AMERICAN MAINSTREAM MASONRY:

A STUDY IN ISOLATIONISM, PAROCHIALISM

AND STATES RIGHTS

 

American Masonry (and by that I mean USA Masonry) grew up and matured mimicking our civil, political formations and process and mirroring the same thought and state of mind. George Washington both a civil political leader and a Freemason warned us to “Beware of Foreign Entanglements” and throughout the 19th century, even though the USA might have been a bully in its Manifest Destiny march to the Pacific, it stayed pretty much to itself not getting involved in European or Asian piques and quarrels. The mindset of America was very parochial – mind your own business, keep everything local, don’t concern yourself with other nations, other peoples, other American states.  Community was the focal point of life and community meant the local village and town where you lived and worked just as your father had before you and his father likewise.

American Masonry grew up then as a Lodge in every village and town which enlisted the leaders, the shakers and makers of society in that community.  Thus you had “Moon Lodges” which met on the night of the full moon so that men walking to Lodge had a lighted path to the Masonic Temple.  American Masonry never met with 20 Lodges all sharing the same Masonic Building as British Masonry evolved into. Each Lodge had to have its own building.  Each Lodge had to remain separate – “Beware Foreign Entanglements”.  Yes the local Brothers all knew they were chartered and owed homage to the greater Masonic community – their state Grand Lodge.  Few, however, ever set foot inside Grand Lodge.  Masonry was the local community Lodge and that was everything. No Masons ever thought of themselves as American Masons.  There was no National Grand Lodge. There was no inter- cooperation among state Grand Lodges and little fraternization on a national scale.  Isolationism and parochialism ruled the day.

Civilly  the doctrine of “States Rights’ was preached, which remained strong in the South and West right up through the 1960s when efforts of Integration were met with – “it’s none of the federal government’s business, it’s up to the states – States Rights.” The federal government was a power over national concerns only and the power of states in regional or state only affairs remained supreme and within states the city, town and village remained as powerful as the state itself.  America was a bottom up society not a top down one.  American Masonry was a bottom up Fraternity not a top down one.  And as a bottom up Fraternity Grand Lodge was stocked with Officers the bottom put there to continue the division of power and responsibility on the level it had evolved into.  That is Grand Lodge sat at the pleasure of its local Lodges and not the other way around.  This was all to change, however as the future will show us.

To match this mindset American Mainstream Masonry adopted The Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction to keep out foreign entanglements, to keep Masonry in a region free from competition, to maintain “States Rights” but above all to lock out Black Masonry.  American Masonry was thus enabled to be isolationist and parochial, a fraternity free from outside interference, from others meddling in the affairs of what was established or from anyone providing an avenue where anybody with “fancy ideas” could gravitate to. When Blacks sought admission into Mainstream White Masonry they were told to apply to their own “Colored Lodges”. When Black Lodges applied for inclusion into Mainstream Grand Lodges they were told to form their own Grand Lodge.  When charges of racism were made Mainstream Masonry said – “Oh no, we are only enforcing the Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction.  We are not racist.” And they would add – “If Black Masonry had not formed its own Grand Lodge we would gladly admit them.  But since they are a separate Grand Lodge the Right of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction permits only one Grand Lodge per state.” This was both a civil and a fraternal way of thinking, namely that - we govern ourselves, we take care of our own, we do not need anyone from outside our community telling us what to do, we run our own affairs. This was the parochial mindset of Isolationism and States Rights. And the same reasoning was used as to why the local lunch counter and the public school were not integrated.  It was never about color, it was just about States Rights.

Now some saw a need for some sort of cooperation and commonality between Grand Lodges as early as 1840.  They saw the need because a catalyst propelled them to think about all of American Masonry not just their own little self absorbed Masonry.  That catalyst was the Morgan Affair.  Masonic leaders from various regions realized that what one Grand Lodge did or one group of Masonry did affected all of Masonry.  The Morgan affair was not just a concern of the Grand Lodge of New York.  It propelled into all of America an anti Masonic sentiment and an Anti Mason political party. Thus was born The Baltimore Conventions of the 1840s, a response to a national Masonic crisis.

But it took a crisis for American Masonry to think of itself as one, as the same fraternity throughout all the states, as something that was bigger than state lines and in need of protection and guidance from more than just  one state Grand Lodge. Masonry needed to speak as American Masonry in response to those who were trying to outlaw it and banish it from their midst. AMERICAN MASONRY NEEDED AN AMERICAN IDENTITY. And for awhile it had one.  But the wedding was short lived and soon after The Morgan affair had blown over and the Civil War became our civil focus Masonry went back to its parochial ways and of course States Rights was the cry of the South for its right to secede from the Union.

Now much of Masonry (but not all) has remained with this mindset which has translated in the way it looks at life and the way it sees Masonry in the grand scheme of things. American Masonry has remained stuck in the 19th Century in its mindset, it has not changed. BUT EVERYTHIG ELSE AND EVERYONE ELSE HAS.

The 20th Century changed the political, civil landscape drastically.  WWI was followed by WWII, the Cold War, Korean War and Vietnam. America no longer was heeding the advice of George Washington.  The USA was now and still is the policeman of the world.  That’s why we are in Iraq. We no longer just take care of ourselves.  Isolationism went out the window with the attack on Pearl Harbor and it has not reappeared. Nebraska farmers who had never been outside their state were now fighting on Pacific Islands or battlefields of Europe.  And when they came back home, if they made it, their parochial, isolationist States Rights way of thinking was no more. On the home front the role of the federal government had drastically expanded with the advent of the New Deal.  States Rights were left to the Old Confederacy who was once again to use them to block Black Integration.

The 21st Century changed the societal landscape drastically.  The rise of “The Information Age” has changed our everyday world in myriad different ways.  Instant communication is available around the world at the touch of a finger.  Book keeping, accounting, record keeping are just a few of the areas that underwent complete makeovers, areas in which Masonry is for the most part still doing things the old way. Freemasons from different jurisdictions and Grand Lodges not only in America but all over the world are able to easily communicate and share ideas instantly.  We as a fraternity all now know what the other guy is doing.

And the individual citizen of the United States?  He no longer thinks of himself as a Californian or a Virginian or a Wisconsinite or a Texan. He first thinks of himself as an American.  And he no longer is born into a community, goes to school there, works there and dies there. He could be raised in Kentucky, go to school in California, get his first job in Massachusetts, transfer to Texas and retire in Florida.  The civil, political and societal changes have transformed America and its citizens into Americans first. You can get into a jet plane and be anywhere in the USA in four hours or less (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). And we do.

Back in the Craft we still think like pre World War One Isolationists and States Righters.  We, as 50 Grand Lodges, refuse to cooperate with each other.  We refuse to criticize each other.  We cannot police ourselves because we cannot get out of the Isolationist, parochial, States Rights mindset. The sad part is that most individual Masons could care less about the petty, nit picking, oftentimes silly rules and regulations from one Jurisdiction to another. Masons do not want to get involved in Jurisdictional squabbles.  They don’t really want to operate with one set of values in one region and another set of values in another region.  They don’t care about all the petty bullsh*t.  They just want to be Masons, American Masons.  But Masonry in the USA does not want Masons to be American Masons.  They want them to be Californian Masons or Floridian Masons or Texan Masons. But American Masonry has forgotten the lesson of history, that what one Jurisdiction does affects every other Jurisdiction and what one Mason does affects a great many others.

There has been one big change in the way American Masonry governs itself.  It no longer is a bottom up fraternity; it is a top down one – but 50 different top downs.  The parochialism has advanced to the state level and the community and the local Lodge have very little power left.  A good portion of this was the result of the post Vietnam decline in Masonry and the failure of local Lodges to satisfy Grand Lodge fears of poverty and extinction.  So just as civilly in wartime we give government and the President more power to deal with an external threat we gave Grand Lodge and Grand Masters more power to solve problems they saw as a threat to the Craft. Now Grand Masters have taken that power and expanded upon it to the extent that in some cases it is capricious and arbitrary. This has resulted in ill will and hard feelings and open battles.

Recently in our lifetime we have seen two new great catalysts.  On the civil, political front we have suffered the first attack against America on American soil since colonial days with the destruction of the World Trade Center in New York.  America, as a nation, is responding to this attack and has taken steps to insure the safety of all Americans and to fight the War On Terror. On the Masonic front we have seen the first Grand Master to expel another Grand Master and without a Masonic Trial. American Masonry is not responding to this crisis and it will not and cannot until it decides it is way past time for the Craft to have an American Identity.

 

 

         

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