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
So far in relation to the rights and privileges of subordinate lodges. But there are certain duties and obligations equally binding upon these bodies and certain powers, in the exercise of which they are restricted. These will next engage our attention.
The first great duty, not only of every lodge, but of every Mason, is to see that the landmarks of the Order shall never be impaired. The General Regulations of Masonryto which every Master, at his installation, is bound to acknowledge his submissiondeclare that, "it is not in the power of any man, or body of men, to make innovations in the body of Masonry." And, hence, no lodge, without violating all the implied and express obligations into which it has entered, can, in any manner, alter or amend the work, lectures and ceremonies of the institution. As its members have received the ritual from their predecessors, so are they bound to transmit it, unchanged, in the slightest degree, to their successors. In the Grand Lodge, alone, resides the power of enacting new regulations, but, even it must be careful that, in every such regulation, the landmarks are preserved. When, therefore, we hear young and inexperienced Masters speak of making improvements (as they arrogantly call them) upon the old lectures or ceremonies, we may be sure that such Masters either know nothing of the duties they owe to the craft, or are willfully forgetful of the solemn obligation which they have contracted. Some may suppose that the ancient ritual of the Order is imperfect and requires amendment. One may think that the ceremonies are too simple and wish to increase them, another, that they are too complicated and desire to simplify them, one may be displeased with the antiquated language, another, with the character of the traditions, a third, with something else. But, the rule is imperative and absolute, that no change can or must be made to gratify individual taste. As the Barons of England, once, with unanimous voice, exclaimed, "Nolumus leges Angli mutare!" so do all good Masons respond to every attempt at innovation, "We are unwilling to alter the customs of Freemasonry."
In relation to the election of officers, a subordinate lodge is allowed to exercise no discretion. The names and duties of these officers are prescribed, partly by the landmarks or the ancient constitutions and partly by the regulations of various Grand Lodges. While the landmarks are preserved, a Grand Lodge may add to the list of officers as it pleases, and whatever may be its regulation, the subordinate lodges are bound to obey it, nor can any such lodge create new offices nor abolish old ones without the consent of the Grand Lodge.
Lodges are also bound to elect their officers at a time which is always determined, not by the subordinate, but by the Grand Lodge. Nor can a lodge anticipate or postpone it unless by a dispensation from the Grand Master.
No lodge can, at an extra meeting, alter or amend the proceedings of a regular meeting. If such were not the rule, an unworthy Master might, by stealth, convoke an extra meeting of a part of his lodge and, by expunging or altering the proceedings of the previous regular meeting, or any particular part of them, annul any measures or resolutions that were not consonant with his peculiar views.
No lodge can interfere with the work or business of any other lodge, without its permission. This is an old regulation, founded on those principles of comity and brotherly love that should exist among all Masons. It is declared in the manuscript charges, written in the reign of James II. and in the possession of the Lodge of Antiquity, at London, that "no Master or Fellow shall supplant others of their work, that is to say, that, if he hath taken a work, or else stand Master of any work, that he shall not put him out, unless he be unable of cunning to make an end of his work." And, hence, no lodge can pass or raise a candidate who was initiated, or initiate one who was rejected, in another lodge. "It would be highly improper," says the Ahiman Rezon, "in any lodge, to confer a degree on a Brother who is not of their house-hold, for, every lodge ought to be competent to manage their own business and are the best judges of the qualifications of their own members."
I do not intend, at the present time, to investigate the qualifications of candidatesas that subject will, in itself, afford ample materials for a future investigation, but, it is necessary that I should say something of the restrictions under which every lodge labors in respect to the admission of persons applying for degrees.
In the first place, no lodge can initiate a candidate, "without previous notice and due examination into his character, and not unless his petition has been read at one regular meeting and acted on at another." This is in accordance with the ancient regulations, but, an exception to it is allowed in the case of an emergency, when the lodge may read the petition for admission and, if the applicant is well recommended, may proceed at once to elect and initiate him. In some jurisdictions, the nature of the emergency must be stated to the Grand Master, who, if he approves, will grant a dispensation, but, in others, the Master, or Master and Wardens, are permitted to be competent judges and may proceed to elect and initiate, without such dispensation. The Grand Lodge of South Carolina adheres to the former custom and that of England to the latter.
Another regulation is, that no lodge can confer more than two degrees, at one communication, on the same candidate. The Grand Lodge of England is still more stringent on this subject and declares that "no candidate shall be permitted to receive more than one degree, on the same day, nor shall a higher degree in Masonry be conferred on any Brother at a less interval than four weeks from his receiving a previous degree, nor until he has passed an examination, in open lodge, in that degree." This rule is also in force in South Carolina and several other of the American jurisdictions. But, the law which forbids the whole three degrees of Ancient Craft Masonry to be conferred, at the same communication, on one candidate, is universal in its application and, as such, may be deemed one of the ancient landmarks of the Order.
There is another rule, which seems to be of universal extent and is, indeed, contained in the General Regulations of 1767, to the following effect: "No lodge shall make more than five new Brothers at one and the same time, without an urgent necessity."
All lodges are bound to hold their meetings at least once in every calendar month, and every lodge neglecting so to do for one year, thereby forfeits its warrant of constitution.
The subject of the removal of lodges is the last thing that shall engage our attention. Here the ancient regulations of the craft have adopted many guards to prevent the capricious or improper removal of a lodge from its regular place of meeting. In the first place, no lodge can be removed from the town in which it is situated, to any other place, without the consent of the Grand Lodge. But, a lodge may remove from one part of the town to another, with the consent of the members, under the following restrictions: The removal cannot be made without the Master's knowledge, nor can any motion, for that purpose, be presented in his absence. When such a motion is made and properly seconded, the Master will order summonses to every member, specifying the business and appointing a day for considering and determining the affair. And if then a majority of the lodge, with the Master, or two-thirds, without him, consent to the removal, it shall take place, but notice thereof must be sent, at once, to the Grand Lodge. The General Regulations of 1767 further declare, that such removal must be approved by the Grand Master. I suppose that where the removal of the lodge was only a matter of convenience to the members, the Grand Lodge would hardly interfere, but leave the whole subject to their discretion, but, where the removal would be calculated to affect the interests of the lodge, or of the fraternityas in the case of a removal to a house of bad reputation, or to a place of evident insecurityI have no doubt that the Grand Lodge, as the conservator of the character and safety of the institution, would have a right to interpose its authority and prevent the improper removal.
I have thus treated, as concisely as the important nature of the subjects would permit, of the powers, privileges, duties and obligations of lodges and have endeavored to embrace, within the limits of the discussion, all those prominent principles of the Order, which, as they affect the character and operations of the craft in their primary assemblies, may properly be referred to the Law of Subordinate Lodges.