Ancient Grand Lodge, Notes On
The miscellany of data below is given to supplement the general survey of the Ancient Grand Lodge of England, of 1751, on page 75. These data have as much interest for American Masons as for English because the history of the Ancient Grand Lodge has a large place in general Masonic history; and because the more active half of Freemasonry in the United States at the end of the Revolution was of Ancient origin, directly or indirectly, or had been largely shaped by Ancient usages. (The data also are in support of the article on ANCIENT AND MODERNS which immediately follows. They are not arranged in chronological or logical order.) Laurence Dermott was born in Ireland in 1720 ; was Initiated in 1740 ; was Master of No. 26 in Dublin, 1746, and received the Royal Arch at same time. Shortly afterwards he moved to London, was registered technically as a "house painter" but would now be called an interior decorator. In a number of sources he is also described as a wine merchant. He joined a (Modem) Lodge in London, 1748; soon afterwards joined an Ancient Lodge. He became Secretary of the Ancient Grand Committee in 1752, later was Grand Secretary, served twice as Deputy Grand Master (in reality, was acting Grand Master). He was both architect and leader of the new Grand Lodge system. He died in 1791, at the age of seventy-one---a vigorous, aggressive, versatile, many-sided man of great native talent, who taught himself Latin and Hebrew, could both sing and compose songs, gave numberless speeches, and in its formative years was the driving force of the Grand Lodge to which he devoted forty of his years.
The Ancient (or Ancients) began as a Grand Committee, and became a Grand Lodge one step at a time.
It drew its membership from four sources : a) Masons, most of them of Irish membership, who were repelled by the exclusiveness and snobbishness of the Lodges Under the Grand Lodge of 1717; b) received into membership a number of self-constituted Lodges (called St. John's Lodges) which had not sought a Charter from the first Grand Lodge; c) Lodges which held a Charter from the first Grand Lodge but resented its innovations and its methods of administration, withdrew, and affiliated with the Ancient; d) from members initiated in London chartered by itself.
The Ancient adopted that name to signify that they continued the ancient customs ; the Moderns had "modernizing" the Work by altering Modes of Recognition, by dropping ceremonies, by becoming snobbish and exclusive - -a violation of an Ancient Landmark.
If these two names originated as epithets of abuse (there is no evidence that they did) they came into general usage and were employed everywhere Without invidiousness. The Ancient made much of the name "York"; they had no connection with the Grand Lodge of All England at York, but adopted the term to suggest, according to the Old Charges, that Freemasonry as a Fraternity had begun at York-it was a device for claiming to adhere to ancient customs.
Ancient Lodges were popular in the American Colonies from the beginning because they were more democratic than Modem Lodges. Ancient Provincial Grand Lodges were set up (to work for a longer or a shorter time) in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York (it received in 1781 an Ancient Grand Lodge Charter), Virginia, and South Carolina.
There was from the first a close tie with the Grand Lodge of Ireland. For years Ireland did not recognize the Modern Grand Lodge. the Seals of Ireland and the Ancient were at one time almost identical; Warrants were similar. The Ancient adopted the Irish system of registering members (returns). Both issued certificates, sometimes in English, sometimes in Latin. Each of them had a peculiar interest in Hebrew; it is difficult to understand why unless it was in connection with the Royal Arch which both used, though the Modern did not.
The Third Duke of Atholl (or Athole, or Athol) was Grand Master of the Ancient from 1771 to 1774 (in 1773 be was also Grand Master of Scotland). The Fourth Duke of Atholl was Grand Master from 1775 to 1781, and again from 1791 to 1812.
Ireland had issued Army Warrants (or Regimental, or Ambulatory) ; the Ancient not only permitted but actively promoted the plan ; by as early as 1789 they had issued 49 Army Warrants, a number of them for use in America.
An attempt was made in 1797 to effect a Union with the Modern Grand Lodge, but it failed. Until the Union in 1813 many Masons never were able to understand the differences between the two Grand Bodies. For periods, or in some areas, the rivalry became bitter; at other times and places the relations were amicable. Usually, a Mason passing from a Modern to an Ancient Lodge or from an Ancient to a Modern had to be "remade." In a few instances a Lodge working under one Charter used the Work of the other; or it might surrender its Charter in one to seek a new Charter in the other (as Preston's mother Lodge did). the differences were real and not factitious as the result of quarreling; on both sides Brethren knew that before a Union could be effected a number of questions involving the fundamentals of Freemasonry would have to be answered. One of these concerned the Royal Arch. Was it a part of the Master Degree? Could the Master Degree be complete without it? Should it be a separate Degree? If so, should a Lodge confer three Degrees?
The Union in 1813 gave two answers : the Royal Arch belonged to Ancient Craft Masonry; but it should be in a separate body (or ch apter). In 1817 the Ancient and Modern Grand Chapters were amalgamated.
The earlier Masonic historians dated the first appearance of a rift as early as 1735. Modern Lodges complained to the Grand Lodges about "irregular makings" in1739. It was discussed in that Grand Lodge again in 1740. In 1747 the Modern Grand Lodge made the mistake of electing "the wicked Lord Byron" to the Grand East, and kept him there for five years though he put in an appearance so seldom that a large number of Masons demanded a new Grand Master-this wide gap between the Grand Lodge and members was a fatal weakness in the Modern Grand Lodge system. A large number of "irregular" Lodges were formed, and between 1742 and 1752 forty-five Lodges were erased from the rolls.
The Modern Grand Lodge officially condemned the Ancient in 1755, though the Modern Grand Lodge did not have exclusive territorial jurisdiction in England, and had never claimed it, so that the Ancient were not invading jurisdiction and were not therefore "schismatics." The Ancient elected Robert Turner their first Grand Master in 1753, with some 12 or so Lodges. In 1756 the Earl of Blesinton was Grand Master and remained so for four years, though Dermott was really in charge; 24 new Lodges were added to the roll. From 1760 to 1766, under the Earl of Kelly, 64 more were added. John, Third Duke of Atholl was installed Grand Master in 1771; by that year the roll increased to 197 Lodges. the Fourth Duke was installed in 1775. In 1799 he and the Earl of Moira, Grand Master of the Moderns, united to secure exemption of Masonry from Parliament's Secrecy Society Act of 1799. the Atholl family was active at the forefront of the Craft from 1771 to 1812.
In 1756 the Ancient published their Book of Constitutions, with Dermott himself taking the financial risk; taking that risk was another evidence of his great patriotism for the Fraternity because the publishing of a book was an expensive enterprise and Dermott's only "market" consisted of possibly thirty Lodges. Why he chose Ahiman Rezon for a title is a puzzle; it is also impossible to make sure of a translation because though the words are Hebrew he printed them in Roman letters. It probably meant "Worthy Brother Secretary," and implied that the book was a record, one to go by, etc. It was based primarily upon the Book of Constitutions of Ireland, and since the latter was originally a re-writing of the Modern's Book of 1723 the Ahiman Rezon did not differ materially from the latter, except that on pages here and there it had sentences filled with Dermott's own pungent flavor. But this was not an aping of the Modems ; Dermott was not, as one writer charges, "a plagiarist." Scotland and Ireland both had adopted the 1723 Book as their model.
The Moderns themselves bad not presented their own Book as a new literary composition, but as a printed version of the Old Charges; therefore Masons thought of any one of the Constitutions as belonging to the Craft at large rather than to any one Grand Lodge. Acting steps toward a Union began in 1801, though an abortive one was attempted in the Ancient Grand Lodge in 1797. The Earl of Moira warranted the Lodge of Promulgation in 1809, expressly to prepare for union. At the Union in 1813 each Grand Lodge appointed a Committee of nine expert Master Masons; they formed themselves into the Lodge of Promulgation, which toiled to produce a Uniform Work from 1813 to 1816.
At the ceremony of Union in 1813, 641 Modern Lodges and 359 Ancient Lodges were represented; both Grand Masters, the brother the Dukes of Kent and Sussex, sat together in the Grand East. The work of the Lodge of Reconciliation met with some opposition-here and there from Masons who believed that England would be better off with two Grand Lodges. The Lodge of Promulgation met with little opposition but it encountered so many difficulties that it did not succeed in establishing a single uniform Ritual. The "sacred drawing of lots" about which Virgil wrote a purple passage in the Aeneid, and which belonged to the sacred liturgy of the Romans, was, romantically enough, made use of at the Union. Each Grand Lodge had a list of numbered Lodges beginning with 1 (though in the Ancient this was a Grand Masters Lodge); which set of numbers should have priority? It was decided by lot, the Ancient drawing Lodge No. 1, No. 3, No. 5, and so on to win it; in this manner the Modern Lodge of Antiquity No, 1 became No. 2 in the new United Grand Lodge.
By an almost incredible chance the Lodges on the lists of the Grand Lodges added together to the sum of exactly 1000; 641 on the Modern list, 359 on the Ancient. In instances where a Modern and an Ancient Lodge were near neighbors, or where one was very weak, and the other strong, many Lodges were afterwards consolidated and others were removed from the roll. Altogether the new combined list numbered 647, which means a decrease by 353 Lodges.
The work of preparing a new Code of Regulations was entrusted to a Board of General Purposes (it is still functioning) organized at a special Grand Lodge in 1815. The next step was to ask approval of the new Esoteric Work by the Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland. To this end an International Commission was formed June 27, 1814, and deliberated until July 2; "the Three Grand Lodges were perfectly in unison in all the great and essential points of the Mystery and Craft, according to the immemorial traditions and uninterrupted usage of Ancient Masons." The three Bodies adopted eight resolutions which constitute The International Compact. (The approval of other English-Speaking Grand Lodges was taken as read. )
This Union was for the Ancient a far cry from 1751.
The earliest existing record of their Grand Committee is dated July 17, 1751; on that day seven Lodges "were authorized to grant dispensations and Warrants and to act as Grand Master," an odd arrangement and now difficult to understand. In the same year the Committee issued its first Warrant, one for a Lodge to meet at the Temple and Sun Tavern. This procedure of having Lodges issue or approve Warrants was at the opposite extreme from the Moderns, where the Grand Master himself issued Warrants-a fact very suggestive, for it hints at one of the reasons for establishing a new Masonic system. In 1752 five more were issued. the first Lodge was given No. 2 ; perhaps the Committee itself counted as No. 1.
In 1751 John Morgan was elected Secretary but failed; Laurence Dermott succeeded him in the next year, and held membership in Lodges No. 9 and 10. "In the earliest years of the Grand Lodge of Ancient we look in vain for the name of any officer or member distinguished for social rank or literary reputation. We do not find such scholars as Anderson or Payne or Desaguliers." In the course of time Dermott discovered that a society without a Patron of high rank was in a vulnerable position in the then state of English society.
He secured recognition from Ireland and Scotland.
He further strengthened his position by proclaiming the Royal Arch as "the root, heart, and marrow of Masonry." To meet this last, the Moderns bad a Royal Arch Chapter in 1765, and in 1767 converted this into a Grand Chapter. Hughan says this "was virtually, though not actually, countenanced by the Grand Lodge. It was purely a defensive organization to meet the wants of the regular brethren [by which Hughan means members of Modern Lodges!] and prevent their joining the Ancient for Exaltation."
This was not a statesman-like procedure, nor a frank one and weakened the Modems' position in many eyes. Dermott always accused the Modems of having mutilated the Third Degree and of making of it "a new composition" ;this sounds like a rash utterance, but it has to be remembered that for some years the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland both agreed with him. On the basis of the evidence as a whole it appears that it was the Moderns who had done the ,,seceding" from the Landmarks, and therefore more entitled to the epithet of "schismatic" which Gould and Hughan both so often applied to the Ancient; the course followed by American Lodges after the introduction of Ancient Masonry here bears out that supposition; and also substantiates the theory that the tap-root of the division was the introduction of class distinctions into Masonry by the Moderns; for in the American Colonies Modern Lodges tended to be aristocratic, royalists, Tory.
As noted some paragraphs above "irregular" or "disaffected" Lodges began to be referred to as early as 1735, and by 1739 the subject was brought to the attention of the Modern Grand Lodge. These, combined with the already-existent or independent (or St. John) Lodges, plus an increasing number of new self-constituted Lodges, plus some Lodges where old "Operative" traditions were strong, would make it appear that the Ancient Grand Lodge was an expression of discontent, that there were enough "rebels" and "malcontents" waiting about to produce a new Grand Lodge of themselves. But this, while it is a reading accepted by a number of historians, will not do. the Lodges that were independent were not craving a new Grand Lodge because they were independent; and as for disgruntlement in general, there was no aim or purpose or direction in it. To explain the origin of the new Grand Lodge of 1751 as a precipitation of discontent, a crystallization of mugwumpery, is to do an injustice to the men who established it. They were in no confusion ; were not resentful; were not mere seceders, and still less (infinitely less-as Hughan failed to note) were they heretics.
They believed it right and wise and needful to constitute a second Grand Lodge ; they proved themselves men of a high order of intelligence and ability in the Process; and the outcome proved that they had all along been better Masonic statesmen than the leaders of the Moderns. They are in memory entitled to be removed once and for ever from the dusty and clamorous charges of secession, disaffection, and what not a thing for which they were in no sense responsible---and lifted to the platform of esteem and good reputation where they belong, alongside Desaguliers, Payne, Anderson, and Preston.
The best and soundest data on the Ancient is in the Minutes and Histories of Lodges for the period 1750 to 1813, British, Canadian, and of the United States (or Colonies) ; the records in such books are piecemeal, to be picked out at random, are a mosaic that needs potting together, but the data in them comprise the substance of the history itself, and to read them is to be contemporaneous with the events; at the very least they correct and give a picture of the Ancient Grand Lodge different from that painted by Gould, and perpetuated by his disciples. For general works see: History of Freemasonry, by Robert F. Gould, Revised History of Freemasonry, by A. G. Mackey. Atholl Lodges, by Gould. Masonic facts and Fictions, by Henry Sadler. Cementaria Hibernica, by Chetwode Crawley, Memorials of the Masonic Union, by W. J.Hughan. A History of Freemasonry, by Haywood and Craig. Grand Lodge of England, by A. F. Calvert. Freemasonry and Concordant Orders, by Hughan and Stillson. Early Canadian Masonry, by Pemberton Smith. The Builders, by J. F. Newton. Military Lodges, by R. F. Gould. Notes on Lau.'.Dermott, by W. M. Bywater. Illustrations of Masonry, by William Preston. Story of the Craft, by Lionel Vibert. Ars Quatuor Coronatorum. Early chapters in the histories of the Grand Lodges formed in each of the Thirteen Colonies. Note. Dermott made two statements of revealing significance: "I have not the least antipathy against the gentlemen members of the Modern Society; but, on the contrary, love and respect them''; and expressed hope to "live to see a general conformity and universal unity between the worthy Masons of all denominations." The latter was by Gould and his disciples made to sound as if Dermott referred to the Modern rand Lodge ; and Gould treats the whole subject of the Ancient on the basis that they had seceded from the Moderns, kept up a quarrel with the Moderns, and divided the field with them. But what did Dermott mean by "all denominations"? He would not have meant it to be "two.'' There was a Grand Lodge of all Masons at York; a Grand Lodge of England South of the River Trent; Ireland and Scotland did not recognize the Modern Grand Lodge; there were many independent St. Johns' Lodges; there were a number of Lodges suspended from the Modern lists yet still active.
It is absurd to suppose that Dermott and the Ancient Grand Lodge were in no better business than to heckle and oppose the Moderns-which in fact and on the record he did not do; he had the whole Masonic state of affairs in mind ; and even when he expressed a desire for friendly relations with the Modern Grand Lodge it does not follow that he desired amalgamation with it; more likely he desired to be able to work in harmony with it, and to see the four British Grand Lodges in harmony with each other. Gould used the whole force of his great History and the weight of his own reputation to support his charge--more than a century after the event!-that the Ancient Grand Lodge was a "schismatic" body composed of "seceders."
In his ill-organized and harsh chapter he appears throughout to have forgotten that when the small Modern Grand Lodge of 1717 had been formed there were some hundreds of Lodges in Britain, and that a large proportion of them turned upon it with that same charge ; it was a new schism in the ancient Fraternity; it was composed of seceders from the Ancient Landmarks! The new, small, experimental Grand Body at London in 1717 was not formed by divine right, and possessed beforehand no sovereignty over Lodges anywhere. It was set up by only four (possibly five or six) out of some hundreds of Lodges. The four old Lodges acted solely for themselves. They had nothing more in view than a center for Lodges in London.
Any other four Lodges, or ten, or twenty, for a half century afterwards, had as much right as they to set up a Grand Lodge. They possessed no power of excommunication. By an action taken when the Duke of Wharton was Grand Master they even admitted that the Grand Lodge itself was but a union of independent Lodges; and that the four old Lodges still possessed complete sovereignty in their own affairs. The Grand Lodge at York was not questioned ; nor the ones in Ireland or Scotland ; nor were the self-constituted Lodges which had not joined the voluntary union. There was no justice, therefore, in condemning the Ancient' Grand Committee of 1751 when it became a Grand Lodge as schismatic or as seceders. We who are two hundred years wise after the event can see how easily both Ancient and Moderns could have found a home under one Constitution, but before the new and untried Grand Lodge system had become established as essential to Freemasonry ( at approximately 1775) it was not easy to see the way ahead ; and for all anybody now knows it might have been better if not only two but four Grand Lodges had been formed in England, united in a system of comity similar to ours where 49 Grand Lodges live and act and agree as one.
Hughan began, writing his concise historical studies in the 1870's Gould in the 1880's ; after almost three-quarters of a century there could be little purpose in the ordinary course of events in continuing to criticize their theories of the Ancient Grand Lodge. But a book is not a man ;it can be as new and as alive a hundred years afterwards as on the day it was written ; it is so with both Hughan and Gould ; they are both being widely read by studious Masons and by Masonic writers, and read with respect, as is fitting, and read as having authority. They both accused the Ancient of having been "schismatics," "secessionists," and called them other bad names, thereby raising the question of the regularity, legitimacy, and standing of the whole Ancient movement and with it questioning by implication more than half of the Freemasonry in Canada and the United States. Had they only stopped to consider, they would have seen that their question had already been answered, once and for all, and by a court possessing final authority, at the Union of 1813.
The Modem Grand Lodge had been a near neighbor to the Ancient Grand Lodge; had watched it coming into being ; had followed it from day to day and year by year ; the Ancient Grand Lodge was never out of its sight and this continued for 62 years. Yet in the act of effecting the Union the Modem Grand Lodge fully and freely recognized the Ancient Grand Lodge as its co-equal as of that date; recognized its regularity and legality; before the Union was consummated the two Grand Masters sat side by side in the same Grand East. Had the Ancient Grand Lodge surrendered and submitted itself ; had it confessed mea culpa; had it sued for forgiveness; had it permitted itself to be healed and merged into the Modern Grand Lodge, its doing so would have proved it to have been "schismatic" and "secessionist." One may submit, and without reflection upon Gould or Hughan or their followers in their theory, that the Modern Grand Lodge knew far more about the facts in 1813 than they did in 1888; and that the official verdict of the Modern Grand Lodge, just, carefully reasoned, fully documented, and given without minority dissent, ought to have disposed of any question about the Ancient Grand Lodge from that time on.
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