A Review of a Jurisdictional Dispute in the 1840s
Any examination of the right of Masonic Jurisdiction would be incomplete without a study of the difficulties that arose between the Grand Lodges of Mississippi and Louisiana. In or about the year 1847, The Grand Lodge of Mississippi warranted Lodges within the territorial limits of the State of Louisiana, where a Grand Lodge already existed. The reactions of the other Grand Lodges in the United States to the dispute between these two neighboring Grand Lodges serve as a telling reminder and lesson on the meaning of territorial jurisdiction.
The Grand Lodge of Louisiana was formed in 1812 shortly after Louisiana entered the Union as a State on 8 April of that year. The makeup and diversity of the Lodges that formed that Grand Lodge had a direct bearing on the dispute with Mississippi which occurred several decades later. Albert G. Mackey gave an indication of this diversity.
This much of the early history in Louisiana must suffice, as to continue a specific notice of all the lodges chartered and the various contests which grew out of the various rites in use, and the "Cumulation" thereof, would utilize our entire remaining pages of this chapter, hence must proceed to the organization of the Grand Lodge.
It appears from the records that twelve lodges had received charters in New Orleans prior to the organization of a Grand Lodge, as will appear in the following table: 1
Writing in 1861, but speaking of the 1847-1848 timeframe, Mackey further explained the makeup and practice of Freemasonry in Louisiana and how that diverse situation at least partially led to the dispute with the Grand Lodge of Mississippi.
...the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was at that time permitting many of its Subordinate Lodges to work in the York, Scotch and French rites, sometimes a Lodge using only one of these rites, and others practicing at different times two or (sp) them, or perhaps the whole three. Against this system, which is technically known in Masonry as a “cumulation of rites,” the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, in answer to the complaint of several York Masons of Louisiana, had protested, and asserting that there was not properly any York Grand Lodge in Louisiana, and that the field was, therefore, open for the entrance of any other Grand Lodge as an unoccupied jurisdiction, it had established several Lodges in Louisiana, which had subsequently united in the organization of a “Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.” 2The Grand Lodge of Louisiana sent communications to its sister Grand Lodges throughout the United States which advised them of the alleged invasion of its jurisdiction. The Grand Lodge of Mississippi responded with similar communications. Mississippi offered the following preamble and resolutions that clearly explained the viewpoint of that body.
The reaction by other Grand Lodges was relatively swift in coming. On 7 September 1847, the Grand Lodge of New York had – in part - this to say.
Whereas, in the opinion of the Grand Lodge, each distinctive rite produces different powers which govern it, and are independent of others; and whereas, no Grand Lodge of Scotch, French, or cumulative rite, can legally assume jurisdiction over any Ancient York Lodge; therefore, Resolved, that the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, being composed of a cumulation of rites, cannot be recognized by this Grand Lodge as a Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons.
Resolved, That that this Grand Lodge will grant charters to any legal number of Ancient York Masons residing within the State of Louisiana, they making due application for the same. 3
Resolved, That as we have heretofore recognized the Grand Lodge of Louisiana as the sole, supreme and legitimate government of the symbolic degrees of Masonry in the State of Louisiana, so we shall continue to sustain her rights.On 7 December 1848, a committee appointed by the Grand Lodge of South Carolina to study and report on the dispute in Louisiana included the following language in its initial report.
Resolved, That all Lodges planted in the State of Louisiana by the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, or any other Grand Lodge than the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, established in the year 1812, are irregular Lodges, and as such cannot be recognized by us. 4
The encroachment upon the independent jurisdiction of an independent Grand Lodge, is contrary to every principle of Freemasonry, the constitution and usages of the Order, and is manifestly unjust as it would be for the Governor and Judges of one State to exercise jurisdiction in another. 5That committee of the Grand Lodge of South Carolina went so far as to examine whether or not the cumulation of rites – as the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was alleged to have been practicing – was proper. The committee concluded that “even if such government was corrupt, it would not be the privilege of its equal to invade its rights…” On 4 September 1849, the Grand Lodge of South Carolina adopted resolutions pertaining to this matter – the fifth of them as follows.
Resolved, That without a speedy conclusion of the differences between the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, and the body assuming to be such, all other Grand Lodges are recommended to adopt such measures as will prevent the members of the unlawful body from visiting – for which purpose this Grand Lodge enjoins on all Lodges under its jurisdiction not to permit any persons from Louisiana to be admitted for examination in their Lodges, until they produce the certificate of the original Grand Lodge of Louisiana. 6It should be noted that the Grand Lodge of South Carolina was heavily influenced by Ancient York Masonry and was somewhat sympathetic to the position that the Grand Lodge of Mississippi had postulated. Despite this, South Carolina still sided with the Grand Lodge of Louisiana on the grounds of territorial jurisdiction.
In one of many other examples of how the Fraternity looked upon the subject of jurisdiction and in the same year that South Carolina issued resolutions concerning this matter, the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire took a similar position.
As we regard it settled, that one Grand Lodge cannot exist within the jurisdiction of another, and as we believe that we are now called upon to decide between the contending parties, we offer the following resolutions:Of course, the Grand Lodges of Louisiana and Mississippi eventually resolved their dispute and the territorial sovereignty of the Grand Lodge of Louisiana was restored. The manner in which the various Grand Lodges responded to the threat to Louisiana’s sovereignty and jurisdiction should not be overlooked by anyone desiring a good lesson on what exclusive territorial jurisdiction in the Masonic fraternity really means.
Resolved, That we regard the action of the Grand Lodge of Mississippi, in establishing Lodges within the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the State of Louisiana, as unauthorized and improper; and that we decline to hold any Masonic intercouse (sp) with the association recently formed, called the Louisiana Grand Lodge.
Resolved, That we recommend to the Fraternity in Louisiana and Mississippi a reexamination of the points in dispute among them, in the spirit of brotherly love and kindness, and with a view to the restoration of union and harmony. 7
1 Mackey, Albert G. MD. The History of Freemasonry. New York: The Masonic History Company, 1898, p. 1447.
2 Mackey, Albert G., M.D. The History of Freemasonry in South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: South Carolina Steam Power Press, 1861, p. 373.
3 Ibid, p. 374.
4 Ibid, p. 374.
5 Ibid, p. 375.
6 Ibid, p. 375.
7 Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of New Hampshire, from June 5842, to June 5856, Inclusive, Vol. II. Manchester: C.F. Livingston, 1869, p. 212.