In the beginning of the eighteenth century , when Freemasonry was reviving from the condition of decay into which it had fallen, and when the experiment was tried of transforming it from a partly Operative to a purely Speculative System, the great object was to maintain a membership which, by the virtuous character of those who composed it, should secure the harmony and prosperity of the infant Institution.
A safeguard was therefore to be sought in the care with which Freemasons should be selected from those who were likely to apply for admission. It was the quality, and not the quantity, that was desired. This safeguard could only be found in the unanimity of the ballot. Hence, in the sixth of the General Regulations, adopted in 1721, it is declared that "no man can be entered a Brother in any particular Lodge, or admitted to be a member thereof, without the unanimous consent of all the members of that Lodge then present when the candidate is proposed, and their consent is formally asked by the Master"(Constitutions,1723, page 59). And to prevent the exercise of any undue influence of a higher power in forcing an unworthy person upon the Order, it is further said in the same article: "Nor is this inherent privilege subject to a dispensation; because the members of a particular Lodge are the best judges of it; and if a fractious members should be imposed on them, it might spoil their harmony, or hinder their freedom; or even break and disperse the Lodge." But a few years after, the Order being now on a firm footing, this prudent fear of" spoiling harmony," or" dispersing the Lodge," seems to have been lost sight of, and the Brethren began in many Lodges to desire a release from the restrictions laid upon them by the necessity for unanimous consent.
Hence, Doctor Anderson says in his second edition: "But it was found in convenient to insist upon unanimity in several cases. And, therefore, the Grand Masters have allowed the Lodges to admit a member if not above three ballots are against him; though some Lodges desire no such allowance" (Constitutions,1738,page155).This rule still prevails in England; and its modern Constitution still permits the admission of a Freemason where there are not more than three ballots against him, though it is open to a Lodge to demand unanimity.
In the United States, where Freemasonry is more popular than in any other country, it was soon seen that the danger of the institution lay not in the paucity, but in the multitude of its members, and that the only provision for guarding its portals was the most stringent regulation of the ballot. Hence, in almost, if not quite, all Jurisdictions of the United States, unanimous consent is required. And this rule has been found to work with such advantage to the Order, that the phrase, "the black ball is the bulwark of Freemasonry," has become a proverb.
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