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Conservator Movement The



In 1860 M.. W.. Robert Morris established a secret society of Masons styled by him as The Conservator Movement, and its members were called Conservators. The purposes of this organization were stated by Morris with his characteristic prolixity in a secret circular which he mailed to Grand Masters, Grand Secretaries, Grand Lecturers, and other Grand Lodge leaders in the middle of 1860, and which he signed as "Chief Conservator." He set down ten objects:

To disseminate the Webb-Preston Work. To "discountenance" innovations in the Ritual. To establish national uniformity of "means of recognition," etc. To establish "a School of Instruction in every Lodge.'' To train Masonic [Ritualistic] Lecturers. To train Masons to pass examinations when visiting. To strengthen "the ties that bind Masons generally together." To detect and expose impostors. To hold conferences among Conservators themselves. To "open the way for a more intimate communion between the Masons of Europe and America." The recipient was asked to keep the circular ''strictly confidential" ; To fill in answers to form questions ; To sign on a dotted line; and to return the document to Morris in ten days. If a recipient expressed a desire to become a Conservator he received next "Communication No. 2," also "strictly confidential." It set forth "The Seven Details or Features of the Plan" which were expected to govern the work of each Conservator:

1. The scheme was to be a closely-guarded secret among the few men in each Lodge who were active Conservators.

2. Each Conservator was to keep in close touch with the Chief Conservator, and carry out the latter's order. "A journal, styled The Conservator" was to be sent to each member of the organization.

3. The "great aim" was "National Harmony in the Work and Lectures on Symbolical Masonry." All forms of "Bastard" Work were to be opposed.

4. The "Conservator's Degree'' was to be conferred on each Conservator, "devised for the express purpose.

5. A Vice Chief Conservator was to be present at each Grand Communication of each and every Grand Lodge.

6. "We adopt the mode of disseminating the Work and Lectures which was adopted by the Grand Lodge of England in 1728."

7. "We require a contribution of Ten Dollars in advance from each Conservator. During the years between 1860 and 1863 Morris issued his journal styled The Conservator some four or five times ; afterwards he addressed his followers through the pages of his magazine, The Voice of Masonry. The "society" was so loosely administered that Morris himself did not know how many were in it, but "guessed" that it may at one time have had 2,795 members. It transpired that the "mode of disseminating" as mentioned under "detail" number 6 was a printed cipher, a tiny book entitled Written Mnemonics Illustrated By Copious Examples From Moral Philosophy, Science, And Religion. The association was governed by Morris himself according to "eight regulations." The "era" of the association was to begin June 24, 1860, and last until June 24, 1865, at which latter date it would everywhere automatically cease to exist ; this period of 1826 days was described as the Conservator's Era, or C. E., and letters were to be dated according to it. A secret language, cabalistic signs, etc., were much used. Morris officially declared the termination of the "Society" in the first issue of The Voice of Masonry after June 24, 1860. For the members of his association Morris prepared the "Conservator of Symbolic Masonry" Degree. There could be only one Conservator in each Lodge, but he could confer this Degree on any Master Mason deemed suitable by himself.

The Conservator Movement has thus a secret society. It had national and local officers; its own constitution and rules; its own modes of recognition and a secret language; and though it has to work in a Lodge and on a Lodge; a Lodge had no say about it, and no control over it. It had in effect two general purposes: first, to establish a standard work uniform throughout the Grand Jurisdictions; second, to make the Webb-Preston Work that Standard version. Once they had discovered its existence and had become aware of its nature and purpose Grand Lodges began a determined campaign to abolish the Movement.

It was intolerable to have a secret society at work within the Fraternity itself; it was for a Grand Lodge, not for a voluntary society of outsiders, to determine what its own Standard Work was to be; a Lodge could not permit one of its own members to have more authority than its own Master; nor was Morris himself able to prove that he, and he alone, possessed the Webb-Preston Work in its original form.

In 1866 Morris stated, as already noted, that at its height his association numbered 2,795 members, but it is probable that at least a thousand of these were inactive, or else were prevented by Lodge and Grand Lodge opposition from accomplishing their purposes; moreover Civil War conditions hampered them. The whole movement was quickly aborted and soon passed out of the memory of the American Craft.

NOTE. The most complete set of Conservator literature and correspondence, including a number of private letters from Morris, is in the vaults of the Iowa Grand Lodge Library, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The most complete published account is The Masonic Conservators, by Ray V. Denslow; Grand Lodge of Missouri; St. Louis; 1931; cloth ; 132 pages. It contains a list of members Lodge by Lodge, and State by State.

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