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masonic matters

Secret Society

by Ed Halpaus
Grand Lodge Education Officer
Grand Lodge of A. F. & A. M. of Minnesota

"While those around us are groping in the darkness of ignorance, and are enthralled by superstition, educated men are in search of truth along the pathway of knowledge." W.E.H. Lecky1
This publication is printed with the permission of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Minnesota.

"We don't make mistakes, we just have - learning's." Ann Wilson Shaef

I read or heard something once about the importance of a comma, maybe you've heard about it too. The importance is in the placement of a comma, as it puts emphasis in different places depending where it's placed, if it's placed at all in a sentence. For instance, in the answer to this question; "What come you here to do? (I'm sure you've run across this question somewhere in your travels.) A man might answer it is in this way; "To learn to subdue my passions, and improve myself in Masonry." I'd like to suggest another way by the use of the comma, like this: "To learn, to subdue my passions, and improve myself, in Masonry."

Answering it the first way implies I want to learn how to subdue my passions, and thus improve myself. The other way, by the use of the comma, the answer implies that I want to learn, and I want to subdue my passions, and thus improve myself in and through Masonry. Well, I thought the business about comma placement was interesting, and while the answer might be rattled off as though in a ritual, in my mind I will think of it with the commas. I do want to learn. I do want to subdue my passions. I do want to improve myself, in Masonry. I don't know about you, but for me, and some others, it's a lifetime job.

"You don't raise heroes, you raise sons, and if you treat them like sons, they'll turn out to be heroes, even if it's just in your own eyes. Brother Walter Shirra Jr.

Has anyone ever accused you of belonging to a secret society? Or, has someone said to you that Freemasonry is a secret society? Well I know those kinds of questions come up from friends, acquaintances, and sometimes a family member, if you haven't been asked it that's good. There is some good information that a Masons should know in order to give an answer to the question though, should it come up.

A secret society is one in which the members are not known. A society that exists without common knowledge could be called a secret society. Masonry is not a secret society. Freemasonry is well known. Masons proudly wear a well known and recognized emblem of the fraternity as a lapel pin, belt buckle, ring, or even a bumper sticker on their car. In America, Masonic Lodges publish membership lists and distribute them to their members and Grand Lodges regularly publish the proceedings of the Grand Lodge Communication listing not only the proceedings but also, the members of the Grand Lodge who were in attendance. Local Lodges, and Grand Lodges, are quite visible in the towns and cities where they are located. If they have a telephone they're listed in the phone book. It's obvious that Freemasonry is not a secret society, or if someone were to still insist that it might be one we, as Masons, are obviously not very good at keeping our fraternity a secret.

"The initiate takes an obligation of secrecy; if he will carefully consider the language of that obligation, he will see that it concerns the forms and ceremonies, the manner of teaching, certain modes of recognition. There is no obligation of secrecy regarding the truths taught by Freemasonry, otherwise such a book as this could not lawfully be written." 2

Secrecy is a common fact of everyday life. Our personal and private affairs are ours, not to be shared with anyone we don't wish to share them with. Business secrets are often of value in direct proportion to the success of keeping them. Diplomacy is conducted in secret. Board meetings, business of banks, and business houses are secret from those who don't have a need to know what the transactions are. A man and his wife have private understandings for no one else to know. So it seems all of us in everyday life privately and in our work have things we want to keep private. Freemasonry keeps some things private from the un-initiated for similar reasons.

Claudy Says; "The secrecy [the privacy] of Masonry is an honorable secrecy; any good man may ask for her secrets; those who are worthy will receive them. To give them to those who do not seek, or who are not worthy, would but impoverish the fraternity and enrich not those who receive them." "Freemasonry is anxious to give of her secrets to worthy men fit to receive them but not all are worthy, and not all the worthy seek." "He who seeks Freemasonry out of curiosity for her secrets must be bitterly disappointed." 3

" A line is length without breath." "There is no 'royal road' to Geometry." Euclid 300 b.c.e.

In the book Centennium from the Grand Lodge of Minnesota is a short paragraph about the death of Right Worshipful Brother Aaron Goodrich on June 24, 1887 at the age of 80 years. The headline for the article is titled "Death Of A Founder." It mentions that Brother Goodrich was absent from Minnesota from 1861 until his return in the early 1870's, and that he had resumed his former interest in the fraternity. Brother Goodrich is listed in 10,000 Famous Freemasons, his date of death isn't listed, however, but now you know the date.

Brother Goodrich was one of the founders of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota and was its first Deputy Grand Master. He was the first Chief Justice of the Minnesota Territory. Prior to coming to the Territory of Minnesota he had been a member of the Tennessee State Legislature.

From the early history of Minnesota we learn that in 1853 the Territory of Minnesota stretched from the St.Croix and Mississippi Rivers on the east to the Missouri River in the west, and bounded on the north by the Territory of British North America, and on the south by the then recently constituted state of Iowa. Travel throughout the Territory of Minnesota through the lands occupied and held by the Indians [Native Americans] could be made only along the course of the St. Peter's River, (later named the Minnesota River,) or by the Pembina Trail. The Pembina Trail was the route taken by the Hudson's Bay Company for their convoys of Red River ox carts from Fort Garry, in the Red River Settlement, which was later to become Winnipeg in the province of Manitoba.

As mentioned above, Brother Aaron Goodrich was appointed Chief Justice of the Territorial Court of Minnesota. Our Brother was appointed to the position by Zachary Taylor, as the 12th President of the United States and, who by the way was in 1829 the commanding officer at Fort Snelling, in the Territory of Minnesota.

A number of Masons, including our Brother Goodrich, Petitioned the Grand Lodge of Ohio for a dispensation to form a Lodge in St. Paul. The dispensation, granted by Most Worshipful Brother Michael Z. Kreider, Grand Master of Masons in Ohio was dated August 8, 1849. The first meeting of the Lodge in St. Paul U.D. was held September 8, 1849, and by laws were adopted on October 8, 1849 providing that $20 be charged for the degrees and that the Lodge dues would be 25 cents a month. The Charter for the Lodge in St. Paul U.D. was granted and dated January 24, 1853. Brother A.T.C. Pierson in a ceremony on February 7th, acting as Proxy for the Grand Master of Ohio, installed the officers and duly constituted the Lodge. The Lodge was given the name of St. Paul Lodge #223 on the rolls of the Grand Lodge of Ohio. "This was [Brother] Pierson's entry into a life-long service to the Fraternity." 4

On the same evening as the Lodge being constituted Brother Pierson presented his Petition for affiliation with St. Paul Lodge #223, he was elected to membership and his membership was confirmed that same evening when he signed the by-laws of the Lodge. Brother Pierson that same night planted the seed that spouted into the idea of forming a Grand Lodge in Minnesota. He presented a resolution that provided that as there was now three constituted Lodges in Minnesota, which was the minimum number required to form a legal Grand Lodge, that the Masters and Wardens of these three Lodges be requested to meet on February 23, 1853 for the purpose of discussing the advisability of forming a Grand Lodge and, if it was deemed expedient, and in the best interest of the fraternity, to proceed with the organization.

On February 23, 1853 there appeared in the Lodge Room of St. Paul Lodge #223 eleven Brothers from the Three Lodges in the Territory of Minnesota for the purpose to investigate the formation of a Grand Lodge. After a few minor difficulties the convention was convened by Brother Pierson and, a ballot was taken electing Brother Alfred E. Ames President of the convention and Brother Pierson as its Secretary. Brother Ames appointed our Brother Aaron Goodrich along with two others to write a constitution and present it for ratification the next day.

Our Brother, Judge Goodrich, sat up that night "by the light of a tallow dip" and wrote the first Constitution of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota. It was an extremely good yet simple document, which contained four articles, nine rules of order, and three resolutions. It professed obedience to all the Ancient Landmarks, established laws, usages and customs of the Fraternity.

The following day on February 24, 1853 a Lodge of Master Masons was opened in due form. Two additional Brothers were present making the lawful representation of the Lodges complete. The proceedings from the previous day were read and ratified, the Constitution was read and adopted by sections, and unanimously ratified as a whole. Brother Aaron Goodrich then offered a resolution that the Convention proceed with the organization of the Grand Lodge by the election of Grand Lodge officers for the ensuing year.

Elected were: Alfred E. Ames, Grand Master; Aaron Goodrich, Deputy Grand Master; Daniel F. Brawley, Senior Grand Warden; Abraham Van Vorhes, Junior Grand Warden. Then Grand Master Elect Ames announced the following appointments: Emanuel Case, Grand Treasurer; J. George Lennon, Grand Secretary; D.W.C. Dunwell, Senior Grand Deacon; David B. Loomis, Junior Grand Deacon; Sylvander Partridge, Grand Standard Bearer; A.T.C. Pierson, Grand Marshal; Henry N. Setzer, Grand Pursuivant; J.S. Chamberlain, Grand Chaplain; Lot Moffet, Grand Steward; C.W.W. Borup, Grand Steward; William Hartshorn, Grand Tyler.

An interesting part of the history of the Minnesota Grand Lodge is that the Reverend J.S. Chamberlain, who was appointed the Grand Chaplain was not raised a Master Mason until two days later to qualify him for his Grand Lodge office.

Brother Andrew J. Morgan, of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, duly installed all of the elected and appointed officers present on February 24, 1853 and the Grand Lodge of Minnesota was duly constituted.

The new Grand Lodge didn't have an official name. Back in 1849 when the first Lodge was formed the Brothers in St. Paul called themselves "Ancient York Masons." Brother, and Judge, Goodrich when he wrote the constitution titled it "The Constitution of the Grand Lodge of the Territory of Minnesota." In 1853 the Grand Lodge was incorporated by an act of the Territorial Assembly and, the title in the articles of incorporation was "The Grand Lodge of Minnesota." Those titles didn't make any reference to Masonry and thus didn't state what it was the Grand Lodge of. Other titles were used in early documents of the Grand Lodge, namely: Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons; Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons. However, the charters of the 3 Lodges of the new Grand Lodge, issued by the Grand Lodge read: "The Most Worshipful Alfred E. Ames Esq., Grand Master of the Most Honorable Society of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of the Territory of Minnesota." And in the Grand Master's Address at the Grand Communication in 1854 Grand Master Ames addressed the Grand Lodge as; "The Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Minnesota," And that became the official name of the Grand Lodge.

Back to our Brother Aaron Goodrich. While he was elected to the office of Deputy Grand Master, he never became Grand Master. After he left the Bench, he practiced Law in St. Paul, and as Minnesota became a state in 1858 he was on the commission to revise the laws and prepare a system of pleading and practice. In 1861 President Lincoln appointed him secretary of the U.S. Legation at Brussels, Belgium and, he served in that capacity for eight years. Brother Goodrich's Masonic Career began in Dover Lodge #29 in Dover, Tennessee, and St. Paul Lodge #223 of the GL of Ohio, which became St. Paul #3 of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, being a Past Master of the Lodge in St. Paul, and Deputy Grand master of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota.5

("Ira furor brevist est.") = "Anger is a short madness." Horace, 65 b.c.e.6

Here is a Masonic Poem I came across that I really like, I think you might like it too.

THE SEA CAPTAIN, by Anonymous

I sailed my ship for many a day / across the stormy sea;
Many a ruffian I have carried / and never refused but three.
They met me on a summer day, / and saw my gallant ship,
And sought a passage to the other side / upon a hurried trip.
They offered all the dough they had, / mixed with a little sass;
That made me kinda hesitate, / and ask them for a pass,
They deemed a pass unnecessary / for men of their degree,
And insisted that I take my ship / and sail it out to sea.
An old man who was standing by, / and noted what they said, saw them kick me in the ribs
And strike me on the head, / he heard them say they'd steal a boat,
And put it out to sea, / and sail away to the other side
To some strange countr'ee. / but no! The coward of the bunch -
The one you'd think was brave - / suggested that they turn again
And hide in a mountain cave. / And as the day went slowly by,
I heard the truth in time; / I found that they were murderers,
And guilty of a crime. / So as I sail my sturdy ship,
Until my life has ceased; / I know not whom my friends may be
Unless they've traveled East.7

"The man that lays a hand upon a woman, save in the way of kindness, is a wretch whom t'wer gross flattery to name a coward." John Tobin 1770 - 1804

"Though a man go out to battle a thousand times against a thousand men, if he conquers himself he is a great conqueror." Budda

Here is something else from Brother Claudy's Book on the Entered Apprentice Degree in Introduction to Freemasonry. This is regarding the working tools of the 24-inch gauge and the common gavel.

"The 24 inch gauge is well explained in the ritual, but the significance of one point is sometimes overlooked." "There is no time to be wasted. There is no time to be idle. There is no time for waiting. The implication is plain; the Entered Apprentice should always be ready to use his tools." "Freemasonry is not only for the Lodge Room, but for life. Not to take the 24 inch gauge into the world and by its divisions number the hours for the working of a constructive purpose is to miss the practical application of Masonic Labor and Masonic Charity."

"The common gavel which "breaks off the corners of rough stones, the better to fit them for the builders use" joins the Rough and Perfect Ashlars in a hidden symbol of the order at once beautiful and tender." "In the Great Light we read: 'The kingdom of God is within you." Brother Gutzon Borglum, (who sculpted Mount Rushmore in South Dakota,) once said, "Images are made by a process of taking away." "The perfection is already within. All that is required is to remove the roughness, the excrescences, 'divesting our hearts and consciences of all the vices and superfluities of life' to show forth the perfect man and Mason within." "Thus the gavel becomes the symbol of personal power."8

"Most of us would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism." Brother Norman Vincent Peale.

One final note on Masonic information: Brother Lyndon Baines Johnson, President of the United States of America from 1963 to 1969 took his Entered Apprentice Degree on October 30, 1937 in Johnson City Lodge #561 in Johnson City, Texas. He never took any other degrees of Masonry, so our Brother remained an Entered Apprentice.9

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Last modified: March 22, 2014