergency, the Grand Master may exercise his prerogative and dispense with this probation of one month, permitting the candidate to be made on the night of his application.
3. If a lodge should have omitted for any causes to elect its officers or any of them on the constitutional night of election, or if any officer so elected shall have died, been deposed or removed from the jurisdiction subsequent to his election, the Grand Master may issue a dispensation empowering the lodge to proceed to an election or to fill the vacancy at any other specified communication; but he cannot grant a dispensation to elect a new master in consequence of the death or removal of the old one, while the two Wardens or either of them remainbecause the Wardens succeed by inherent right and in order of seniority to the vacant mastership. And, indeed, it is held that while one of the three officers remains, no election can be held, even by dispensation, to fill the other two places, though vacancies in them may have occurred by death or removal.
4. The Grand Master may grant a dispensation empowering a lodge to elect a Master from among the members on the floor; but this must be done only when every Past Master, Warden and Past Warden of the lodge has refused to serve, [And this is not because such past officer has an inherent right to the mastership, but because as long as such an one is present and willing to serve, there does not exist such an emergency as would authorize a dispensation of the law. ] because ordinarily a requisite qualification for the Mastership is, that the candidate shall, previously, have served in the office of Warden.
5. In the year 1723 a regulation was adopted, prescribing "that no Brother should belong to more than one lodge within the bills of mortality." Interpreting the last expression to mean three mileswhich is now supposed to be the geographical limit of a lodge's jurisdiction, this regulation may still be considered as a part of the law of Masonry; but in some Grand Lodges, as that of South Carolina, for instance, the Grand Master will sometimes exercise his prerogative and, dispensing with this regulation, permit a Brother to belong to two lodges, although they may be within three miles of each other.
6. But the most important power of the Grand Master connected with his dispensing prerogative is, that of constituting new lodges. It has already been remarked that, anciently, a warrant was not required for the formation of a lodge, but that a sufficient number of Masons, met together within a certain limit, were empowered, with the consent of the sheriff or chief magistrate of the place, to make Masons and practice the rites of Masonry, without such warrant of Constitution. But, in the year 1717, it was adopted as a regulation, that every lodge, to be thereafter convened, should be authorised to act by a warrant from the Grand Master for the time being, granted to certain persons by petition, with the consent and approbation of the Grand Lodge in communication. Ever since that time, no lodge has been considered as legally established, unless it has been constituted by the authority of the Grand Master. In the English Constitutions, the instrument thus empowering a lodge to meet, is called, when granted by the Grand Master, a Warrant of Constitution. It is granted by the Grand Master and not by the Grand Lodge. It appears to be a final instrument, notwithstanding the provision enacted in 1717, requiring the consent and approbation of the Grand Lodge; for in the Constitution of the United Grand Lodge of England, there is no allusion whatever to this consent and approbation.
But in this country, the process is somewhat different and the Grand Master is deprived of a portion of his prerogative. Here, the instrument granted by the Grand Master is called a Dispensation. The lodge receiving it is not admitted into the register of lodges, nor is it considered as possessing any of the rights and privileges of a lodge, except that of making Masons, until a Warrant of Constitution is granted by the Grand Lodge. The ancient prerogative of the Grand Master is, however, preserved in the fact, that after a lodge has been thus warranted by the Grand Lodge, the ceremony of constituting it, which embraces its consecration and the installation of its officers, can only be performed by the Grand Master in person, or by his special Deputy appointed for that purpose. [And this is not because such past officer has an inherent right to the mastership, but because as long as such an one is present and willing to serve, there does not exist such an emergency as would authorize a dispensation of the law. ]
III. The third prerogative of the Grand Master is that of visitation. He has a right to visit any lodge within his jurisdiction at such times as he pleases and when there to preside; and it is the duty of the Master to offer him the chair and his gavel, which the Grand Master may decline or accept at his pleasure. This prerogative admits of no question, as it is distinctly declared in the first of Thirty-nine Regulations, adopted in 1721, in the following words:"The Grand Master or Deputy has full authority and right, not only to be present, but to preside in every lodge, with the Master of the lodge on his left hand and to order his Grand Wardens to attend him, who are not to act as Wardens of particular lodges, but in his presence and at his command; for the Grand Master, while in a particular lodge, may command the Wardens of that lodge, or any other Master Masons, to act as his Wardens, pro tempore."
But in a subsequent regulation it was provided, that as the Grand Master cannot deprive the Grand Wardens of that office without the consent of the Grand Lodge, he should appoint no other persons to act as Wardens in his visitation to a private lodge, unless the Grand Wardens were absent. This whole regulation is still in existence.
The question has been lately mooted, whether, if the Grand Master declines to preside, he does not thereby place himself in the position of a private Brother and become subject, as all the others present, to the control of the Worshipful Master. I answer, that of course he becomes subject to and must of necessity respect those rules of order and decorum which are obligatory on all good men and Masons; but that he cannot, by the exercise of an act of courtesy in declining to preside, divest himself of his prerogative, which, moreover, he may at any time during the evening assume and demand the gavel. The Grand Master of Masons can, under no circumstances, become subject to the decrees and orders of the Master of a particular lodge.
IV. Another prerogative of the Grand Master is that of appointment; which, however, in this country, has been much diminished. According to the old regulations and the custom is still continued in the Constitutions of the Grand Lodge of England, the Grand Master has the right of appointing his Deputy and Wardens. In the United States, the office has been shorn of this high prerogative and these Officers are elected by the Grand Lodge. The Deputy, however, is still appointed by the Grand Master, in some of the States, as Massachusetts, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas. The appointment of the principal subordinate officers, is also given to the Grand Master by the American Grand Lodges.
V. The last and most extraordinary power of the Grand Master, is that of making Masons at sight.
The power to "make Masons at sight" is a technical term, which may be defined to be the power to initiate, pass and raise candidates by the Grand Master, in a lodge of emergency, or as it is called in the Book of Constitutions, "an occasional lodge," especially convened by him and consisting of such Master Masons as he may call together for that purpose onlythe lodge ceasing to exist as soon as the initiation, passing, or raising, has been accomplished and the Brethren have been dismissed by the Grand Master.
Whether such a power is vested in the Grand Master, is a question that, within the last few years, has been agitated with much warmth, by some of the Grand Lodges of this country; but I am not aware that, until very lately, the prerogative was ever disputed [It is well known, although it cannot be quoted as authority, that the Athol Constitutions expressly acknowledged the existence of this prerogative. See Dermott's Ahiman Rezon. ]
In the Book of Constitutions, however, several instances are furnished of the exercise of this right by various Grand Masters.
In 1731, Lord Lovel being Grand Master, he "formed an occasional lodge at Houghton Hall, Sir Robert Walpole's House in Norfolk," and there made the Duke of Lorraine, afterwards Emperor of Germany and the Duke of Newcastle, Master Masons. [Book of Constitutions, edit. 1767, p. 222. ]
I do not quote the case of the initiation, passing and raising of Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1737, which was done in "an occasional lodge," over which Dr. Desaguliers presided, [Book of Const., p. 233. ] because as Desaguliers was not the Grand Master, nor even, as has been incorrectly stated by the New York Committee of Correspondence, Deputy Grand Master, but only a Past Grand Master, it cannot be called a making at sight. He most probably acted under the dispensation of the Grand Master, who at that time was the Earl of Darnley.
But in 1766, Lord Blaney, who was then Grand Master, convened "an occasional lodge" and initiated, passed and raised the Duke of Gloucester.[Book of Const., p. 313. ]
Again in 1767, John Salter, the Deputy, then acting as Grand Master, convened "an occasional lodge," and conferred the three degrees on the Duke of Cumberland. [Book of Constitutions, p. 319. ]
In 1787, the Prince of Wales was made a Mason "at an occasional lodge, convened," says Preston, "for the purpose, at the Star and Garter, Pall Mall, over which the Duke of Cumberland, (Grand Master) presided in person." [Preston, p. 237, ed. 1802, (U.M.L., vol. iii., p. 223)]
But it is unnecessary to multiply instances of the right, exercised by former Grand Masters, of congregating occasional lodges and making Masons at sight. It has been said, however, by the oppugners of this prerogative, that these "occasional lodges" were only special communications of the Grand Lodge and the "makings" are thus supposed to have taken place under the authority of that body and not of the Grand Master. The facts, however, do not sustain this position. Throughout the Book of Constitutions, other meetings, whether regular or special, are distinctly recorded as meetings of the Grand Lodge, while these "occasional lodges" appear only to have been convened by the Grand Master, for the purpose of making Masons. Besides, in many instances, the lodge was held at a different place from that of the Grand Lodge and the officers were not, with the exception of the Grand Master, the officers of the Grand Lodge. Thus the occasional lodge, which initiated the Duke of Lorraine, was held at the residence of Sir Robert Walpole, in Norfolk, while the Grand Lodge always met in London. In 1766, the Grand Lodge held its communications at the Crown and Anchor; but the occasional lodge, which, in the same year, conferred the degrees on the Duke of Gloucester, was convened at the Horn Tavern. In the following year, the lodge which initiated the Duke of Cumberland was convened at the Thatched House Tavern, the Grand Lodge continuing to meet at the Crown and Anchor.
This may be considered very conclusive evidence of the existence of the prerogative of the Grand Master, which we are now discussing, but the argument fortiori, drawn from his dispensing power, will tend to confirm the doctrine.
No one doubts or denies the power of the Grand Master to constitute new lodges by dispensation. In 1741, the Grand Lodge of England forgot it for a moment and adopted a new regulation, that no new lodge should be constituted until the consent of the Grand Lodge had been first obtained, "But this order, afterwards appearing," says the Book of Constitutions, [. Book of Constitutions, p. 247 ] "to be an infringement on the prerogative of the Grand Master and to be attended with many inconveniences and with damage to the craft, was repealed."
It is, then, an undoubted prerogative of the Grand Master to constitute lodges by dispensation and in these lodges, so constituted, Masons may be legally entered, passed and raised. This is done every day. Seven Master Masons, applying to the Grand Master, he grants them a dispensation, under authority of which they proceed to open and hold a lodge and to make Masons. This lodge is, however, admitted to be the mere creature of the Grand Master, for it is in his power, at any time, to revoke the dispensation he had granted and thus to dissolve the lodge.
But, if the Grand Master has the power thus to enable others to confer the degrees and make Masons by his individual authority out of his presence, are we not permitted to argue fortiori , that he has also the right of congregating seven Brethren and causing a Mason, to be made in his sight? Can he delegate a power to others which he does not himself possess? And is his calling together "an occasional lodge," and making, with the assistance of the Brethren thus assembled, a Mason "at sight," that is to say, in his presence, anything more or less than the exercise of his dispensing power, for the establishment of a lodge under dispensation, for a temporary period and for a special purpose. The purpose having been effected and the Mason having been made, he revokes his dispensation and the lodge is dismissed. If we assumed any other ground than this, we should be compelled to say, that though the Grand Master might authorise others to make Masons, when he was absent, as in the usual case of lodges under dispensation yet the instant that he attempted to convey the same powers to be exercised in his presence and under his personal supervision, his authority would cease. This course of reasoning would necessarily lead to a contradiction in terms, if not to an actual absurdity.
It is proper to state, in conclusion, that the views here set forth are not entertained by the very able Committee of Foreign Correspondence of the Grand Lodge of Florida, who only admit the power of the Grand Master to make Masons in the Grand Lodge. On the other hand, the Grand Lodge of Wisconsin, at its last communication, adopted a report, asserting "that the Grand Master has the right to make Masons at sight, in cases which he may deem proper"and the Committee of Correspondence of New York declares, that "since the time when the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, Grand Masters have enjoyed the privilege of making Masons at sight, without any preliminaries and at any suitable time or place."
The opinions of the two last quoted Grand Lodges embody the general sentiment of the Craft on this subject.[The existence of this prerogative is denied by the Grand Lodges of Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana and Massachusetts, while it is admitted by those of New York, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Vermont, Mississippi, Ohio, New Hampshire, Maryland, Indiana, Texas and Florida; in the last two, however, subject to limitation. ]
But although the prerogative is thus almost universally ceded to Grand Masters, there are many very reasonable doubts as to the expediency of its exercise, except under extraordinary circumstances of emergency.
In England, the practice has generally been confined to the making of Princes of the Royal Family, who, for reasons of state, were unwilling to reduce themselves to the level of ordinary candidates and receive their initiation publicly in a subordinate lodge.
But in the exercise of this prerogative, the Grand Master cannot dispense with any of the requisite forms of initiation, prescribed by the oral laws of the Order. He cannot communicate the degrees, but must adhere to all the established ceremoniesthe conferring of degrees by "communication" being a form unknown to the York rite. He must be assisted by the number of Brethren necessary to open and hold a lodge. Due inquiry must be made into the candidate's character, (though the Grand Master may, as in a case of emergency, dispense with the usual probation of a month). He cannot interfere with the business of a regular lodge, by making one whom it had rejected, nor finishing one which it had commenced. Nor can he confer the three degrees, at one and the same communication. In short, he must, in making Masons at sight, conform to the ancient usages and landmarks of the Order.