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Americanisms

In an article contributed to the New York Masonic Outlook, in 1931, Brother Sir Alfred Robbins, President of the Board of General Purposes of the Grand Lodge of England, and present in America at the time as personal representative of the Grand Master of Masons in England, the Duke of Connaught, commented on certain "Americanisms" which he had observed in his visits to Lodges and Grand Lodges.

He singled out the Ancient Land- marks, which he said the English Craft seldom mentioned ; and the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction. He could have included the "Due guard," the Weeping Virgin symbol, the Working Tool of the Third Degree, etc. In discussing these points Bro. Robbins was carrying on what had come to be almost a tradition among English Brothers of animadverting upon what they have called "Americanisms,'' a tradition as old as the Rev. George Oliver's works. Usually, by an Americanism bas been meant some symbol, rite, rule, etc., invented here in this country, and in the majority of instances, in British eyes, a corruption of the original design of Masonry.

When making his comments Bro. Robbins apparently had not familiarized himself with the researches made in that particular subject by a large number of Masonic scholars in America over a quarter of a century. Those findings connect themselves with a carefully-considered statement which Sir Alfred made in a conversation with the writer during the two or three days be spent at the headquarters of the Nationa1 Masonic Research Society; and, considering Sir Alfred's own great Masonic experience, and his authorship of a history of English-speaking Masonry, is of an importance which calls for its being permanently recorded in print: not in his owrl words but with the following unambiguous meaning, Sir Alfred said that after witnessing the conferring of Degrees in Lodges and Grand Lodges be was both surprised and gratified to discover that we in the United States are still using the original Ritual practiced by English Lodges in the middle of the Eighteenth Century; and that if American ceremonies differ from those used in present-day English Lodges the difference is not because we have altered the old Working, but because we have not altered it.

The majority of those elements of American Lodge practice and ceremonies which so many English writers have called, and often (vide Hughan !) have stigmatized, as "Americanisms," turn out to be a continuation of sound Lodge working in England as it was a half century or so before the Union of 1813. Interest in the Ancient Landmarks is not peculiar to America ; the Minutes of the oldest English Lodges refer to them a large number of times, they were the whole point at issue in the controversy between the Ancient and the Modern Grand Lodges, and English Lodges give as much attention to them as do American Lodges but not by name. the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction is not peculiar to us ; the Grand Lodges of England, Scotland, and Ireland practice it.

The now obsolescent " York'' as a name for the Craft and Royal Arch Degrees came into use here from Britain via Canada. the Weeping Virgin symbol, which a few Grand Lodges retain as a relic in memory of Jeremy Cross, was not invented in America. Cross may have found it in some old French engravings which he took to be of English origin. "Due guard" appears to be Peculiar to American working but certainly is not an "Americanism"; it also is very possibly of French origin. In many early Eighteenth Century English and Irish engravings and portraits the Trowel is a jewel hung round the neck, and appears in a majority of old Tracing Boards; its prominence in the Third Degree is not modern but old, is not American but is British.

Our English colleagues, having what they have taken to be Americanisms in the forefront of their minds, refer again and again to "American" Masonry as if it differed from their Masonry. They speak of French Masonry, because the French altered Masonry, because the French altered Masonry (and War hatreds was one of the reasons for their unwisely doing so) and of Swedish Masonry, because the Swedes altered Masonry. In that sense there is no "American " Masonry; there is Freemasonry in America and it is the same, unaltered Freemasonry that it was in England about 1750.

Apropos of the subject of so-called "Americanisms'' as a whole and in principle, as it is referred to, and somewhat frequently, by British Bothers in their Masonic magazines and Research Lodge Transactions, it may be recalled to them that they continually overlook the fact that the Grand Lodge of Ireland and the Ancient Grand Lodge of England together, both directly and indirectly, bad a larger part in shaping pre-Revolutionary American Masonry than did the Modern Grand Lodge of England. And not only because Modern Lodges in the Colonies were filled with members on the Tory side for years before 1775, but more largely because the Ancient and Ireland sent over so many military and naval Lodges; and because so many of the Masons among the immigrants between 1760 and 1775 were members of Ancient and Irish Lodges. What often may appear as an "Americanism" or an innovation to an English student whose mind is saturated with the history of the Modern Grand Lodge, is neither an Americanism nor an innovation but is a continuation of the standard Working in the Ancient and Irish Lodges of that period; and which at that time differed so essentially from Modern Workings that it took nearly twenty years to bring Moderns and Ancient into Union.

The true basis for an understanding of the history of Freemasonry in America is not in the history of the Modern Grand Lodge, for Masonry in America from 1760 on differed from Modern practices fundamentally ; it is in the history of Ireland, and of the Ancient Grand Lodge which was Irish in origin. Bro. Melvin M. Johnson spoke truly when in his Foreword to Gould's History of Freemasonry (Scribners'; New York) he wrote: "Gould was the Thucydides of Masonic history" ; but the true Thucydides for the student specializing in American Masonic history is not Gould but is a double-headed Thucydides in the persons of Chetwode Crawley and Henry Sadler. Gould suffered from fundamental misunderstandings of Freemasonry in Colonial and Revolutionary America because be hated the Ancient, and against the pleas of his own colleagues stubbornly insisted on calling them Schismatics; and because be left out of account the role of Ireland in the establishment of American Lodges and practices, so that it is necessary for American students of Masonic history to keep revising Gould in the act of reading him whenever what be is writing bears on the American Craft.

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