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Succession to the Chair
The regulations adopted in 1721 by the Grand Lodge of England have been generally esteemed as setting forth the ancient landmarks of the Order But certain regulations, which were adopted on the 25th of November, 1723, as amendments to or explanatory of these, being enacted under the same authority, and almost by the same persons, can scarcely be less binding upon the Order than the original regulations. Both these compilations of Masonic law refer expressly to the subject of the succession to the chair on the death or removal of the Master.
The old regulation of 1721, in the second of the thirty-nine articles adopted in that year, is in the following words (Constitutions, 1738, page I53): "In ease of death or sickness, or necessary absence of the Master, the Senior Warden shall act as Master pro tempore, if no Brother is present who has been Master of that Lodge before. For the absent Master's authority reverts to the last Master present, though he cannot act till the Senior Warden has congregated the Lodge." The words in italics indicate that even at that time the power of calling the Brethren together and setting them to work, which is technically called congregating the Lodge, was supposed to be vested in the Senior Warden alone during the absence of the Master; although, perhaps, from a supposition that he had greater experience, the difficult duty of presiding over the Communication was entrusted to a Past Master. The regulation is, however, contradictory in its provisions. For if the last Master present could not act, that is, could not exercise the authority of the Master until the Senior Warden had congregated the Lodge, then it is evident that the authority of the Master did not revert to him in an unqualified sense, for that officer required no such concert nor consent on the part of the Warden, but could congregate the Lodge himself. This evident contradiction in the language of the regulation probably caused, in a brief period, a further examination of the ancient usage, and accordingly on the 25th of November,1723, a very little more than two years after, the following regulation (see above Constitutions) was adopted: "If a Master of a particular Lodge is deposed or dimits, the Senior Warden shall forthwith fill the Master's chair till the next time of choosing; and ever Since, in the Master's absence, he fills the chair, even though a former Master be present."
The present Constitution of the Grand Lodge of England appears, however, to have been formed rather in reference to the regulation of 1721 than to that of 1723. It prescribes (Rule 141) that on the death, removal, or incapacity of the Master, the Senior Warden, or in his absence, the Junior Warden, or in his absence, the immediate Past Master, or in his absence, the Senior Past Master, "shall act as Master in summoning the Lodge, until the next installation of Master."
But the English Constitution goes on to direct that, "in the Master's absence, the immediate Past Master, or if he be absent, the Senior Past Master of the Lodge present shall talce the chair. And if no Past Master of the Lodge be present, then the Senior Warden, or in his absence the Junior Warden, shall rule the Lodge."
Here again we find ourselves involved in the intricacies of a divided sovereignty. The Senior Warden congregates the Lodge, but a Past Master rules it. And ii the Warden refuses to perform his part of the duty, then the Past Master will have no Lodge to rule. So that, after all, it appears that of the two the authority of the Senior Warden is the greater.
But in the United States the usage has always conformed to the regulation of 1723, as is apparent from a glance at the rituals and monitorial works. Webb, in his Freemasons Monitor (edition of 1808), lays down the rule, that "in the absence of the Master, the Senior Warden is to govern the Lodge" and that officer receives annually, in every Lodge in the United States, on the night of his installation, a Charge to that effect. It must be remembered, too, that we are not indebted to Webb himself for this charge, but that he burrowed it, word for word, from Preston, who wrote long before, and who, in his turn, extracted it from the rituals which were in force at the time of his writing.
In the United States, accordingly, it has been held, that on the death or removal of the Master, his authority descends to the Senior Warden, who may, however, by courtesy, offer the chair to a Past Master present, after the Lodge has been congregated.
There is some confusion in relation to the question of who is to be the successor of the Master, which arises partly from the contradiction between the regulations of 1791 and 1723, and partly from the contradiction in different clauses of the regulation of 1723 itself. But whether the Senior Warden or a Past Master is to succeed, the regulation of 1721 makes no provision for an election, but implies that the vacancy shall be temporarily supplied during the official term, while that of 1723 expressly states that such temporary succession shall continue "till the next time of choosing," or, in the words of the present English Constitution, "until the next installation of Master."
But, in addition to the authority of the ancient regulation and general and uniform usage, reason and justice seem to require that the vacancy shall not be supplied permanently until the regular time of election. By holding the election at an earlier period, the Senior Warden is deprived of his right as a member to become a candidate for the vacant office. For the Senior Warden having been regularly installed, has of course been duly obligated to serve in the office to which he had been elected during the full term. If the an election takes place before the expiration of that term, he must be excluded from the list of candidates, because, if elected, he could not vacate his present office without a violation of his Obligation.
The same disability would affect the Junior Warden, who by a similar obligation is bound to the faithful discharge of his duties in the South. So that by anticipating the election in the Lodge, the two most prominent officers and the two most likely to succeed the Master in due course of rotation, would be excluded from the Chance of promotion. A grievous wrong would thus be done to these officers, which no Dispensation of a Grand Master should be permitted to inflict. But even if the Wardens were not ambitious of office, or users not likely, under any circumstances, to be elected to the vacant office, another objection arises to the anticipation of an election for Master which is worthy of consideration.
The Wardens, having been installed under the solemnity of an obligation to discharge the duties of their respective offices to the best of their ability, and the Senior Warden having been expressly Charged that '; the absence of the Master he is to rule the Lodge, " a conscientious Senior Warden might very naturally feel that he was neglecting these duties and violating this obligation, by permitting the office which he has sworn to temporarily occupy in the absence of his Master to be permanently filled by any other person.
On the whole, then, the old regulations, as well as ancient. uninterrupted, and uniform usage and the principles of reason and justice, seem imperatively to requite that, on the death or removal of the Master, the chair shalt be occupied temporarily until the regular time of election. Although the law is not actually explicit in relation to the person who shall fill that temporary position, the weight of law and precedent seems to incline toward the principle that the authority of the absent Master shall be placed in the hands of the Senior warden.
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