The question of the ineligibility of bastards to be made Freemasons was first brought to the attention of the Craft by Brother Chalmers I.
Paton, who, in several articles in The London Freemason, in 1869, contended that they were excluded from initiation by the Ancient Regulations.
Subsequently, in his compilation entitled Freemasonry and its Jurisprudence, published in 1872, he cites several of the 0ld Constitutions as explicitly declaring that the men made Freemasons shall be "no bastards." This is a most unwarrantable interpolation not to be justified in any writer on jurisprudence; for on a careful examination of all the old manuscript copies which have been published, no such words are to be found in any one of them.
As an instance of this literary disingenuousness, to use no harsher term, we quote the following from his work (page 60). 'The charge in this second edition [of Anderson's Constitutions is in the following unmistakable words: 'The men made Masons must be freeborn, no bastard (or no bondmen), of mature age and of good report, hale and wund, not deformed or dismembered at the time of their making.'
Now, with a copy of this second edition lying open before him, Brother Mackey found the passage thus printed: "The men made Masons must be freeborn (or no bondmen), of mature age and of good report, hale and sound, not deformed or dismembered at the time of their making." The words "no bastard" are Patos's interpolation.
Again, Patos quotes from Preston the Ancient . Charges at makings, in these words: "That he that be made be able in all degrees; that is, freeborn, of a good kindred, true, and no bondsman or bastard, and that he have his right limbs as a man ought to have."
But on referring to Preston (edition of 1775, and all subsequent editions) we find the passage to be correctly thus: "That he that be made be able in all degrees; that is, freeborn, of a good kindred, true, and no bondsman, and that he have his limbs as a man ought to have." Positive law authorities should not be thus cited, not merely carelessly, but with designed inaccuracy to support a theory.
But although there is no regulation in the Old Constitutions which explicitly prohibits the initiation of bastards, it may be implied from their language that such prohibition did exist. Thus, in all the old manuscripts, we find such expressions as these : he that shall be made a Freemason "must be freeborn and of good kindred" Sloane Manuscript (No. 3323), or ''come of good kindred'' Edinburgh Kilwinning Manuscript, or, as the Roberts Print more definitely has it"of honest parentage."
It is not, we therefore think, to be doubted that formerly bastards were considered as ineligible for initiation, on the same principle that they were, as a degraded class, excluded from the priesthood in the Jewish and the primitive Christian church. But the more liberal spirit of modem times has long since made the law obsolete, because it is contrary to the principles of justice to punish a misfortune as if it was a crime.
The reader should note in addition to what Brother Mackey has said in the above article that the Illustrations of freemasonry, by William Preston, edition of 1812 (page 82), reprints a series of charges said to be contained in a manuscript in the possession of the Lodge of Antiquity at London, and to have been written in the reign of James the Second- The third charge says in part:
"And no master nor fellow shall take no apprentice for less than seven years. And that the apprentice be free-born, and of limbs whole as a man ought to be, and no bastard. And that no master nor fellow take no allowance to be made Mason without the assent of his fellows, at the least six or seven."
The fourth charge now goes on to say:
"That he that be made be able in all degrees; that is, free-born, of a good kindred, true, and no bondsman, and that he have his right --limbs as a man ought to have." These charges may well be studied in connection with what Brothers Paton and Mackey have discussed in the foregoing.
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