The American Masonic Administrative Structures Put into Perspective

In symmetry with American federal institutional traditions, each state, except Hawaii, has since 1813 been granted a sovereign and independent grand lodge that decrees its own rules. With respect to the recognition of third-party obediences, the Landmarks decreed by the United Grand Lodge of England, the dogmatic entity that unilaterally defines the so-called rules governing regularity, which were modified again in 1989, still provide a common platform. There are fifty of these grand lodges, which includes one for the District of Columbia, home of the federal capital. Their jurisdictional authority is exercised over some thirteen thousand white lodges, while the thirty-six Prince Hall Grand Lodges govern some five thousand black chapters, amounting to a total of around five hundred thousand black members today against less than one and a half million white Freemasons today. These are certainly very impressive figures for a European, but they offer much food for thought when compared with the more than four million members Freemasonry could claim in 1957.

In the United States, a national grand lodge would have garnered no more acceptance than an actual centralized civil authority of the Jacobinic variety; however, the United States motto, E Pluribus Unum, retains its full value in the Masonic domain. In fact, it is in the framework of a committee system that the fifty grand lodges manage their interlodge relations. The Conference of the Grand Masters of the Grand Lodges of North America (Mexico, United States, and Canada), which takes place every year, is equipped with an administrative office for which one of the American grand masters assumes responsibility.

It was for these meetings that the grand master of the GODF, Alain Bauer, was exceptionally invited to speak by Grand Master Tom Jackson personally and as a follow-up to an encounter co-organized by myself in Sacramento under the aegis of the relatively progressive Grand Lodge of California and its valiant secretary general, John L. Cooper III.

The event was memorable. It was the first concession-free foray of the GODF into this cenacle governed by Landmarks. The Grand Lodge of France, eternally in search of an improbable recognition by the grand lodges aligned with London, exhibited great rancor about this inroad. The GLNF, on the other hand, showed its complete indifference, knowing that the rules of exclusivity it then benefited from were immutable and were in no way endangered by this circumstantial appearance. It remains true, nevertheless, that even though it did not turn the order of the Masonic world upside down, this speech by a grand master of the GODF, in this very formal context in which major discussions are led as well as major strategic orientations decreed over which the path of consensus prevails, had wide symbolic range. All sides are in agreement on this point.

In addition to symbolic Masonry and the committee system, the American Masonic body includes four rites.

· In the Royal Arch Rite, the grade also known as mark master is only conferred on former worshipful masters of the lodges and constitutes the first of a series of five other capitulary grades. It is organized in a large general chapter whose origin dates from 1798. The local chapters are administered under the authority of a grand chapter in each of the states where they existed. This grade was conferred for the first time in the United States of America as a side degree since 1753, in the Fredericksburg Virginia Lodge.

· The Rite of the Crypt, created in 1783 in Charleston, South Carolina, refers to the sacred vault located beneath the temple of Solomon. Its origins are attributed to the wandering instructors of the time of Westward expansion.

· The Templar Knighthood of the Knights Templar, a Christian rite, was born in 1816. It is organized in a Grand General Encampment for the entire United States and has one Grand Commandery per state that administers the local commanderies.

· The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite is essentially one of high grades following the degree of master Mason, even though a few rare American symbolic lodges practice it in the first three degrees. It is essentially administered by two white sovereign Scottish jurisdictions and two identical black structures under the authority of Prince Hall. This system that claims a regular status governed by the Mother Supreme Council of the World cannot disguise other realities, namely the gradual emergence of more recent liberal jurisdictions in the United States that have signed the Geneva Declaration of May 7, 2005.*1 There will be more on this later.

The oldest of the two major American jurisdictions, and also the largest in terms of membership, the geographical zone it covers, international standing, and internal political influence, is the Southern Jurisdiction (see plate 6 for its charter). Like the United Grand Lodge of England for the symbolic lodges, it asserts its universal primacy by claiming the title of Mother Supreme Council of the World. It was created on May 31, 1801, in Charleston, South Carolina, by a group of brothers who for the most part had fled there from Santa Domingo and who were commonly called the Gentlemen of Charleston.*2

It was they who gave the organization the thirty-three-degree structure that is the predominant one in today’s world, as it has been for two hundred years. It is also this Southern jurisdiction that administers the most widespread Masonic rite. Its administrative headquarters has been located in the federal capital since 1890. In addition to the chapters located in the Southern states, it also includes all those in the states west of the Mississippi River, with a total of some five hundred thousand members divided up among forty-two orients and 221 valleys in thirty-five states.

The Northern Jurisdiction, meanwhile, has its headquarters in Lexington, Massachusetts, and has been exercising its authority in fifteen states since 1813. These states are New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, the six New England states, and, from the Midwest, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Today it enjoys the allegiance of a number of adherents totaling some 350,000 high-grade Freemasons. In 1827, the two jurisdictions signed a writ of territorial distribution that sanctified these borders.

The two Masonic powers of the high grades maintain a regular and tranquil relationship. They recognize some fifty supreme councils in the world that meet every five years in an international conference. Today, and already for several years, the two jurisdictions, while maintaining their individual structures, headquarters, and sovereign grand commanders, have come closer in response to necessity and the severity of the times.

The founders of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction have referred to several texts of the Constitutions to form the foundational doctrinal corpus of the rite. Those of 1762, which is not relevant, strictly speaking, to the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, as it is earlier, is based on a 1758 document related to the Rite of Perfection in twenty-five degrees of the Council of the Emperors of East and West. Jean-Marie Ragon and other historian authors have cast doubt on its authenticity. The fact remains that two copies of this manuscript exist in the archives of the Southern Jurisdiction, both of which have been authenticated: one in 1797 and the other in 1798, by the signatures of Jean-Baptiste de La Hogue and by the comte Auguste de Grasse-Tilly, respectively. They were published in France in 1832 by the Recueil des Actes du Suprême Conseil de France (Collection of the Writs of the Supreme Council of France) and in the United States in 1859. Albert Pike, who was a grand commander of the Supreme Council of the Southern Jurisdiction, published an annotated edition, The Book of the Grand Constitutions.

The second text considered by the American fathers of Ecossisme*3 as authoritative, the Constitution of 1786, is attributed by some authors to Frederick II of Prussia. This document, which is deemed apocryphal today by most historians, was allegedly brought into the United States by the comte de Grasse-Tilly. With typical Anglo-Saxon pragmatism, Pike decided to dodge the question of authenticity in preference for the undeniably foundational text of the Supreme Council of Charleston. At the end of a long circumstantial argument waged with all the qualities of a talented lawyer, he concluded, “There is no evidence against the genuineness of these Grand Constitutions.” But he clearly refrained from asserting the opposite, and the affair was thus settled, even if the extremely extensive studies he undertook attest to the doubt that gripped him. In return for which, the debate on this subject is closed in America. It has been so without truly coming to any definitive conclusion and by emphasizing, not without reason, that we could similarly hold forth on Anderson’s Constitutions and their origins, which trace the history of the Order back to time immemorial.

This was how, once and for all, the Constitutions of 1786 in Latin—recognized as authentic in 1834 by the Supreme Council of France—were imposed first and foremost in the United States, England, Wales, Italy, and Latin America.

Ecossisme, officially born in its jurisdictional translation in Charleston in May 1801, is in some way the culmination of a theorization going back originally to Chevalier Ramsay. In fact, it was this individual who was the first to formulate, in his 1736 speech, the idea then in vogue that viewed Freemasonry as a knightly order that was an heir to the Templars. This is how the Templar legend led, in the second half of the eighteenth century, to the development of the system of high “Scottish” grades that were heir to the English tradition of the Ancients arriving in North America via France and Jamaica. Indeed, it fell first to the Frenchman Étienne Morin to establish in Louisiana the Rite of Perfection in twenty-five degrees, terminating with the Order of the Royal Secret. Morin would later play a major role in its spread out of the Antilles.

It was his English partner of Dutch origin, Henry Franken, whom he named deputy grand inspector, that Morin entrusted, in 1767, with the introduction of Ecossisme into America. As author of important fundamental texts that form an essential source of the corpus of the Order of the Royal Secret, Franken not only achieved a work of scholarship but on December 6, 1786, he also granted patents to two Americans who would later be called on to play a decisive role: Kadosh Samuel Stringer and Moses Michael Hays. Franken also was the individual whom John Mitchell, the future grand commander of the Supreme Council of Charleston, nominated as deputy grand inspector.

The 1793 arrival in Charleston of the comte Auguste de Grasse-Tilly would prompt a new and decisive burst of enthusiasm to the development of Ecossisme in America. Along with six brothers of the symbolic lodge La Candeur (which was created one year earlier and served as the keeper of the patents of the Order of the Royal Secret of Morin-Franken), Franken then contributed to the establishment on January 13, 1797, of the Kadosh Council and, lastly, the Sublime Grand Council of the Princes of the Royal Secret, which would be integrated into the Grand Lodge of the Moderns in 1798. Then, one year later, he left this lodge and founded, in the Orient of Charleston, the Lodge La Réunion Française, affiliated in this instance with the Symbolic Grand Lodge of Ancient York Masons, in which could already be found the names of all those who, on May 31, 1801, founded the Supreme Council of Charleston around two major players: John Mitchell and Frederick Dalcho.

Grasse-Tilly’s return to France in 1804 marked the beginning of the international spread of the Scottish Rite, which returning this way to its first country became the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite. The rite was described by the Supreme Council of France as follows:

Auguste de Grasse-Tilly disembarked in Bordeaux with his family on June 29, 1804. They returned to Paris in the days that followed and Grasse-Tilly, in the expectation of assignment to the army, strove to establish the new degrees within the Scottish lodges.

The Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree in France was created on October 20, 1804. Auguste de Grasse-Tilly was its Sovereign Grand Commander.*4 The Parisian Scottish lodges (La Parfaite Union, La Réunion des Étrangers, Les Élèves de Minerve, Le Cercle Oriental des Philadelphes, Saint-Alexandre d’Écosse), who were in serious conflict with the Grand Orient of France, seized the opportunity to react. The Worshipful Masters and officials of these lodges met on October 22, 1804, in the Saint Alexander of Scotland Lodge and formed a General Grand Scottish Lodge of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. Prince Louis Bonaparte was invested with the title of Grand Master and Grasse-Tilly became his deputy. The general committee that then formed declared “that it is important that the Scottish Rite of Heredom be strictly and scrupulously retained in all the chapters, the grades of the Scottish regime being the sole know in the foreign orients and those by means of which the Freemasons of the entire world can correspond and fraternize, those of the Modern Rite not being accepted in any country.”

But in a gesture of appeasement, dialogue was launched between the Scottish Grand Lodge and the GODF with an eye toward preparing a plan for union.

On November 27, 1804, Joseph Bonaparte became grand master of the GODF, and his younger brother Louis Bonaparte was made adjunct grand master. On December 2, their brother, Napoleon, was crowned as Napoleon the First, emperor of the French, by Pope Pius VII.

On December 3, the officers of the GODF and the Scottish General Grand Lodge met at the home of Marshall Kellermann, where they ratified and signed an act of union that joined the two obediences and created a new Masonic order intended to provide consistent administration of the different degrees—from the 1st to the 33rd—of the two organizations. In the following days, the Scottish General Grand Lodge (combining some dozen chapters) would naturally be led to proclaim the cessation of its activities, whereas the GODF would hold a general assembly for the purpose of examining and ratifying the shared organization plan of the Grand Orient and the lodges and chapters of the Ancient and Accepted Rite. The officials of both obediences would sign the act of union, or pact, which would “henceforth unite in one center all the guiding lights of Masonry and all the rites.”

During the first months of 1805, bonds were formed between Auguste de Grasse-Tilly and Alexandre Louis de Roëttiers de Montaleau, both representatives of the grand master of the GODF. On July 21, the GODF informed its lodges of the creation of a Grand Directory of Rites, which triggered an emotional reaction within the Supreme Council, because this had not been foreseen by the pact of 1804. The Scottish Masons reacted as might be expected, and they initially envisioned—within the framework of a Grand Consistory meeting held on September 6—that there were grounds for restoring the Scottish General Grand Lodge. However, their complaints were satisfied once and for all during a September 19 meeting presided over by Kellerman, with the participation of Auguste de Grasse-Tilly and Roëttiers de Montaleau, in which the pact was modified by recognizing that “the establishment of the Directory was deemed useful,” except for the following changes that were decreed.

The Grand General Directory of the rite would consist of representatives of the rites with three or five for each rite;

Each rite would form its own particular section;

All dogmatic issues or questions submitted to the Grand Orient would be passed on to the section of the rite concerned with that issue, and so forth.

Auguste de Grasse-Tilly—assigned by the marines to Strasbourg, where he should have been since November 23, 1804—actually remained in Paris. He was then assigned to Italy, where he went in 1806, and resigned his duties as sovereign grand commander of the 33rd Degree in France. He was replaced by the archchancellor of the empire, Jean-Jacques Régis of Cambacérès, future Duke of Parma and peer of France. During this time frame, Auguste de Grasse-Tilly’s activity permitted the establishment of Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree of Italy in Milan, of which he was an honorary member and for which Prince Eugene de Beauharnais, Viceroy of Italy, became grand commander. The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite makes its first appearance in the texts of the internal reorganization of the Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree of France, drawn up on November 27, 1806.

In 1809, Auguste de Grasse-Tilly contributed to the creation in Naples of the Supreme Council of the Two Sicilies. On July 4, 1811, he took part in the creation of the Supreme Council of Spain, of which he became an honorary member. During this same time, in Paris, fourteen of the ninety-one lodges of the GODF were Scottish. On August 26, 1815, Supreme Council of the 33rd Degree of France announced through a memorandum “that it had just definitively given its blessing to the independence of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite by the decree it had issued in its session of the eighteenth of this month,” notably specifying that the “centralization of the rites proposed by the Grand Orient of France” was not at issue.

On April 1, 1817, Auguste de Grasse-Tilly granted constitutions for the creation of the Supreme Council of the Netherlands in Brussels, which would merge on December 6, 1817, with the one established on March 16, 1817, by General Royer in the name of the Supreme Council of France. On September 3, 1818, the Supreme Council of France adopted and promulgated the General Statutes of Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite Masonry. Several days later, on September 15, it named, on the suggestion of Auguste de Grasse-Tilly, the earl Decazes, who was a state minister and peer of France, as grand commander pro tempore.

On January 1, 1821, after two years of inactivity, at least by the Supreme Council of France, the council addressed its chapters with a circular that began as follows:

The work of the Supreme Council, long suspended due to imperious circumstances, will finally resume in strength and vigor. During this year of 1821, a veritable reorganization of the rite would be carried out, as well as on the organization of its administrative and financial levels (the earl of Valence would be named Grand Commander and the earl of Ségur Lieutenant Grand Commander). Impressive ceremonies were organized for June 24: the inauguration of the full 21-member Supreme Council, coronation of the new Grand Commander, installation of the new officers of the Supreme Council, establishment of the lodge of the Grand Commandery, and celebration of the Feast of Saint John.

These “Scottish” round trips between France and America, which were distinguished, as is clearly visible here, by cultural idiosyncrasies and, it should be noted, political vicissitudes from both sides of the Atlantic would leave a lasting imprint on the rite. My invitation by the Southern Jurisdiction in September–October 2001 for the official celebration of the bicentennial of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite, held in Charleston, South Carolina, in the fine company of the grand commander of the Supreme Council of France, Henri Baranger, and his actual participation in these commemorations clearly confirm the pragmatic realization by American Freemasons on the longstanding nature of these complex realities, as well as the Franco-American dimension, still quite evident, in the origins of these rites.

This was clearly visible at an earlier time in the writings of Albert Pike in particular. This individual believed that nothing was inevitable and there was no destiny involved in schisms and that the particular features of the rite and its Franco-American sources would allow him to get the best use out of this form of Masonic Esperanto. It was, moreover, he who in 1859 would invite the Supreme Council of the Rue Cadet to a large international Masonic gathering, although nothing came of this invitation. All this may allow those with a fairly distant understanding of these facts, or who are trying to rewrite the history, to better assess the awareness still shared today by historians and “Masonologists” of the common roots of origin. This shared legacy leaves the perspectives to be explored wide open, even if we do find ourselves confronted by sometimes divergent readings of a rite that combines metaphysics and rationality, tradition and modernity, as stated once by Yves Hivert-Messeca, active member of the Supreme Council, Grand College of the Rite Écossais Ancien et Accepté– Grand Orient of France.

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