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Masonic Encyclopedia

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Statutes Relating to Freemasons

The laws of England have never contained more than a few references to the Masonic Order. It has been assumed that a Statute of 1425 (3 Henry VI, chapter i) referred to Freemasons. This Statute forbids the holding of "Chapiters and Congregations" by Masons but this did not refer to the General Assemblies of the Craft but was one of a group of regulations known as the Statutes of Laborers enacted from time to time from Edward III to the reign of Elizabeth. This referred only to laborers. An Act passed in 1799 (39 George III, chapter 79, Sedition Act) states specifically that Freemasons are exempted from the ruling, as does also the Act of 1817 (57 George III, chapter 19).

Certain groups or congregations were named Unlawful combinations" and to avoid this appellation the only thing necessary for the Masonic Order to do was to have the Lodge register annually with the Clerk of the Peace the names of members of a Lodge. The Irish Constabulary Act of 1836 (6 and 7 William IV, chapter 13), permitted persons appointed under it to belong to the "Society of Freemasons," but to no other secret society. Brother Dudley Wright quotes an instance where the Craft narrowly escaped being included in a bill presented into the House of Commons in 1799 for the suppression of seditious and secret meetings. Rowland Burdon, who was Master of the Palatine Lodge from 1793 to 1796. was at that time the member for Durham County and when the bill was first read he became alarmed at the possibility of it prohibiting the meeting of Masonic Lodges. He immediately sent a message to William White, Grand Secretary, suggesting the convening of the Grand Officers with the result that the bill was amended and two words "Freemasons excepted" introduced, which averted the danger.

Brother Hawkins (Concise Cyclopedia) says, "The laws of England are almost entirely silent with regard to Freemasons, and they only allude to the Society in order to grant it exemption from the Acts passed in 1799 (39 George III, chapter 79, Sedition Act) and in 1817 (57 George III, chapter 19) with the object of suppressing seditious societies. In order to claim this exemption and thus avoid being deemed an 'unlawful combination,' the names of members of a Lodge must be registered annually with the Clerk of the Peace. Similarly on the passing of the Irish Constabulary Act of 1836 (6 and 7 William IV, chapter 13) persons appointed under it were permitted to belong to 'the Society of Freemasons,' but to no other secret society" (see Laborers, Statutes of).

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