More than one American Masonic scholar or statesman has declared (and the writer concurs) that the Achilles heel of American Freemasonry is its neglect of, or its ignoring, or its refusal to recognize or honor, its own scholars and its own literature. As one of the "horrible examples" in testimony to the truth of this charge is the case of A Brief Inquiry into the Origin and Principles of Free Masonry, by Simon Greenleaf, published in Portland, Ale., in 1820. Our British Brothers in the Craft have used, revered, honored, and countlessly quoted Calcott's Candid Disquisition, Hutchinson's Spirit of Freemasonry, Preston's Illustrations, and Laurence Dermott's Ahiman Rezon, to say nothing of a score or more of lesser books (of the Eighteenth Century), but no one of those books is on a literary level with A Brief Inquiry; nor was one of those writers possessed of Greenleaf's massive scholarship, power and greatness of mind, or literary ability. If those books are masterpieces, his is one also; yet his book is nowhere reprinted, is nowhere in use, is wholly forgotten; and in andex rerum covering the bound volumes of American and foreign Masonic periodicals Greenleaf's book is nowhere mentioned, and the only reference to his name is in a short letter about George Washington published in an obscure Masonic periodical, long forgotten.
Simon Greenleaf was born in Newburyport, Mass., Dec. 5, 1783, almost on the spot where his English ancestor Edmund Greenleaf had settled in 1635, only fifteen years after the landing at Plymouth Rock. He received a thorough classical training in the Latin School there, and then went to live at New Gloucester, gaine, where his parents had moved, and where he entered the law office of Ezekiel Whitman, who was later to become Chief Justice. Greenleaf settled in the town of Gray, but since his practice was light he spent twelve years in an intensive study of the source materials of the common law, so that when in 1818 he moved to Portland his reputation as a learned man already had preceded him; and in 1820, as reporter for the new Supreme Court of Maine he published vols. 1-9 of Report of Cases, of which a historian of the law writes that "their accuracy has never been impugned, and they have always been highly valued by the profession." In 1833 he moved to Cambridge, brass., to become Royal Professor at the Harvard Thaw school, being invited to that distinguished position by Justice Joseph Story, himself a professor. It was he and Story between them who lifted the Harvard Law School to that high position from which it has never since declined. In 1842 he published the first volume of A Treatise on the Law of Endence, the second in 1846, and the third in 1853, since which it has been re- issued by a long succession of editors. After his retirement he edited and published in seven volumes an American edition of Cruises' Digest of the Law, Etc. He was a leader in framing a constitution for Maine when it became independent of Massachusetts. Among a number of other publications was his great eulogy of Story published in 1845. He died October 5, 1853. (The Greenleaf family for generations produced a succession of men eminent in mathematics, geography, law, literature, public life. see articles beginning at page 580 of the Dictionary of American Biography; Vol. VII; 1931.
The American Freemason, of which Rob Morris was then the editor, published on page 53 of its issue for Jan. 1, 1855, a letter which had been written by Bro. Greenleaf June 24, 1852, and which was read at the next ensuing meeting of the General Grand Chapter. It reads in part: "You are already aware that during the war of the Revolution there was a Lodge of Freemasons in the main army called Washington Lodge, of which my father, the late Captain Moses Greenleaf, of the 11th Massachusetts regiment, was Master. I have often heard him mention the visits of the Commander-in-Chief to his Lodge, and the high gratification they afforded to the officers and members, especially as he came without ceremony as a private Brothers (The official record of the warranting of Washington Lodge is given on page 277, Oct. 6, 1779, of Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts.)
Until Maine became a State, its Lodges worked under the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. The name of Bro. Greenleaf first appears in the Proceedings of Massachusetts as a member of a temporary committee, March 14, 1814; and on September 12 of the same year is again mentioned in the same connection. On August 25, of 1814, he delivered the oration when the Grand Lodge consecrated York Lodge, at Kennebunk, bie. On Dec. 27, 1816, Grand Master Benjamin Russell appointed him District Deputy Grand Master, for the Ninth District (Maine), with residence at Gray; he was re-appointed in 1817.
At a Communication of the Grand Lodge in 1818, Greenleaf "and others" requested "that a stated portion of the Revenues of the Grand Lodge may be annually appropriated in aid of the funds of the American Bible Society," and this was referred to a committee of which Thaddeus Mason Harris was chairman. Grand Lodge in 1819 refused to appropriate its own (ear-marked) funds but agreed to recommend the Bible Society to the Lodges. Greenleaf next appears in the 1819 Proceedings to propose that Maine should have a Grand Lodge of its own. At that time he was a member of Portland Lodge, No. 1, which had been constituted in 1769.
By a happy turn of fortune when the history of that famous Lodge was written its author was none other than Judge Josiah H. Drummond, himself one of the great New England jurisconsults of his period, and, in addition, was the greatest authority on Masonic Jurisprudence the American Craft has had. On page 240 he gives a biographical sketch of Greenleaf:
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