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THE GREAT DIVISION
IT is a maxim of correct military strategy that no army invading strange territory is safe when it leaves unreduced in its rear an enemy stronghold. However sharply invested by besiegers, such a focal point of opposition forms a constant menace, particularly threatening if things should go wrong at the front of invasion. If there are several of them in occupied territory, the slightest relaxation of vigor or vigilance upon the art of the conqueror may be the signal for an uprising of formidable proportions. Because it over-looked this contingency, or at least was unable to provide against it, the new Grand Lodge was compelled to enter into a struggle for Masonic supremacy which covered practically the whole of its first century, and from which it emerged half victorious and half vanquished.
Speculative Masonry was in a real sense an invasion of territory which Operative Masonry had occupied from time immemorial. It was not invited into that field by general suffrage of the operative bodies. By no stretch of the imagination could the Four Old Lodges of London claim power of attorney to act for the whole Craft, to sign away, devise or bequeath the rights of sister lodges. When the Grand Lodge in 1717 drew up a decree forbidding Masons to assemble as Lodges without its express license, it arrogated to itself an empery which it could hope to maintain only by the law of adverse possession and by the exercise of such moral and spiritual forces as it could bring to bear against any and every contender. Conceivably, what it had done others might do, and it would be required to look to its own defenses whenever its authority should be challenged.
It began, however, with great advantages. The four, original constituent lodges were situated at the capita of the nation. They were united for a common purpose and thus formed the strongest Masonic unit then in existence. They left the door wide open for other lodges to enter, whenever they might choose to do so. There was, to be sure, an admittance fee to be paid at the gate. This was nothing less than formal surrender of sovereignty to the Grand Lodge, by the terms of which the petitioning body should acknowledge itself as forever afterwards existing by means of the Grand Lodge's warrant. But of far greater importance was the fact that the Grand Lodge could create at the most considerable center of population and influence in the Kingdom as many new lodges as it pleased - create them, too, at a time when the popularity of the institution was so great that throngs of eager applicants were forever besieging its portals. By the simple expedient of refusing to regard "regular" all lodges which refused to conform, and thereby stamping their members with the stigma of clandestinism, the new organization clothed itself in armor of steel. Having seized sovereign power, it invited all Masons to submit thereto, but the invitation was such as dictators habitually extend, since unpleasant consequences were in store for all who refused to accept.
The first Grand Lodge was the creature of the Four Old Lodges, but once created it in turn became creator. All regular Grand Lodges since that time have come into existence in much the same way. Stripped to essentials, a Grand Lodge is simply a piece of machinery whereby the will of its constituent lodges is expressed. Having brought it into being, those bodies voluntarily accept its authority and acknowledge its sovereignty. That surrender once made is irrevocable without the Grand Lodge's consent - a consent which, by the way, is usually given only for the purpose of allowing a member lodge to help establish a new Grand Lodge. Henceforth each constituent lodge, whatever may have been its previous character or the nature of antecedent allegiances, continues to exist only by virtue of the charter or dispensation it has received in return for its surrender. New lodges, of course, come into existence only by its fiat and are its creatures from the beginning. This is now a self-perpetuating system which has worked admirably in practice, but in the first quarter of the eighteenth century it was a hitherto untried experiment.
The position of the Grand Lodge in the years 1717-23 was somewhat analogous to that of a revolutionary junta which has seized the capital of a nation, run up its flag and invited the whole country to come in or be shot. In this case, a very important section of the country welcomed the enterprise as giving promise of a stable and satisfactory government where all before had been anarchy and confusion. But there were those who preferred the confusion of the old regime to the orderliness of the new. Some of these made a grudging, half-hearted submission which permitted them to enter the new organization and at the same time to maintain within it a faction of opposition and dissent. Still others refused to have anything whatever to do with it. A few of both classes waited in sullen silence until they might have opportunity to raise under aggressive leadership the standard of counter- revolution.
It was not possible for the prime movers to iron out all such difficulties as they went along. The best they could do was to trust to the counsels of expediency, feeling their way forward almost from day to day, strengthening themselves as opportunity served. When they encountered an obstacle they could not remove they simply went around it. Of all obstacles the chief one was that innate conservatism, that hostility change, which has always been one of the most striking characteristics of Freemasonry.
The student who would get a true sense of what the movement involved must bear that conservatism always in mind and, furthermore, must remember that Operative Masonry was very largely in the keeping of Britons of the mechanical trades, traditionally stubborn and tenacious in respect of old privileges and rights. The whole trend of the movement itself was toward taking control of the institution out of their hands and giving it over to an aristocracy of birth and learning. Moreover, in furtherance of that tendency it was proposed to make radical alterations in the body of Masonry itself - such alterations were, in fact necessary if the basis was to be shifted from its operative to its philosophical phases and if it was to be converted into a social organization for the amusement and instruction of persons of culture. Although it was never intended to do more than rearrange old customs to make them adaptable to new purposes, a certain amount of innovation was inescapable. Since every innovation was certain to encounter resistance, the task the reformers had. set themselves was bound in the nature of things to be exceedingly difficult.
So it proved in the event . They began by making full allowance for the tender susceptibilities of the elder operative brethren. It was perhaps this that led them to the choice of Anthony Sayer for the first Grand Master, and to the selection of operatives, or at least of mechanics, for the early Grand Wardens. From the difficulties in which Sayer ultimately involved himself it is apparent that even he was but a half-hearted convert. Only a few years after the Grand Lodge had claimed exclusive authority for constituting new lodges, Sayer was found disregarding that fundamental law of modern Masonry to such extent that he was summoned to appear and make satisfactory amends for contumacy. If Sayer, who had been honored with the Grand Mastership, was so careless of Grand Lodge discipline, it may be assumed that others were even more contemptuous of it.
Maintaining discipline was indeed the hardest task with which the new body was confronted. How hard was it is shown by the remarkable course which the Duke of Wharton pursued in obtaining the Grand Mastership. Montagu had been so successful in his administration in 1721 that the more influential brethren wished to keep him in office for the ensuing year. Accordingly the annual feast at which a new choice was to be made was postponed. But Wharton, recently made a Mason, although not a Master of a Lodge, summoned a number of Masons to meet him at Stationers' Hall on June 24, 1722. No Grand Officers were there, so this group called upon the oldest Master Mason present to preside. Wharton was then declared elected Grand Master of Masons.
These proceedings were so grossly irregular that many distinguished brethren refused to have anything to do with the pretensions of Wharton. Nevertheless Montagu, wishing to preserve peace at any price, summoned the Grand Lodge to meet on January 17, 1723, when Wharton, after he had promised to be "true and faithful" was "proclaimed" Grand Master in proper form. The Earl of Dalkeith was formally elected Grand Master on April 25 and was proclaimed on June 24, 1723.
By this time the Grand Lodge had been strengthened by the adherence of not fewer than twenty-five lodges, since that number sent representatives to the January convocation. Others there were, however, which not only refused to acknowledge its authority but actually flouted it. At least one of these set itself up in 1725 as a Grand Lodge in its own right, with full power to license and constitute new lodges. This was an immemorial body which sat at York; an account of its action will appear more fully in another part of the present narrative.
After the election of Montagu, no further attempt to have been made to curry favor with operative brethren by appointing them to high office. Indeed the institution was rapidly becoming an aristocratic one in personnel as well as in ideals, and it felt itself strong enough to go forward on the new course it had marked out for itself. That was the year in which Anderson prepared the first draft of his Constitutions and in which Desaguliers was busiest at his revision of the ritual. The reception which Anderson's manuscript met was a stormy one - so stormy, in fact, that after receiving it the Grand Lodge seems to have been in no great rush to print and circulate it. When finally it should appear in its 1738 form, it was to precipitate a greater conflict which for long had been impending.
Whatever it was that Desaguliers, did to the ritual, there can be no doubt that the changes then proposed were so drastic that a majority of the lodges was inclined to hold aloof from them. Although they may have been exemplified in Grand Lodge itself - especially that part of them which comprised the Third Degree - they do not seem to have been in common practice in the lodge rooms for some eight or ten years. Nevertheless they must have been widely discussed. Freemasonry had become so popular in London that all sorts of men wished to identify themselves with it. Those who could not get in by the door were strongly disposed to slip in, if they could, by the window. Numerous clandestine lodges were formed; there were "exposures" of the secret work and one book, called Masonry Dissected, purported to disclose all the secret work. It has been suggested that the revelations of this publication were so near the truth that Grand Lodge took alarm and hastened to change the ritual on that account. How much plausibility can be attached to that theory it is now impossible to say. Certainly there were alterations in the method of installing the Worshipful Master; the Third Degree was rearranged; the symbolical preparation of candidates was modified, there were transfers of parts between the First degree and the Second and operative practices were submitted to a general overhauling and revision.
No doubt much of this remodeling was necessary, but it led to one profound disadvantage. It subjected to the charge of innovation those who had been responsible for it. Innovation is and always has been an ugly word to Masonic ears. In a world of change Freemasonry has always been proud of its stability. Its boast is that it has always remained constant to its own inner light; that its practices are hallowed by the undeviating course of the Craftsmen as they have followed one another all down through the centuries. What might be considered a trivial departure in almost any other human institution would be regarded in Masonry as shaking the very foundations upon which it is built. Upon this rock of faithful adherence to what is tried and approved it has built its house and woe unto that man or set of men who would try to pull one stone out of its assigned place in that structure!
It was very well for the new Grand Lodge to say it had not in fact brought novelty into the institution; that it had merely re- interpreted what had always been there. The country was full of elder brethren who would accept no such explanation; who would be willing to follow any leader who raised the battle cry of "No Innovation!" even though he might himself be as flagrant in innovation as those whom he condemned. That cry soon was to be raised and it was to throw the Craft into a convulsion from which it would not recover in more than a generation. In the evolution of Freemasonry changes had to come, but it was inevitable that there should be trouble in store for those through whom they came.
Scarcely had it been discovered that the symbolism of the Third Degree must be perfected to round out the complete cycle of Masonic instruction when it was also discovered that the Third Degree itself was incomplete. In simple truth, the Drama of the Third Degree left things in a state of suspension. It had to do with Something Which Was Lost and with a vague hint this something at a future time might be red. What was that something? Had it been recovered? Could it be recovered? Was the story forever to go without a sequel? Such were the questions speculative brethren asked themselves. Some of them in a way which is not at all clear found the answer in the Royal Arch Degree, which began to be practiced shortly. This practice for a long time the Grand Lodge styled "irregular," but since lodges used it without imperilling their Grand Lodge standing, the implied rebuke was not taken seriously. As for other bodies without the official fold, it is reasonable to suppose they paid little attention to a charge of "irregularity" which could only mean they had gone a little further along the road of innovation the Grand Lodge itself had pointed out to them.
A far more serious cause for dissension soon appeared. Operative Masonry for as long a period as the Old Charges could indicate had been fundamentally Christian and Trinitarian. It required of its devotees not only belief in God but also adherence to orthodox Christianity. That strict orthodoxy many of the eighteenth-century liberals who were being drawn into the Fraternity could not wholly support. Accordingly, the first paragraph of the Charges as drawn up by Anderson appeared under the caption, "Concerning God and Religion," and was as follows:
A Mason is oblig'd by his Tenure, to obey the moral Law; and if he rightly understands the Art, he will never be a Stupid Atheist, nor an irreligious Libertine. But though in ancient Times Masons were charg'd in every Country to be of the Religion of that Country or Nation, whatever it was, yet 'tis now thought more expedient only to oblige them to that Religion in which all Men agree, leaving their particular Opinions to themselves; that is, to be good Men and true, or Men of Honour and Honesty, by whatever Denomination or Persuasions they might be distinguish'd; whereby Masonry becomes the Center of Union, and the means of conciliating true Friendship among Persons that must have remain'd at a Perpetual Distance.
No greater or more statesmanlike thing was ever written into a Masonic document; this declaration has been the charter of Masonic liberty and tolerance whereby it could make good its claim of universality. Through it the orthodox and the heterodox, the Christian, the Jew, the Mohammedan, the Buddhist, the Confucianist, the Deist of the eighteenth century and the Fundamentalist of the twentieth have been able to unite in human service and in their common reverence for the Supreme Architect of the Universe, however various their understandings of Him may be. Anderson would deserve a place among Masonic immortals for this one paragraph alone, even if he deserved it for nothing else. Surely it must be said of him that in penning those words he caught a truer glimpse of the inner spirit of Freemasonry than he did in all the high-flown rhetoric of his legendary narrative.
So much of liberalism was nevertheless a bitter draught for the conservatism of that day to swallow. Some brethren refused it outright. The furore which arose when the document was first read in Grand Lodge soon had the whole Craft in a state of excitement. Historians who have ascribed the Great Division to it have gone perhaps further than the f acts would warrant. It gave, however, a crown to the dissent which had long existed and was still growing and which was only awaiting the right leader to flame into open defiance of the Grand Lodge. That leader was at hand in the person of Laurence Dermott.
While Masonry had been developing in England under the ‘gis of the Grand Lodge, it had been growing with almost equal popularity in other parts of the British Isles, especially in Ireland and in Scotland. Of the nature of the constitution of Irish lodges at that time there is little authentic information. It is supposed, however, that they were simple developments of the operative system, somewhat paralleling those in England, differing in minor respects as all operative lodges appear to have differed in different regions.
There was in London a considerable number of young Irishmen, many of whom had no doubt been "made" in Irish lodges. It is not unlikely that these gathered in their own Masonic organizations at the nation's capital, and some of them no doubt were drawn into bodies which looked askance at the course being pursued by the lodges operating under the direction of the Grand Lodge. Among these Irish refugees was Laurence Dermott, a painter by trade, a man of ardent and flaming spirit, possessing literary gifts of no mean order and withal a born organizer and leader of men. Dermott was born in Ireland in 1720. He was made a Mason in 1740 in Lodge No. 26 of Ireland, and was installed as its Master on June 24, 1746. Later he went to London, but he found little fellowship among the leaders of Grand Lodge Masonry, with whom he was soon to be in open conflict.
Kindred spirits there were in plenty, however, among the dissident Masons who had long looked with hostility upon the trend of Grand Lodge affairs. Some of these had already formed themselves into Masonic groups, for which they no doubt felt they had full authority under operative precedents. How numerous they were it is impossible to say, but it is on record that in 1739, the year following the publication of Anderson's revised Constitutions, Grand Lodge too cognizance of the fact that "irregular" Masons were being made, and warned the membership against intercourse with these "private" lodges.
As Henry Sadler has so convincingly stated in his Masonic Facts and Fictions, a considerable proportion of the "private" lodges was undoubtedly made up of Irish Masons, working men for the most part, painters, tailors, mechanics of various degrees, who were instinctively drawn to the old operatives and as instinctively hostile to the aristocratic tendencies then developing in Grand Lodge circles. The customs of these bodies were closely akin to those of the Irish lodges. They practiced the Royal Arch as a separate, or fourth, degree; their colors, Craft warrants, Book of Constitutions, by-laws and systems of registration differed from those used by lodges under the English Grand Lodge, and there were numerous other differences.
For the ten years after 1739 they seem to have grown slowly and without a defined purpose of setting up organized opposition to the English governing body as then constituted. They fell into a way of alluding to themselves as York Masons, probably meaning thereby to convey the idea that they were descended from that famous assembly at York in the reign of Athelstan. It is quite likely that some of the changes which had been introduced into the ritual by Grand Lodge were designed for the purpose of making it impossible for them to visit "regular" lodges. If so, this action merely crystallized their opposition while it gave them the opportunity to raise the cry, "No Innovation!"
In the year 1751 there were at least seven of these lodges in London, acknowledging allegiance to a nebulous body which they termed the Grand Committee. On July 17, 1751, they held an Assembly at the Turk's Head Tavern in Greek Street, Soho, when each Master of a subscribing lodge was authorized to grant dispensations and warrants and act as Grand Master. By this it is assumed that the Grand Committee exercised, as a collective body and by majority vote, the principal functions of a Grand Lodge. It chartered additional lodges and in 1752 Dermott was elected as its secretary. Finally, on December 5, 1753, it met and proclaimed itself The Grand Lodge of England According to the Old Institutions, with Dermott filling the important post of Grand Secretary. Thus fully organized opposition to the Grand Lodge of England had come into being.
At the outset the new body possessed advantages which the older Grand Lodge lacked. It was young, it was vigorous, it had no internal feuds, and it had a rich field of discontent to exploit. It worked four degrees instead of three and this was a lure to a degree thirsty public. It very shrewdly attacked the old Grand Lodge for its "innovations," although it had perforce to do so in a Pickwickian sense, since it, too, had made innovations, if not the same ones or to the same extent. But it cried in stentorian tones from all the house tops that the brand of Masonry it supplied was the only genuine Ancient variety; that what its rival offered was of a Modern cast. It was not the first Grand Lodge in the English field, but it was the more vociferous and more audacious in its claims. Hence, by a truly remarkable twist of affairs, adherents of the new Grand Lodge came to be known as "Antients" and the supporters of the old one had to be content with being known as the "Moderns" their opponents called them. In more dignified Masonic parlance the new Grand Body is usually referred to as the Atholl Grand Lodge, from the Dukes of Atholl - or Athol or Athole as the name is variously spelled - who served it long and notably in the Grand Master's chair.
Into the work of the new association Dermott threw himself with the zeal of a crusader. One of the early tasks he set for himself was the preparation of a hand book which should correspond to Anderson's Constitutions. This he called Ahiman Rezon -meaning Worthy Brother Secretary - with the long sub-title: or a Help to a Brother, showing the excellency of Secrecy and the first cause or motive of Freemasonry; the Principles of the Craft and the Benefits from a Strict Observance thereof, etc., also the Old and New Regulations, etc. To which is added the greatest collection of Masons' Songs, etc. By Laurence Dermott, Secretary. It was first published in 1756, and there were several later editions. The Constitutions as set forth were afterwards adopted by many other Grand Lodges, notably those of Maryland, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. In the course of his "history," Dermott paid his respects to the ritual of the rival Grand Lodge in the following sprightly manner:
"About the year 1717 some joyous companions who had passed the degree of a craft (though very rusty) resolved to form a lodge for themselves in order (by conversation) to recollect what had been formerly dictated to them, or if that should be found impracticable, to substitute something new, which might for the future pass for Masonry among themselves. At this meeting the question was asked whether any person in the assembly knew the Master's part, and being answered in the negative, it was resolved, nem. con., that the deficiency should be made up, with a new composition, and what fragments of the old order found amongst them should be immediately reformed, and made more pliable to the humours of the people."
Having been served by Robert Turner and Edward Vaughan as Grand Masters from 1753 to 1756, the Antient Grand Lodge elected the Earl of Blesington to that office in 1756. He served until 1759 when he was succeeded by the Earl of Kelly, who served until 1766. Thomas Mathew was Grand Master until 1771. John, third Duke of Atholl, was Grand Master 1771 to 1774, when he was succeeded by the fourth Duke of Atholl. From 1783 to 1791 the Earl of Antrim was Grand Master. The fourth Duke of Atholl resumed the Chair in 1791 and served until 1813, when he was succeeded, for a short space before the merging of the two Grand lodges, by the Duke of Kent.
The Antients greatly strengthened their position by obtaining Masonic recognition from the Grand Lodges of Ireland and Scotland. Their greatest strength, however, lay in their own energy. In 1753 they had approximately a dozen lodges but they doubled the number in the next four years. By 1766 sixty-four others had been enrolled and by the Union of 1813 the Atholl Grand Lodge listed 359 supporting lodges, although some of these had become inactive. Through the happy expedient of warranting movable military lodges, the Antients spread their influence wherever the British army might go. In this way Freemasonry became much more widely distributed through the American Colonies than it might otherwise have been. This practice was so successful that the Moderns in time were obliged to adopt it in self -defense.
The Antients modeled their Constitutions upon those of Ireland. The Ahiman Rezon drew heavily upon Irish Masonic literature, although its historical account paralleled that of Anderson so closely that no great discrepancies might be observed. The seals of the Antients and of the Grand Lodge of Ireland were almost identical. They used blue and gold ribbons for the seals of warrants, a practice then employed by the Grand Lodge of Ireland but not by the Moderns. They also employed the Irish system of numbering loges. A record of the Grand Committee for August 1752, discloses that the by-laws of Dermott's mother lodge No. 26 on the Irish roll, were adopted by the Antients as the correct model for Antient usage.
In the field of foreign relations, Dermott completely out-generalled the Moderns. Not only was he instrumental in obtaining Scottish recognition, but, with the powerful support of the third Duke of Atholl, he secured exclusive recognition for his own body from the Scottish Grand Lodge. Atholl was for a brief season Grand Master of both the Scottish and the Antient Grand Lodges. Then, in 1782, the Antients chose for their Grand Master the Earl of Antrim who had been Grand Master of Ireland. By a diplomatic interchange of notes it was arranged that the Irish Grand Lodge should recognize as regular only those English Masons who could produce Antient certificates. Later the English and Irish bodies rescinded these actions and assumed a neutral attitude toward the contending English factions, but meanwhile the Antients had profited immensely by the favor shown them, since it was but reasonable to expect that prospective Masons in England would prefer to cast their lot with a body which could insure for them full Masonic recognition when traveling in the sister Grand Jurisdictions.
Thus, side by side for threescore years, two Grand Lodges continued to exist in England and to struggle for supremacy in Scotland, Ireland and the Colonies. The differences between them were actually not so marked as were the resemblances. On occasion they cooperated in charitable exercises. But as time went oil and as the harmful effects of the division became increasingly apparent, a sentiment looking toward reunion began to grow. How it operated to heal the breach must be reserved for another chapter.
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