In all the old Constitutions, free birth is required as a requisite to the reception of Apprentices. Thus the Lansdowne Manuscript says, "That the prentice be able of birth, that is, free born." So it is in the Edinburgh Kilwinning, the York, the Antiquity, and in every other manuscript that has been so far discovered. And hence, the modern Constitutions framed in 1721 continue the regulation. After the abolition of slavery in the West Indies by the British Parliament, the Grand Lodge of England on September 1, 1847, changed the word free-born into free man, but the ancient landmark never has been removed in America.
The non-admission of a slave seems to have been founded upon the best of reasons; because, as Freemasonry involves a solemn contract, no one can legally bind himself to its performance who is not a free agent and the master of his own actions.
That the restriction is extended to those who were originally in a servile condition, but who may have since acquired their liberty, seems to depend on the principle that birth in a servile condition is accompanied by a degradation of mind and abasement of spirit which no subsequent disenthralment can so completely efface as to render the party qualified to perform his duties, as a Freemason, with that freedom, fervency, and zeal which are said to have distinguished our ancient Brethren. "Children)" says Brother George Oliver, "cannot inherit a free and noble spirit except they be born of a free woman."
The same usage existed in the spurious Freemasonry or the mysteries of the ancient world. There, no slave, or man born in slavery, could be initiated; because the prerequisites imperatively demanded that the candidate should not only be a man of irreproachable manners, but also a free-born denizen of the country in which the mysteries were celebrated.
Some Masonic writers have thought that in this regulation, in relation to free birth, some allusion is intended, both in the mysteries and in Freemasonry, to the relative conditions and characters of Isaac and Ishmael. The former--the accepted one, to whom the promise was given was the son of a free woman, and the latter, who was east forth to have his hand against every man and every man's hand against him, was the child of a slave.
Wherefore, we read that Sarah demanded of Abraham, "Cast out this bondwoman and her son; for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with my son." Doctor Oliver, in speaking of the grand festival with which Abraham celebrated the weaning of Isaac, says that he "had not paid the same compliment at the weaning of Ishmael, because he was the son of a bondwoman, and consequently could not be admitted to participate in the Freemasonry of his father, which could only be conferred on free men born of free women." The ancient Greeks were of the same opinion; for they used the word oovXo7rpe7reLa, or slave manners, to designate any great impropriety of behavior.
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