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Politics and Masonry
The first Book of Constitutions of Freemasonry (1723) has as its second part The Charges of a Free-Mason, which begins on page 49. The second of these charges is "Of the Civil Magistrate Supreme and Subordinate."
The paragraph consists of two long sentences, but both are nothing more than an elaboration of the opening clause of the first of the two: "A Mason is a peaceable Subject of the Civil Powers ...." The elaboration of this straightforward, unambiguous statement makes clear what the new Grand Lodge had in mind; there are Mayors, it said, with their council in towns and cities, Sheriffs with their staffs in the counties; each of these "magistrates" is charged to enforce the ordinances of the town or laws of the realm governing gilds, associations, assemblies of craftsmen; Masons do not rebel against these magistrates or make trouble for them; they keep the peace.
It did not occur to the Freemasons then, as it had never occurred to their Masonic forebears, that they were living under a "political system" that other political systems were possible; that a different political system might be better than the one they had; they did not discuss such questions, or debate them, or propagandize their members in support of one system as against another. Such abstract and general political theories as democracy, monarchy, feudalism, republicanism, communism had never crossed their minds.
Throughout the Middle Ages theologians and philosophers might theorize about "the prince" or raise abstract questions. At a later time Coke, Bacon, Blackstone, Mr. Locke could discuss the merits of a constitutional system as against personal monarchy. But craftsmen knew nothing of such subjects, took their rulers and laws for granted, and raised no questions except on such matters of practical detail as their rights to hold assemblies, the carelessness of Royal Administrators, the scale of wages, etc.
Is Freemasonry democratic, republican, monarchic, etc.? Neither the words nor the ideas denoted by the words are found anywhere in the customs, rules and regulations, Constitutions, Landmarks, or the Ritual. The Craft has never interested itself in political philosophies, creeds, crusades; and does not now, because, like theology, they lie outside its province. Don't make trouble for magistrates; don't indulge in street brawls; don't hold illegal assemblies; be peaceable and law-abiding, this was as far as the Masons went; they did not even include such non-partisan, universal words as patriotism and citizenship in their Ritual.
The Craft began in a period of unadulterated feudalism, when a Lord owned the land, or a portion of it, and the men, women, fields, animals, and everything on it.
To be free was an exceptional status which the lord granted, and almost always for a consideration, and this freedom was granted to a man, a town, a corporation, a body of men, a trade by means of a charter or dispensation.
Men not freed or manumitted were the private property of the lord, and could be bought and sold with the land. Feudalism was never banished in toto (Hungary still has it), but broke up one portion at a time, here and then there, now and then, piecemeal. It was succeeded by a dynastic system of personal rulers. A country, or county, or estate, or principality, or "crown" belonged to its ruler; if he married a woman possessing the crown of another "country," perhaps across the sea, he became ruler of both. He could divide countries among his sons. In Italy and France cities belonged to lords, and a great center like Venice, or Genoa, or Florence might belong to one "kingdom" today, another tomorrow because of a marriage. This dynastic system gave way, piecemeal, to the national system; there came into existence countries with permanent boundaries, and in the process many lords and dynasties were swallowed up by one lord and he became king of a country: and his family was the only royal dynasty. The power of these personal dynastic rulers was eaten into by the ever-increasing powers, first, of their own counselors and under-lords, second, by the citizens at large represented by committees-of-the-whole called parliaments. The United States was the first country to adopt the last named exclusively, and to abandon the old barbaric notion that a man can "own" a country and a people, and the Medieval notion that any one man can rule and govern a people. The proof that Freemasonry is wholly non-political is furnished by the fact that it has perpetuated itself and preserved its own Landmarks unaltered in each and every one of these political systems; and the corollary fact that as a fraternity it has never taken part in overthrowing one system in favor of another. Its members can espouse any political theory or party they wish, can be monarchists, or communists, but they cannot act or speak in such matters in the name of Masonry or commit the Craft to any political dogma.
The American Revolution was in reality two revolutions: the military revolution for political independence was brought successfully to an end with the surrender of Yorktown; the social revolution, by which the titles, classes, privileges, etc., of the old aristocracy were abolished, came to its final end in the administration of Andrew Jackson.
In the American way of life a man counts as one, never more or less than one; he is a citizen by virtue of birth (or naturalization), and no one man can be less or more of a citizen than another; each one is free to attend school, walk the streets, work, speak, think; his government deals with him solely as a man; it has never required that he belong to any given party, religion, or class. This is not a political system, but the absence of one, and absent because none is needed. The country is not governed according to a theory; the names "democratic" or "republican," etc., and if properly defined, are mere verbal labels, and mean nothing. A man is an American; there is no requirement for him to be anything additional. But he is "American" only because he lives in the country called America. It is because a man himself, any man, and by virtue of his nature, must thus count as one man, be dealt with as a man and in no other capacity, that America has its way of life, and for no other reason; we did not at a people begin by adopting some particular political theory or program, and then set about putting it into practice. Men in any country can have the same way of life for and of themselves without thinking of it as borrowed from America, because it is not American but belongs to man as man.
Freemasonry fitted happily into this way of life, though it had, as an organization, nothing to do with making it (there were as many Masons on one side in the Revolution as on the other); the only point at which it chanced to correspond beforehand with the American way was its ancient Landmark of treating each candidate solely on his merits as a man, of compelling him to meet his fellows on the level, and of forcing him to leave his privileges, titles, etc., outside; but it did this not because it had adopted the theory called "democracy"--a word which, like socialism, may mean anything--but because its members were workers engaged in the same work together.
In the paragraphs on RELIGION ONLY FREEMASONRY elsewhere in this Supplement it is stated that Freemasonry never had a theology of its own because Masonry was the art of architecture, and that art, like the other arts and sciences, can never be altered by any theology, church, or religion but is self-same everywhere and always. The same fact is true of Masonry and politics. The principles, formulas, and tools of architecture were the same in feudal Europe as in "democratic" America. If Hitler and Stalin had any need to solve the Forty- seventh Proposition of Euclid they both had to solve it in the same way, because geometry is irrelevant to political regimes. So is astronomy, geology, farming, navigation, music, chemistry, physics, etc.; an automobile cannot be fascist, communist, democratic any more than it can be Jewish, Christian, or Buddhist.
Politics are of highest importance inside their own province; outside it they have no say about anything. Freemasonry stands outside that province. Such Lodges in Europe, especially in Italy and under the Grand Orient of France, as went into politics went out of Masonry in the act of doing so; and the Grand Bodies of more than ninety per cent of the world's Masonry proclaimed the fact by withdrawing fraternal recognition. When the Duke of Wharton tried to bring the young Mother Grand Lodge over to his political crowd of Jacobites the Grand Lodge put him out. If the National Association of Mathematicians were told by one of their members that henceforth mathematics must be Republican, or Protestant, or Anti-Semitic, they would do the same thing and for the same reason. Even the form of organization of a Lodge, its rules of order, its order of business, its regulations, its offices, its etiquette, cannot be described by any one of the labels used by politicians; it is uniquely Masonry's own; as the way of life in America can only be described as American, so with it; its way can only be described as Masonic.
Note. Apropos of what was said above about the second. or social, revolution, so many Americans refused to give up the usages of aristocracy that, under the name of United Empire Loyalists, 35,000 of them moved up to Nova Scotia. and 15,000 moved up into Ontario, most of them--and not always voluntarily!--in the years 1783-4; and still later so many moved up from Vermont that in the War of 1812 the majority of Vermonters refused to enlist in a war against Canada, because they had relatives there. Martha Washington herself was socially a Tory-- to her a " democrat " meant very much what " bolshevist " was to mean a century and a half later. A Washington D. C. daily newspaper referred to Mrs. Dolly Madisor; the President's wife, as "Her Majesty."
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