On December 11, 1810, delegates from the five Masonic lodges operating in the District of Columbia met to consider forming their own governing body, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. At their second meeting, the delegation established a constitution committee, their first committee assignment, to develop the new body’s first set of governance policies and regulations. The Grand Lodge Constitution was eventually adopted on July 9th, 1811 but it would take more than a decade for a printed version to be published and disseminated across the jurisdiction.
The rules and regulations of the Grand Lodge have evolved over the proceeding two centuries into a large and comprehensive volume of organizational rules and regulations. The following is a brief overview from the earliest printed iteration of our Masonic Constitution, which may provide an interesting insight into how our predecessors thought about the business and operations of our Grand Lodge.
The first printed version of the Constitution was published by Edward De Krafft around June 1822. The Grand Lodge ordered 250 copies at a total cost of $18.00 (about $400 today). According to Article 1, the Grand Lodge met two times a year, on the first Tuesday of May and November at 10 o’clock A.M. Delegates were seated by lodge, based on the lodge’s seniority. It was the role of the Pursuivant to attend to the admission of every delegate and ensure they found their proper seat.
Voting and the Role of the Past Master
This process has changed considerably since 1822, as the Deacons and Stewards are now elected in the same manner as the other elected Grand Lodge Officers. The Grand Master now appoints a Marshall, Sword Bearer, Pursuivant and a host of other officer positions developed since 1811. The Office of the Grand Lecturer and Visitor was established in 1822 but was not filled until 1824.
Articles 5, 6, 13, and 14 of the original Constitution outlined who were considered active or honorary members of the Grand Lodge and their voting eligibility. Unlike today, the voting membership was composed of four blocks:
- Grand Lodge Officers, except for the Grand Tyler.
- Five Past Masters from each lodge. A past master was considered anyone who served as Master for at least six months.
- Past Grand Masters, Deputy Grand Masters, and Past Grand Wardens were entitled to one collective vote.
- Each lodge was also entitled to a collective vote of the Past Masters, except for those who had cast a vote in any other block. If a representative lodge did not have any Past Masters present, the remaining delegates of that lodge may cast the Past Master’s vote.
Penalties, Fines, and Dues
A constituent lodge could also be fined $5 if no representatives attended a stated or emergent communication, and a lodge could be further fined $5 if the Secretary failed to submit an annual return to the Grand Lodge by the November communication, or if an error was made in the return. The Grand Lodge was authorized to seize a lodge’s charter if it failed to submit annual returns for two years.
Each lodge was assessed dues annually based on two figures:
- $1 (or $21.50, in 2018) for each new member “made.”
- $.50 (or $10.77, in 2018) for each member on the lodge roll.
The per capita figure of $.50 in 1822, when adjusting for inflation in 2018, is very similar to the figure we have today $11-12. A lodge that did not paid their assessment was ineligible to vote in Grand Lodge.
The Role of the Grand Lodge vs. the Grand Master
The Grand Lodge shall have, exercise, and enjoy, full and complete appellant and corrective powers, in all cases relating to the craft, within its jurisdiction, to assess such contributions from time to time, […] to warrant and organize Lodges in this District.
The Most Worshipful Grand Master to preside when present; he may call an extra meeting of the Lodge when an emergent occasion shall require; he shall preserve peace and harmony in the Lodge, or cause it to be done.
By 1861, Article 12 had become Article 6 and expanded the role of the Grand Master greatly. The Grand Master not only had the duty and authority to preside over all Grand Lodge communications, but was charged to also “see that the laws of the Order were duly obeyed and the duties of his officers faithfully performed.” Three additional sections were included that noted the Grand Master was vested “with power to grant Dispensations whenever he shall deem it expedient, for the formation of new Lodge.” And further, the Grand Master “has command of every officer of the Grand Lodge, and may call on any or all of them at any time for advice and assistance, on any business connected with the Craft.” (Section 3).
Additional Points of Interest
- While Article 9 focused primarily on annual returns, a sentence was included to cap the number of candidates who could be initiated in a constituent lodge, at any one meeting, to five.
- A curious note was included in Article 10, which detailed the line of succession in the absence of Grand Lodge officers: if the Grand Master, Deputy GM, or the Grand Wardens were unavailable, then the Senior Officer of a Lodge shall preside. “In case there be two [Senior Officers] of the same grade; the officer of the Senior Lodge shall preside.“
- A list of six standing orders were included in the back of the Constitution pamphlet. Orders 1 and 3 are of particular interest as they authorized the practice of grand visitations and set the Grand Secretary’s salary, respectively.
Overtime the rules and regulations of the Grand Lodge expanded into a large and, at times, complicated mess. New Grand Lodge positions were created, existing officers roles changed, new election processes adopted, and advances in technology brought up new questions around masonic jurisprudence.