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Parliamentary Law

Masonic Parliamentary Law is the body of usages, rules, and regulations according to which a Lodge is governed in its Opening and Closing, in establishing a Quorum, in conducting the Order of Business, in trials, etc. Very few Grand Bodies have codified their Parliamentary Law or published it separately; the usages and rules are embedded here and there in the Landmarks, in Grand Lodge Constitutions, in the Statutes and General Laws, in decisions and edicts, in printed rules, and in Lodge By-Laws; the key to finding any given Parliamentary Law is in the subject about which a question has been raised. Each Grand Jurisdiction has its own custom and its own written rules; these usually differ in detail from those of other Grand Jurisdictions but in its principles and its fundamental rules Masonic Parliamentary Law everywhere is the same, and the foundations of it were laid at the beginning of the Fraternity so that much of it is time immemorial.

The Congress of the United States has its own parliamentary code; with some modifications the same code is used by state Legislatures, and it is the model for parliamentary rules in use by voluntary associations, societies, clubs, churches, and by schools. These rules are printed in Robert's Rules of Order and in Cushing's Manual, both of which are by common consent accepted as authoritative not only by associations every where in America, but by the civil courts; an association need not follow either, but if it does its procedure is sure to be approved by the courts.

It so happens, however, that neither of these manuals can be used by a Masonic body. The Masonic Parliamentary Code is what codifiers describe as a tertium organon, a "third method"--that is to say, one apart from the codes used in other societies or in legislatures and parliaments, one which is acceptable to civil courts and vet differs in both fundamental principles and details of practices from the codes edited by either Roberts or Cushing. Freemasonry writes its own code.

This is because a Lodge differs in the fundamentals of organization from other associations and societies, and especially from those loose and informal groups which are called clubs. In the structure of its organization a Lodge (or Chapter, Council, or Commandery, or Consistory) is unique, therefore its parliamentary code is unique. Two of those fundamentals (there are others) exhibit both the nature and the extent of that difference:

1. In the great majority of societies and associations the head or chief officer is caned president or chairman. Little or no sovereignty inheres in his office; his principal duty is to preside. Usually he has no function except to see that the group's affairs are conducted according to an approved routine and he himself is not answerable for what the group may do. By contrast the principal officer of a Masonic Lodge is not a presiding officer only but within fixed limits is a sovereign; he is given the title of Worshipful Master because he is a master. If an action taken by his Lodge is brought into question by the Grand Master or by the Grand Lodge he, at least in the first instance is answerable and responsible. Manifestly the parliamentary rules which apply to a mere presiding officer could not apply to a Worshipful Master.

2. Again, in the majority of societies and associations the members retain the right to say for themselves what their society is, what it is in existence to do, what its purposes are--it may begin, as did Tammany Hall, as a patriotic fraternity and end up as a political machine; or it may begin as a card club and end up as a country club. These transmogrifications among voluntary groups are the rule rather than the exception. But in a Masonic Lodge no member or group of members can either discuss or vote for an innovation in the Landmarks: they cannot add to or subtract from Masonic purposes; they cannot alter the time immemorial usages; uJ1uzt Freemasonry is not subject to debate, not even in the Grand Communication of a Grand Lodge. A member who might wish Freemasonry to be other than it is, can have no alternatives save to accept it or to leave it. It is obvious that parliamentary practices suitable for a voluntary society cannot apply to Freemasonry.

The most comprehensive treatise on the subject is Parliamentary Law, by Albert G. Mackey. Portions of Masonic practice are given in Worshipful Master's Assistant, by Robert Macoy. For an epitome of the Masonic code see chapter in Lodge Methods, by L. B. Blakemore. J. T. Lawrence's work on the subject is excellent, but is written for prentices in England. Grand Lodges often include parliamentary rules in their printed Monitors. Since each Grand Body enacts its own rules for its own uses books, articles, and essays are confined to discussions of general principles; the most practicable handbook for a Lodge officer is his Grand Lodge Code. For Masonic students the richest store of materials is in Grand Lodge Proceedings, especially in the Fraternal (or Foreign) Correspondence Reports; among these latter the most notable are the Reports written for the Grand Lodge of Maine by Judge Josiah a Drummond between 1865 and 1900. For parliamentary subjects in detail consult the Index of this Encyclopedia.

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