A Focus on Masonic Research, News, and other Tidbits

Homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Masonic Diplomacy

Many Masons are undoubtedly not familiar with much of the interaction between Grand Lodges. This is to be expected since much of this Grand Lodge diplomacy does not have an immediate or direct impact on the individual Mason or his lodge. It does, however, have a large impact on the worldwide Fraternity of Freemasonry.

A study of these interactions between Grand Lodges can be most educational, simply interesting, and sometimes humorous – especially when viewed over the distance of time.

From a perusal of the history of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, the following random bits of information can be found.

In 1882 and concerning the Grand Lodge of Idaho’s decision to cease Masonic intercourse with the Grand Lodge of Scotland due to Scotland’s dispute with the Grand Lodge of Quebec, South Carolina’s Grand Secretary at the time, Charles Inglesby wrote:

To adopt resolutions of non-intercourse is an extreme measure, and a Grand Lodge which is yet in its teens, ought not hastily to take to such action.1
Following South Carolina’s recognition of the Grand Lodge of South Australia in 1886, South Carolina’s Grand Master J. Adger Smyth had this to say.

This is a vital question, and affects the very existence of Masonry. The rule has been that not less that three Lodges in any territory where no Grand Lodge previously exists are competent to form a Grand Lodge. Most of the older Jurisdictions now hold, however, that a majority of the Lodges in the new territory must concur in such a formation. Some even go so far as to hold that it must have the unanimous consent of all the Lodges in the new territory. We adhere to the majority rule. This would prevent a minority – as in the case of New South Wales – from attempting to coerce the majority.2
Though an unfamiliar subject to many Freemasons, the diplomacy between Grand Lodges has been – and remains – an important part of the cement that holds the Fraternity together.

1. Cornwell, Ross & Willis, Samuel M. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina; The Years 1860 - 1919. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979, p. 106.
2. Ibid, pp. 127-128

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Examining the Political Mackey - Revisited

See first: Examining the Political Mackey.

Now that I have a copy of A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina: The Years 1860 - 1919, more information concerning Brother Mackey is available. It seems that the effects of the War Between the States were still being felt within the Fraternity in South Carolina (see also: Pushed to the Brink: The Stresses of War on Freemasonry). From the portion of that text that addresses 1866 and the end of Mackey's long service as Grand Secretary in South Carolina, this following footnote is found.
The proceedings of the year 1921, more than 50 years later, indicate that the elections were bitterly divisive in 1866, and that Mackey was rejected because he had sided with the Union supporters during the War Between the States. The collapse of the Confederacy would have brought considerable wrath on the head of one who had spoken out against the Southern cause. What is remarkable is not that Mackey was defeated, but that the proceedings do not explain why until 1921.1
Brother Mackey's final years in South Carolina were clouded by suspicions and allegations of financial irregularities in regards to the Grand Secretary's office. A motion - one which was never acted upon - was actually made during the 1868 Grand Communication to expel Mackey from the Order.2

Mackey left South Carolina two years later.

1. Cornwell, Ross & Willis, Samuel M. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina; The Years 1860 - 1919. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979, p. 26.
2. Ibid, p. 35.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pushed to the Brink: The Stresses of War on Freemasonry

[Author's Note: Thirty years after its first and last publication, A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina: The Years 1860 - 1919, has again been published. It is the "Part II" of Mackey's work. I have limited copies in my hands for interested Brothers of the 4th Masonic District of South Carolina to purchase. The price is the same as it was in 1979 - $20.00.]

Even the casual student of Freemasonry is aware that Freemasonry has survived many calamities over her long recorded history. Natural disasters, powerful tyrants that considered Freemasonry to be an enemy, and wars have come and gone while Freemasonry continued to exist and sometimes flourish. Freemasonry, however, is not immune to the effects of outside, negative influences. The stresses of war, in particular, have pushed Freemasonry to the brink of disaster in many jurisdictions.

Evidence of the damaging effects of war on the Fraternity can be found by examining the history of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina during the dreadful years of the War Between the States. When the Grand Lodge of South Carolina met for its annual communication in November 1861, the State of South Carolina had – eleven months prior – already seceded from the Union and the firing on Fort Sumter had occurred just seven months earlier. The proceedings of that Grand Communication give a glimpse of the troubles to come. Following the installation of the new Grand Master, David Ramsey, on 19 November 1861, this statement was entered into the proceedings of the Grand Lodge.

The Grand Master being compelled, by urgent public business, to depart immediately for the city of Charleston, the remaining officers were installed by Past Grand Master B. R. Carroll…1
By the next annual Grand Communication in November 1862, the stress of the war was rather evident. Initially, not enough lodges were represented in order to constitute a quorum. The Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master, Senior Grand Warden, Junior Grand Warden, Grand Treasurer, Grand Chaplain, the Senior and Junior Grand Deacons, the Grand Pursuivant, and at least one Grand Steward were absent when the Grand Lodge was to be opened at noon on 18 November 1862. The Deputy Grand Master and one other Grand Lodge officer, along with representatives from nineteen more lodges eventually arrived later in the evening.2

The proceedings of this communication in 1862 speak of money being sent to “suffering soldiers,” the failure of many lodges to submit annual returns, and a Grand Lodge budget that was running a deficit. Times were about the get worse, however.3

When the Grand Lodge met again on 17 November 1863 in Columbia, South Carolina, the Grand Master – David Ramsey – had been dead for three months after to succumbing to battle wounds he received while being a part of the defense of Battery Wagner on Morris Island, Charleston, South Carolina. The proceedings of the Grand Communication indicated that the treasury of the Grand Lodge continued to shrink and the list of lodges failing to provide returns had grown. All but the most urgent of Grand Lodge business was suspended by suggestion of the acting Grand Master, Deputy Grand Master D. J. Barnett.4

Again meeting in Columbia, Grand Master John H. Boatwright opened the November 1864 Grand Communication on the following note.

While without the startled ear is struck on every side with the crash of conflicting arms, and the sky is overcast with the lurid clouds of was, here, at least, for a brief period, around this sacred altar, and within this holy temple, all is serenity and peace.5
Despite this optimistic statement, gloom surrounded the Fraternity in the Palmetto State. The physical home of the Grand Lodge and many subordinate lodges in Charleston had been struck by shells from Union forces on more than one occasion – forcing the Grand Lodge to move its offices to another part of the city. Half of the lodges in the State had gone dark – or dormant – though the Grand Lodge wisely and justly decided not to arrest the charters of these lodges. The Grand Master was also forced to address the increased popularity of Freemasonry in some parts of the State that had led to desires for a shortening of the time required for initiating and advancement in the three degrees of Freemasonry. There was a “dramatic upsurge for admission to the Order by candidates who came seeking the comfort and reassurance of an old and relatively stable institution in an age when all institutions were threatened.”6 Grand Master Boatwright stated…

At no time since the organization of the first Lodge in this State has there been so much danger as there is at the present day from the popularity of masonry.7
By the next annual meeting of the Grand Lodge, however, much more serious matters than the popularity of the Fraternity would show just how close to the brink the war had pushed the whole of Freemasonry in South Carolina.

When the Grand Lodge met again in Columbia on 21 November 1865, the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox on 9 April 1865 was still a fresh memory. More telling of the horrors of war to the attendees of the Grand Communication was the destruction that surrounded them. Columbia had been burned as it fell to the advance of General Sherman’s forces. All three lodges in Columbia escaped not this burning – each of them lost their halls and furniture.8

The Grand Lodge could not open at the appointed time – noon – due to the absence of so many lodge representatives. It was not until seven thirty in the evening of 21 November 1865 that enough delegates finally arrived. The Senior Grand Warden, W. T. Walter, found himself as the acting Grand Master due to the deaths of the Grand Master and Deputy Grand Master just a few months prior. Walter addressed the Grand Lodge with these words.

In that portion of the jurisdiction through which the armies have passed, our Lodges have been destroyed, our altars thrown down, and it is with maimed rites we can practice our ceremonies. That errors and irregularities have crept into our Lodges I have little doubt. These are, no doubt, caused by the disorganized state of the country, and the irregularity of the mails. In the decision of every trespass against our rules, I trust you will act with moderation, mercy, and charity…9
Freemasonry in South Carolina had been brought to the brink of the abyss by the stresses of war. She did survive, however, and begin to rebound once the conflict and its aftermath had subsided and – from the end of this dark period – examples of what Freemasonry is all about can be found. The acts of Brotherly love displayed by Masons in the states that had been the enemies of South Carolina was duly recorded in the proceedings of the Grand Lodge annual communication of November 1866. These included such things as: one thousand dollars donated to the South Carolina Grand Lodge by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania; a new set of jewels donated to Orange Lodge No. 14 by “some wealthy brethren in Boston;” from a New York Mason, a return to Landmark Lodge No. 76 of a Past Master’s jewel which had been stolen during the war; and the return by a Illinois Brother of the warrant of constitutions which had been taken from Allen Lodge No. 38.10

War can stress Freemasonry and push her to the brink, but it can not kill her.

1, Cornwell, Ross & Willis, Samuel M. A History of Freemasonry in South Carolina; The Years 1860 - 1919. The Grand Lodge of Ancient Free Masons of South Carolina, 1979, p. 9.
2. Ibid, p. 10.
3. Ibid, pp. 10-11.
4. Ibid, pp. 12-13.
5. Ibid, p. 15.
6. Ibid, p 16.
7. Ibid, p 16.
8. Ibid. pp 18-19.
9. Ibid, p. 19.
10. Ibid, p. 23.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shifting Out of Neutral: Reengaging the Craft

See also: “The Decline of Civil Society and the Rise of Freemasonry.”
[Author’s Note: This piece was inspired by a very timely talk given by my Grand Master at a very recent District Inspirational Meeting.]

It probably can be safely said and generally agreed upon that the Brotherhood that is Freemasonry has been idling in neutral for at least several decades now. This is not to claim that Freemasonry has not been involved in sustaining herself – despite some negative trends and actions that have sometimes eroded the Fraternity’s collective character – but a statement of presumed fact as pertains to Freemasonry’s role in general society.

Let it be made clear that Freemasonry as an entity does not engage in the shaping of society. However, the lessons contained in Freemasonry have often been an integral factor when individual Masons became involved in shaping – or building – society. Some of the best examples of this can be found in the Revolutionary and Constitution-writing eras of the United States. During that time period, society was in a state of turmoil in this nation and Freemasonry was very well represented among the men that stood up and provided the leadership and action needed to guide society through the trials and tribulations of those times. Known and productive society was unraveling during those days some two hundred plus years ago and many Freemasons were instrumental in bringing order – an order based on liberty – out of the chaos.

Many people now feel that known and productive society is again unraveling. As was the case with the years leading up to the American Revolution, this unraveling did not happen overnight. Rather, it has taken years to occur – one loosened strand at a time – and Freemasons have, in large part, sadly stood idle as it has happened.

Despite this, there are signs that the Craft is beginning to shift out of neutral and again engage in the business of providing the leadership and action needed to shape societal direction. The bad news is that there is a massive learning curve to overcome – being that it has been a very long time since this type of activity was engaged in. The Fraternity will have to shake off its collective social club mentality if it is to be successful in teaching its members how to reengage in the shaping of general society. It will also have to relearn the concept of positive elitism or exclusiveness. It will have to reeducate itself on the real purpose of Freemasonry, which has little to do with maintaining a physical building or bringing in new members.

The learning curve can be overcome and there are more and more signs that point to a shift in thinking that will defeat that curve. Assuming these steps will be successful; the Craft will indeed no longer be sitting in neutral and will reengage general society.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Working without a Paycheck – Revisited

First, see Working without a Paycheck.

I had the pleasure of conducting – what we call in my Grand Jurisdiction – an official visit to a two hundred and fifty-three year old lodge last night that was conferring a Third Degree. This lodge has a proud history and its members obviously are fully cognizant of their lineage.

In one of the very few times since I started conducting official visits, I – a Grand Lodge officer – felt like the underdressed fellow in the lodge. I was in my standard coat and tie with my Grand Lodge regalia but I was surrounded by lodge officers wearing tuxedos and white gloves. It looked almost as though they had chosen a uniform for the entire officer corps. Despite looking like “country come to town,” I was greeted with wonderful hospitality and perfect respect for the position I occupy in the Grand Jurisdiction.

The full proficiency delivered by the Third Degree candidate was almost flawless and the degree work itself was superb. The care that the lodge takes in providing for quality experiences for their candidates was very evident. The presence of the candidate’s father and grandfather – both of whom had travelled great distances to attend – was the cherry on the top of my visit.

The pay continues to be so very good in this job.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Welcome to the Palmetto Mason

This is the site that has grown out of the now quiet The Masonic Line. Regular readers of The Masonic Line will be familiar with many of the articles to be found here as well as the layout and general feel of the site.

Part of what has changed, however, is my general direction. Much more emphasis will be placed on Masonic research, pertinent news, and other suitable tidbits related to Freemasonry. In addition, comments will be more heavily moderated than what some may have been used to at The Masonic Line.

As it was at The Masonic Line, esoteric discussions or internal Lodge or Grand Lodge business will not be entertained and acknowledgment of anyone as a regular and recognized Freemason will not occur unless I know beyond a reasonable doubt that such a status exists. If you are a regular and recognized Freemason, please do not take offense if I do not exchange the normally appropriate greetings with you.

I hope that all who visit will enjoy this blog and maybe even gain a little knowledge or food for thought.

And just so the regular readers of The Masonic Line will really feel at home...