Sight, Making Masons At
The prerogative of the Grand Master to make Freemasons at sight is described as the eighth landmark of the Order. It is a technical term, which may be defined to be the power to initiate, pass, and raise candidates, by the Grand Master, in a Lodge of Emergency, or, as it is called in the Book of Constitutions, an Occasional Lodge, specially convened by him, and consisting of such Master Masons as he may call together for that purpose only; the Lodge ceasing to exist as soon as the initiation, passing, or raising has been accomplished, and the Brethren have been dismissed by the Grand Master.
The following item appeared in the Leeds Mercury, April 7 to 14, 1730, and bore the heading, London.
A few days since, their Graces the Dukes of Richmond and Montague, accompanied by several Gentlemen, who were all Free and Accepted Masons, according to Ancient Custom, formed a Lodge upon the Top of a Hill near the Duke of Richmond's Seat, at Goodwood in Sussex, and made the Right Hon. the Lord Baltimore a Free and Accepted Mason. It is but right to say that this doctrine is not universally received as established law by the Craft. Brother Mackey did not think, however, that it was ever disputed until within a comparatively recent period.
It is true that Brother Cole (Freemasons Library, book 51), as far back as 1817, remarked in reference to the custom in the United States that it was "a great stretch of power, not recognized, or at least, he believed, not practiced in this country." But the qualifying phrases in this sentence, clearly show that he was by no means certain that he was correct in denying the recognition of the right. Brother Cole, however, would hardly be considered as competent authority on a question of Masonic law, as he was evidently unacquainted with the Book of Constitutions, and does not quote or refer to it throughout his voluminous work.
In that Rook of Constitutions, however, several instance are furnished of the exercise of this right by various Grand Masters. In 1731, Lord Lovell being Grand Master, he "formed an Occasional Lodge at Houghton Hall, Sir Robert Walpole's House in Norfoll," and there made the Duke of Lorraine, afterward Emperor of Germany, and the Duke of Newcastle, Master Masons. We do not quote the case of the initiation, passing and raising of Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1737, which was done in "an Occasional Lodge," over which Doctor Desaguliers presided, because, as Desaguliers was not the Grand Master, nor even, as has been incorrectly stated by the New York Committee of Correspondence, Deputy Grand Master, but only a Past Grand Master, it cannot be called a making at sight. He most probably acted under the Dispensation of the Grand Master, who at that time was the Earl of Darnley.
But in 1766, Lord Blaney, who was then Grand Master, convened "an Occasional Lodge," and initiated, passed, and raised the Duke of Gloucester.
Again in 1767, John Salter, the Deputy, then acting as Grand Master, convened "an Occasional Lodge," and conferred the three Degrees on the Duke of Cumberland. In 1787, the Prince of Wales was made a Freemason "at an Occasional Lodge convened," says Brother Preston, "for the purpose at the Star and Garter, Pall Mall, over which the Duke of Cumberland-- Grand Master--presided in person."
It has been said, however, by those who deny the existence of this prerogative, that these Occasional Lodges were only Special Communications of the Grand Lodge, and the "makings" are thus supposed to have taken place under the authority of that body, and not of the Grand Master. The facts, however, do not sustain this position. Throughout the Book of Constitutions, other meetings, whether regular or special, are distinctly recorded as meetings of the Grand Lodge; while these Occasional Lodges appear only to have been convened by the Grand Master for the purpose of making Freemasons.
Besides, in many instances the Lodge was held at a different place from that of the Grand Lodge, and the officers were not, with the exception of the Grand Master, the officers of the Grand Lodge. Thus the Occasional Lodge which initiated the Duke of Lorraine was held at the residence of Sir Robert Walpole, in Norfolk, while the Grand Lodge always met in London. In 1766, the Grand Lodge held its communications at the Crown and Anchor, but the Occasional Lodge, which in the same year conferred the Degrees on the Duke of Gloucester, was convened at the Horn Tavern. In the following year, the Lodge which initiated the Duke of Cumberland was convened at the Thatched House Tavern, the Grand Lodge continuing to meet at the Crown and Anchor.
But Doctor Mackey also held that a conclusive argument d fortiori, a stronger reason, may be drawn from the dispensing power of the Grand Master which has never been denied. No one ever has doubted, or can doubt, the inherent right of the Grand Master to constitute Lodges by Dispensation, and in these Lodges, so constituted, Freemasons may he legally entered, passed, and raised. This is done every day. Seven Master Masons applying to the Grand Master, he grants them a Dispensation, under authority of which they proceed to open and hold a Lodge and to make Freemasons. This Lodge is, however admitted to be the mere creature of the Grand Master, for it is in his power at any time to revoke the Dispensation he had granted, and thus to dissolve the Lodge.
But if the Grand Master has the power thus to enable others to confer the Degrees and make Freemasons, by his individual authority out of his presence, are we not permitted to argue fortiori, all the more, that he has also the right of congregating seven brethren and causing a Freemason to be made in his sight?
Can he delegate a power to others which he does not himself possess? And is his calling together an Occasional Hodges and making, with the assistance of the Brethren thus assembled, a Freemason "at sight," that is to say, in his presence, any thing more or less than the exercise of his dispensing power for the establishment of a Lodge under Dispensation for a temporary period and for a special purpose. The purpose having been effected, and the Freemason having been made, he revokes his Dispensation, and the Lodge is dismissed. If we assumed any other ground than this, we should be compelled to say that though the Grand Master might authorize others to make Freemasons when he was absent, he could not do it himself when present.
The form of the expression "making Masons at sight" is borrowed from Laurence Dermott, the Grand Secretary of the Atholl Grand Lodge; "making Masons in an Occasional Lodge" is the phrase used by Anderson and his subsequent editors. Brother Dermott (Ahimen Rezon), commenting on the thirteenth of the old regulations, which prescribes that Fellow Crafts and Master Masons cannot be made in a private Lodge except by the Dispensation of the Grand Master, says: "This is a very ancient regulation, but seldom put in practice, new Masons being generally made at private Lodges; however, the Right Worshipful Grand Master has full power and authority to make, or cause to be made, in his worship's presence Free and Accepted Masons at sight, and such making is good. But they cannot be made out of his worship's presence without a written Dispensation for that purpose. Nor can his worship oblige any warranted Lodge to receive the person so made, if the members should declare against him or them; but it such case the Right Worshipful Grand Master may grant them a Warrant and form them into a new Lodge."
But the fact that Brother Dermott uses the phrase does not militate against the existence of the prerogative, nor weaken the argument in its favor. For, in the first place, he is not quoted as authority; and secondly, it is very possible that he did not invent the expression, but found it already existing as a technical phrase generally used by the Craft, although not to be found in the Book of Constitutions. The form there used is "making Masons in an Occasional Lodge," which, as we have already said, is of the same signification.
The mode of exercising the prerogative is this: The Grand Master summons to his assistance not less than six other Freemasons, convenes a Lodge, and without any previous probation, but on sight of the candidates confers the Degrees upon him, after which he dissolves the Lodge and dismisses the Brethren.
This custom of making Freemasons at sight has been practiced by many Grand Lodges in the United States of America, but is becoming less usual, and some Grand Lodges have prohibited it by a constitutional enactment. A few noted eases may be mentioned: John Wanamaker, at Philadelphia; former Vice-President Charles W. Fairbanks, at Indianapolis, Indiana; Rear-Admiral Winfield Scott Schley, at Washington, District of Columbia; and when William Howard Taft was President-Elect, he was made a Freemason "at-sight" on February, 1909, at Cincinnati, by the Grand Master of Ohio.
A valuable historical account of Making Masons at Sight was contributed to the New Age, March, 1925, by Brother William L. Boyden, Librarian at Washington of the Supreme Council, Southern Jurisdiction, Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite.
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