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Monday, September 20, 2010

Possible Loophole in the Second Charge of a Free Mason

Studious members of the Craft are familiar with 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.* The Second Charge is oft examined and discussed by members of the Fraternity as it pointedly touches on a Mason’s role in civil society. It also calls the actions of famous Masons of the past into examination – the American Revolution offering an obvious example. The Second Charge reads as follows.
II. Of the CIVIL MAGISTRATES supreme and subordinate.

A Mason is a peaceable Subject to the Civil Powers, wherever he resides or works, and is never to be concern'd in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation, nor to behave himself undutifully to inferior Magistrates; for as Masonry hath been always injured by War, Bloodshed, and Confusion, so ancient Kings and Princes have been much dispos'd to encourage the Craftsmen, because of their Peaceableness and Loyalty, whereby they practically answer'd the Cavils of their Adversaries, and promoted the Honour of the Fraternity, who ever flourish'd in Times of Peace. So that if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State he is not to be countenanc'd in his Rebellion, however he may be pitied as an unhappy Man; and, if convicted of no other Crime though the loyal Brotherhood must and ought to disown his Rebellion, and give no Umbrage or Ground of political Jealousy to the Government for the time being; they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.*
On its surface, the Second Charge is rather specific. A Free Mason is not to plot or conspire against his nation. However, how would the likes of Brothers Benjamin Franklin and George Washington – the Charges having been around for some time by the beginning of the American Revolution – reconcile themselves to the possibility that they could honor the Second Charge and be involved in a revolution against Britain, which was their nation? It is possible that there is a loophole in the Charge and it is further possible that the American Masons who involved themselves in “plots and conspiracies” against Britain may have recognized it or have at least used it to justify their actions.

That possible loophole is contained in the second phrase of the first sentence. A Mason “is never to be concern'd in Plots and Conspiracies against the Peace and Welfare of the Nation.” “Peace” and “Welfare” are key words in that phrase and are unlikely to be there by accident or by whim. If a Free Mason honestly believes that his nation – as ruled by the “Government for the time being” – is not enjoying peace or faring well, he may possibly and reasonably conclude that he is no longer bound by the terms of the Second Charge.

Of course, an individual Mason probably should not walk down the slippery slope of unilaterally determining that his nation is not peaceful or faring well. Suffice it to say that such a conclusion would require multitudes of the citizenship, regardless of their Masonic affiliation. In addition, the beginning of a revolution necessarily means that another government has been formed even if not recognized as legitimate by the longer existing civil powers. It could then be reasonably argued that a Mason gets to decide on which government he is going to apply the terms of the Second Charge if he was not involved in the formation of the revolution and was, therefore, not concerned with the “peace and welfare” clause of the Charge.

* Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, The Charges of a Free-Mason. http://www.freemasonry.bcy.ca/history/anderson/charges.html (Accessed September 20, 2010). Cross checked with Ahiman Rezon of South Carolina. Lexington, S.C., 2007, pp. 458-460. The Charges – six in all – were adopted by the Grand Lodge of England on 25 March 1722.


drapetomaniac said...

You also have a Catch-22. Your actions itself would have to be Peaceful according to the charge (not going against the peace of) and would have to not endanger anyone's welfare.

Our charges don't include "collateral damage"

Bobby said...

I think it is worthy to note that rebellion against the state, whether justified or unjustified, is not a Masonic offense. The Old Charges state clearly “if a Brother should be a Rebel against the State, ... if convicted of no other Crime, ... they cannot expel him from the Lodge, and his Relation to it remains indefeasible.” This simply means that, in the case of the American Revolution, many brethren, feeling that the actions of the crown warranted revolution and independence, were justified in following their consciences without fear of violating their Masonic obligations or any Masonic law.

I personally believe that this "Charge" explicitly adds the above caveat, to reconcile this "Charge" with the assurance given to candidates that the obligations taken will not interfere with certain "exalted duties" we have, and thus allows us to rely on our conscience in this matter.

drapetomaniac said...

An interested citation of the Old Charges I haven't seen before.

It seems to explain a lot of American history.

There seemed to be an obsessive amount of compromise to form the nation as well as an obsessive amount of absolutions after the civil war.

I don't agree with the compromise of human lives lost in either (after all, the subject of the post is to fight against tyranny against person), but I have a greater understanding of the culture that led to compromises and I believe affected many of the modern ones.