More from Rubicon: Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

Following Worshipful Brother Dan Hrinko’s presentation at the Rubicon Masonic Society, Brother John Bizzack shared with each of us a copy of one of his more recent writings — Shooting Ourselves in the Foot. This article was originally presented to the Rubicon Masonic Society in December of 2015, then to William O. Ware Lodge of Research No. 999 in March of 2016, and then to Lexington No. 1 in April of 2016. Brother Bizzack continues to produce informative and thought provoking Masonic works for the benefit of Freemasonry in Kentucky and around the world. Without further delay — Shooting Ourselves in the Foot:

Shooting Ourselves in the Foot

One-hundred and seventy-three years ago, sixteen of the twenty-three Grand Lodges in the United States met in Baltimore, Maryland. At this gathering, it was hoped that “a uniform mode of work throughout all the Lodges of the United States” could be decided. This was not, however, the sole purpose of the gathering. It was also called, “to make other lawful regulations for the interest and security of the Craft.” 1

When the nine-day meeting concluded, the traditional Masonic forms of platitudes and self-congratulations were recorded along with some changes in the way Freemasonry had worked until that time. The convention introduced the idea of dues cards, initiation fees prior to degrees, established suspension for non-payment of dues, and some uniformity of work was adopted. The last thing Freemasonry did at that convention was to chamber one final change in protocol, and in doing so shot itself in the foot.

Freemasonry has still not fully recovered from that self-inflicted wound.

Notwithstanding the idea was not even binding on American Freemasonry, that foot wound ultimately crippled every jurisdiction in the United States until 1987. Today, twenty-four jurisdictions continue to allow that wound to remain untreated.

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time …

The Grand Lodge of Missouri is given credit for bringing this one particular Masonic concept to the attention of Freemasons throughout the United States over next nine generations of members. A committee examining a concern brought forth by Missouri ultimately declared that transacting business below the degree of Master Mason was an “impropriety.”

Although recommendations that came out of the Baltimore Convention were not binding on any jurisdiction, some jurisdictions agreed with it immediately. Kentucky, however, was slower in response to the notion their lodges should open and only do business in the Master Mason degree, but ultimately adopted the practice and allowed it to become institutionalized. 2 The Kentucky Grand Lodge Proceedings from 1800 to about 1853 reveal that it was commonplace that all lodge business be conducted in the 1st degree of Masonry, agreeable to ancient usage and custom. 3 In fact, the question continues as to whether the Brethren at the 1851 or 1852 Kentucky Grand Communications had the right to vote to ban the inferior degrees from lodges, since change to Kentucky’s Book of Constitutions may have been an innovation, per say, when its full definition is realized. 4

Interestingly, Kentucky was one of seven jurisdictions that chose not to participate in the Baltimore Convention and sent no representatives, yet adopted the recommendations. 5 The practice continues today in the Commonwealth and hinders – some believe cripple, Freemasonry in Kentucky. Multiple attempts to change this practice in Kentucky have been made to no avail.

One hundred, and seventy-three years later, twenty-four Grand Lodge jurisdictions in the United States carry forward this practice as the era of declining membership, shrinking lodge attendance and involvement continue. Since 1987, twenty-six other Grand Lodge jurisdictions have rejected the idea that opening and doing business in any degree below Master Mason is an “impropriety,” and have restored the tradition of opening and doing business on the Entered Apprentice degree practiced for 126 years before the 1843 convention.

The first Grand Lodge rejecting the practice was Connecticut in 1987. Missouri, the jurisdiction that put forth the idea in the first place, followed in 1994. By 2016, twenty-four more states returned to the tradition and began the long process of recovery and healing from that self ­inflicted wound.

“That’s the way we’ve always done it” is finally true, but only if we fail to consider what was practiced before 1843. Many Masons today simply point to the Baltimore Convention as the reason the practice changed, as if that is all that is necessary to explain why we close the door on new brothers until they are raised.

Many of the same Masons are surprised to learn how an event that took place 23 years before the convention haunted Freemasonry in America to the extent that changing the practice seemed like a good idea at the time.

As a result, this lack of contextual awareness serves as further evidence of the conspicuous absence of Masonic education found in our fraternity today – particularly about our heritage – and what we have and have not “always done.”

To best understand why Freemasonry chose to prevent its youngest votaries from attending lodge one must look at the events in context that led to the practice viewing those events through the perspective of the period in which it unfolded.

The Vengeful Ghost of William Morgan

On September 11, 1826, William Morgan was taken from the Ontario County jail near Batavia, New York, forced into a carriage by several men, and was never heard from again.

Many accounts of what came to be known as the “Morgan Affair” deal with it as if the case were clear, concise, backed with irrefutable evidence and airtight. Still, there are other accounts that highlight the circumstantial evidence suggesting there’s room for doubt.

A balanced review of both sides, however, offers a clear picture: over-zealous Batavian Masons were responsible for Morgan’s abduction and subsequent disappearance. Twenty grand juries convened over a five year period, resulting in the indictment of 54 Freemasons and a total of 15 trials for 39 men. 10 Masons were convicted for abduction. Morgan’s body was never found. None of those indicted were convicted of murder. 6

Morgan, supposedly a Freemason, committed the transgression of having written an expose about the fraternity and its ceremonies and ritual that was about to be published. As result of Morgan’s disappearance, a wave of claims of illegal and immoral allegations were levied against Freemasonry. Masons were accused of subverting political and religious institutions, and corrupting the criminal justice branch of government. Women and the church joined against Freemasonry, and the call for the abolishment of the fraternity turned into an anthem that lasted well into the next decade.

Anti-Masonry spread into all the states – denouncing first the system and then the men, as unfit for any office, and unworthy of any countenance. Not only were men who were Masons denounced, but also denounced were those who would not denounce them. The number of Masons in the United States during the acknowledged hay-day of the anti-Masonry hysteria dropped from 100,000 to 40,000.

Since the days of Benjamin Franklin’s Freemasonry, lodges were opened and did their business on the Entered Apprentice degree. Following the anti-Masonic hysteria emerging from the Morgan Affair, paranoia about initiates becoming members, learning passwords, grips and private parts of Masonic ceremony, and then leaving the fraternity and exposing them publically played a role in the attitude of many attending the 1843 Baltimore Convention.

Morgan’s expose was published anyway after his disappearance. The anti-Masonic political party that evolved from the mass hysteria had run its course by 1838, but those twelve years left Freemasonry wounded and stinging well into the 1840s.

The ghost of William Morgan continues to exact a lasting revenge as result of the actions of certain misguided Batavian Masons in 1826. The adoption of the clouded notion, that by precluding Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts from our meetings throughout the country, and curtailing the opportunity to best assure their early integration and inclusion into our professed world of fellowship, is Morgan’s lasting revenge.

Today, every lodge in those remaining twenty­four jurisdictions in the United States that continue to practice what was created at the Baltimore Convention is haunted by the ghost of William Morgan whether they realize it or not. His revenge has been much more damaging than the exposure he wrote – an expose that most Masons today do not even know exist.

It’s Hardly the Way We’ve Always Done It

Opening and doing business on the Master Mason degree is clearly not the way we’ve always done it. It’s not even the way over half of the jurisdictions in this country do it today.

The twenty-six Grand Lodge jurisdictions that are not haunted by Morgan’s ghost report no research to illustrate how opening and doing business on the first degree has helped retain or successfully integrate new brothers into the fraternity before they are raised. They should not be expected to have such data. We should have enough common sense as Masons to realize how practicing what we profess to do in our fraternity offers all the substantive data we need.

Many Masons in jurisdictions continuing to cling to this tired and regressive practice often express their view that that opening lodge in anything but the Master Mason degree and allowing anyone but Master Masons in lodge for business somehow lessens the significance the Craft. This thinking is completely out of step with this era of Freemasonry.

Exposes written by men who may have posed as Freemasons or became Masons with the intent of publishing its rituals and ceremonies was a concern of Freemasonry at one time. It is very difficult to believe today, when the Internet offers much more than any previous publication ever did, and that opening and doing business on the Master Mason degree somehow prevents any such disclosures.

The notion or claim this outdated practice has a constructive purpose today demonstrates how little many Masons understand why the practice was adopted in the first place. Ignoring the effects of this regressive practice unnecessarily impedes the constructive evolution of the fraternity.

When there is an effective guard on the West Gate, consistent use of dues cards as intended, and correct practice of the process of due trial and strict examination of visitors in place, there’s simply no justifiable reason to continue doing that which long outlived its proposed purpose.

It should be evident that precluding men who seek fellowship and more Light from our lodges no matter the level of their degree, is not in the best interest of Freemasonry today.

Returning to the practice of opening lodge and doing business on the Entered Apprentice degree helps bring an end to the 163 year old haunting and vengeful reign of William Morgan’s ghost.

Future Wounds

It would seem a remote possibility that anyone or, in this case an organization, would shoot themselves in the foot a second time. Some believe, however, that is exactly what has happened in Freemasonry.

Our standards for entry have been watered down in anxious attempts to boost membership. Less of a premium is placed on ritual proficiency. The West Gate has not been guarded with consistency – in some cases looks as though it has been left unattended. Our feasts and stabs at fellowship gathering appear to be reduced to fish fry outings as our work to provide wholesome instruction, maintain our facilities, appearance and protocols continue to disintegrate.

Fortunately, throughout the nation, many Freemasons have and continue to labor in removing bullets from cocked guns so as to prevent future self-inflicted wounds. The twenty-six jurisdictions that allow lodge to be opened and business conducted on the Entered Apprentice Degree are healing from the 1843 shot in the foot. Hopefully, the other twenty-four will see the Light from the wisdom in doing the same.

John Bizzack, Lexington Lodge No. 1, Lexington, Kentucky.
A Paper Presented to the Rubicon Masonic Society in
December 2015, the William O. Ware Lodge of
Research, Covington, Kentucky in March 2016,
and Lexington Lodge No. 1 in April 2016.

1 “Batavia to Baltimore and Beyond” by Stephen Dafoe, Heredom, Vol. 15, 2007.

2 The Convention that Changed Freemasonry, Mack Sigmon, Grand Lecturer, Secretary, Board of Custodians, Wilkerson College Lodge, North Carolina, 2011.

3 Putting Masons Back in Masonry, L. Todd Eastham, Past Grand Master, Grand Lodge of Kentucky, Unpublished Paper, 2016.

4 Note from Eastham paper: “Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different, rather than doing the same thing better, or can be interpreted as a change, alteration, or modification to the existing “body of Masonry”, which is mainly centered around our structure, organization, and ancient usages and custom. As early as 1824, the Grand Jurisdiction of Kentucky affirmed that Entered Apprentice and Fellow Craft Masons had the right to vote on the acceptance and passing of candidates. Additionally, until about 1853, all Lodges within this Grand Jurisdiction were opened and conducted their routine business on the first degree of Masonry, “agreeable to ancient usage and custom” or “agreeable to ancient form and usage”. The question naturally arises as to how we now open for business on the 3rd degree and call it “ancient” in any form, based merely on the presumptions of a group vote, which was taken only 163 or so years ago, while we collectively claim that Masonry has existed since time immemorial.

5 History of Freemasonry in Kentucky, Rob Morris, 1859.

6 Morgan: The Scandal That Shook Freemasonry, Stephen DaFoe, Cornerstone Book Publishers, 2014.

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