U.S. Lodges Conducting Business on the 1
History & Current Status of this Issue
by Paul M. Bessel, February 7, 2000
Paper prepared for Pythagoras Lodge of Research, F.A.A.M., District of Columbia
(Important facts mentioned in this introduction have footnote reference citations later in this paper.)
Until recently, every U.S. Grand Lodge required all its lodges to conduct business only when they were open on the 3rd or Master Mason degree. However, in almost every other country in the world, Grand Lodges allow lodges to conduct business when open in any degree, usually the 1st or EA. Many Freemasons have wondered how and why this difference came about, and whether it should be maintained.
Starting about 10 years ago, some U.S. Grand Lodges changed their policies to permit their lodges and Grand Lodges to conduct business while open on the 1st or any degree. As of January 2000, there are 12 (24%) where this is permitted, and several more are considering it.
The topics to be covered in this paper are:
1. When, why, and how did U.S. Grand Lodges, unlike others in the world, come to require that business be conducted only in lodges open on the 3rd degree?
2. When, why, and how did one-quarter of U.S. Grand Lodges recently change their policies to permit lodges to conduct business while open on the 1st or any degree,, and which Grand Lodges have rejected this change or are still considering it?
3. What are the possible benefits or problems when lodges either (a) have to conduct business on the 3rd degree, or (b) can conduct business on the 1st or any degree?
And, in the conclusion section, what should Grand Lodges evaluate when considering whether to allow lodges in their jurisdiction to conduct business on the 1st or any degree, and what details should be considered, such as whether EAs and FCs can vote or ballot, hold elective or appointive permanent or pro-tem offices, receive or participate in Masonic funerals, pay dues, receive dues cards, etc.?
History of U.S. Grand Lodges' Requiring Business on the 3rd Degree
Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia tells us:
"[F]or many persons, the First Degree was the whole substance of Freemasonry, and this early preeminence of that degree persists in England even to the present day; for the Entered Apprentice's lodge is the lodge, that is, the place where all business of the Craft is transacted.... But just the opposite system developed in America, where the Master's lodge became predominant and the Entered Apprentice's lodge became merely a meeting for degree work. The first Degree confers no privilege, except that of attending a lodge of that degree and witnessing the work on other candidates." (1)
Masonic authorities generally say that in U.S. Grand Lodges during the 1700s and early 1800s, we followed the same rules as other Grand Lodges in the world, permitting business to be done in lodges and Grand Lodges open on the 1st (EA) or any degree. (2)
A Digest of Masonic Law published in 1863 said:
"The general rule now is, that all business, except conferring the first and second degrees, must be transacted while the lodge is opened on the master mason's degree. This rule, however, is quite a modern one. We have carefully examined the records of many old lodges, and find that the prevailing custom among them was, to transact general business in any degree upon which they chanced to be open, when the business was brought forward, and to ballot for degrees when open on the degree to which the candidate asked to be admitted. This we believe to have been the general usage until within a very few years." (3)
Albert Pike spoke for the Grand Lodge in Arkansas, in 1854:
"We greatly doubt the antiquity of the usage that requires all ballotings to be had in a master's lodge. It certainly was not known when all the lodges were composed of fellow crafts, and entered apprentices spoke and voted in general assembly. It seems to us, on reason, and in justice also, that the rule should be otherwise. Let the other work be done in a master's lodge. (4)
As late as 1841, a Massachusetts Grand Lodge committee considered a recommendation from the Grand Lodge of Missouri that lodges conduct business while open on the 3rd degree, but the Massachusetts committee, supported by a unanimous vote of its Grand Lodge, said it was the universal practice in Massachusetts lodges to discuss all matters "without any reference as to which of the three degrees they may be open upon at the time, and your committee are not aware that any evils have resulted from this practice. (5)
It is claimed that the change from American lodges conducting business on the 1st to the 3rd degree occurred in the 1840s.
Allen E. Roberts said the Washington convention in 1842 included, as one of its recommendations, that business should henceforth be done on the MM degree, and in less than a decade, by 1851, all U.S. Grand Lodges adopted this suggestion, so EAs no longer were considered entitled to "the franchise of members." (6)
As late as 1856, a Masonic authority in Georgia said:
"Entered apprentices are masons, and by ancient usage were members of lodges. It was only in this country, and not here generally, if we are correctly informed, until after the Baltimore Convention, in 1843, that they were ousted of the latter right, by a resolution, that the business of the lodge should be conducted in the third degree only. This, we think, is wrong." (7)
In 1843 the Kentucky Grand Lodge ordered its lodges to elect their officers in the 3rd degree of Masonry, (8) and the Grand Lodge of Illinois in 1844 received a committee proposal that the Grand Lodge "would recommend" that lodges in its jurisdiction do all their business in an MM lodge, except for conferral of the EA and FC degrees. (9)
Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia are not clear about what policy was followed in our jurisdiction. In May 1833 the Grand Lodge was "opened in ample form on the third degree of Masonry" but just 3 months later Grand Lodge was "opened on the first degree on Masonry." In January 1844 there was a Called Meeting of the Grand Lodge to perform a funeral service for the late Grand Treasurer, and this meeting, too, was "opened in the E.A. degree." (10)
I have not been able to find any clear explanation of why U.S. Grand Lodges changed their policies to require that business be conducted in lodges open on the 3rd degree, or of what they hoped to accomplish by this innovation. Some Masons today say perhaps it was felt to be easier to prevent Masonic opponents from infiltrating our meetings by having business done only in lodges open on the 3rd degree, or that the additional time spent by a candidate leading up to that degree would show the lodge his sincerity, but these explanations do not appear to be persuasive. If a non-Mason wanted to improperly attend a Masonic meeting, he could learn the 3rd degree due guards and signs as easily as those of the 1st degree, and if someone was insincere when he took the 1st degree he would not be any more sincere for having taken the 2nd and 3rd.
Also, the great Antimasonic agitation in the United States occurred in the late 1820s and early 1830s. If there was a need for urgent efforts to prevent non-Masons from infiltrating Lodge meetings, those efforts would be expected to have taken place then, not 10 years later when the agitation was ended. It should also be noted that in the 1820s and 1830s it was extremely common to have exposures of Masonic secrets, of all the degrees. Antimasons, including those who had previously been active Masons but who had renounced or "seceded" from Freemasonry, held mock lodge meetings in initiations in public, in theaters, lecture halls, and on street corners. A decade later, when Grand Lodges started requiring that business in lodges be done on the 3rd degree, all the due guards, signs, and words in all the Masonic degrees, including the 3rd, were well known to the general public. (11) So what security purpose would be accomplished by requiring lodge business on the 3rd instead of the 1st degree?
Whether or not U.S. Masonry changed to requiring business to be done on the 3rd degree only in the 1840s, and in reaction to the Antimasonic movement, or as a result of the efforts at uniformity of the Washington and Baltimore Conventions of 1842 and 1843, it is clear that by the later 1800s and throughout most of the 1900s there was unanimity in the United States that all lodge business, and Grand Lodge work, had to be done while open on the 3rd degree. However, it was recognized that the idea of conducting business on the 3rd, rather than the 1st or 2nd degrees, was an innovation that occurred only in the United States, and only after Freemasonry had been established here for over a century.
Mackey's Jurisprudence says:
"It seems now to be almost universally conceded that all mere business must be transacted in the Third Degree.... Originally...the Fellow Crafts constituted the great body of the Fraternity -- the Master's Degree being confined to that select few who presided over the Lodges. At that time the business of the Order was transacted in the Second Degree, because the possessors of that degree composed the body of the Craft. Afterwards, in the beginning, and up almost to the middle of the eighteenth century, this main body was made up of Entered Apprentices, and then the business of Lodges was necessarily transacted in the First Degree.
"Now, and ever since the middle of the eighteenth century, for over one hundred and fifty years, the body of the Craft has consisted only of Master Masons. Does it not then follow, by a parity of reasoning, that all business should be now transacted in the Third Degree? The ancient Charges and Constitutions give us no explicit law on the subject, but the whole spirit and tenor of Masonic usage has been that the business of Lodges should be conducted in that degree, the members of which constitute the main body of the Craft at this time. Whence it seems but a just deduction that at the present time, and in the present condition of the Fraternity, all business, except the mere ritual work of the inferior degrees, should be conducted in the Third Degree...." (12)
However, in England and most other countries where Freemasonry exists, they have a similar situation where the vast majority of Freemasons are Master Masons, and yet they continue to do their lodge business in lodges open on any degree, usually the 1st.
Recent U.S. Grand Lodge Actions Concerning Business on the 1st or Any Degree
Grand Lodges that Adopted This Change
In April 1987, Connecticut became the first U.S. Grand Lodge since the 1800s to specifically permit its lodges to conduct business while open on any degree. It did, however, require that only Master Masons could vote on candidates for degrees or affiliation, appropriation of lodge funds, bylaws, and "general business, permanently affecting the Lodge." The stated purpose for this change was simply, "To permit Masons who have not attained the Degree of a Master Mason to attend the business meeting of Lodges." (13)
The next year, 1988, the Kansas Grand Lodge Proceedings say a proposal for a similar change failed for the "want of the necessary two-thirds majority," but Kansas later adopted this new policy. (14)
Several years passed, but in 1994 the Grand Lodge of Missouri amended its Bylaws to say that Stated Communications, the ones where business is allowed to be done, may be open on the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degrees. (15)
In 1996 there were 2 additional U.S. Grand Lodges that moved in the same direction.
The Washington State Grand Lodge adopted a resolution that presented reasons why it would be preferable to permit lodges to conduct business on the 1st degree, and then changed its rules to allow the Worshipful Master to decide on which degree to open each meeting of his lodge. However, only Master Masons who have passed their proficiency can vote on petitions for degrees or affiliation, bylaws, trials and discipline, and other matters where that Grand Lodge's Code refers to a vote by "members." The Grand Lodge also adopted a resolution to limit the privilege of voting for or holding lodge office to Master Masons who have completed their proficiency in that degree. (16)
A few months later, the Idaho Grand Lodge voted to allow lodges to open and conduct business on any degree, at the discretion of the Master. There is an exception that balloting on petitions may only be done when lodges are open on the 3rd degree. Also, even in 1st and 2nd degree lodges, EAs and FCs are not allowed to vote, and may participate in debate only at the discretion of the Worshipful Master. (17) The Grand Secretary of Idaho told the Grand Secretary of the District of Columbia that conducting business in lodges open in the 1st or 2nd degree occurs occasionally but by no means has it become "common practice." He added that he feels this is worthwhile because it affords the Lodge an opportunity to invite initiates to partake in Masonic fellowship at an earlier stage in their Masonic travels. (18)
In 1997 another 2 U.S. Grand Lodges changed their policies on this subject, one of them in a very interesting, and controversial way.
The Arizona Grand Lodge adopted a resolution that said business will be done in lodges of EAs, FCs, or MMs, as decided by the Worshipful Master, but only Master Masons can ballot and hold elective or appointive office, except as a member of a committee. It also provided a list of reasons for this change in policy. (19)
Toward the end of 1997, the Nevada Grand Lodge adopted a resolution, by a 90% vote, again with a list of reasons for the change, saying that all business, except conferring of the FC and MM degrees, shall be done in a lodge of EAs, but again only Master Masons who are members of a lodge can vote in that lodge. (Two Past Grand Masters suggested at the Grand Lodge meeting that all should also be permitted to vote, since a large majority of those at meetings would be MMs and there would not be any harm in allowing all to vote.)
Note that this is the only Grand Lodge that does not leave it to the discretion of the Worshipful Master to decide on which degree to open a lodge. All business SHALL be done in lodges open on the 1st degree. This was controversial, because in 1998, and again in 1999, resolutions were introduced in the Grand Lodge of Nevada to (a) go back to the old rule, with all business done on the 3rd degree, or (b) allow Worshipful Masters to conduct business meetings on any of the 3 degrees, but these resolutions were rejected. So, in Nevada, all business must be done in lodges open on the 1st degree, and the only reason to open a FC or MM lodge is to confer those degrees. (20)
In 1998 the Grand Master of Alabama pointed out that there was nothing in that Grand Lodge's rules that prevented a lodge from conducting business on any degree, and the Grand Lodge voted to specifically allow that. The Grand Master told the author of this paper he supported allowing lodges to conduct business on the 1st degree if they wish, and most lodges in the upper part of the State are doing it, because:
"It is extremely time saving and I believe if the Brethren who have just received their EA or FC degrees can see what we actually do, it will make them want to finish their degree work and become an active member of the Fraternity. I believe if you bring a newly made Mason into your lodge and tell him how much he means to you and how proud you are of him, AND THEN turn around and tell him to go off and spend all this time to study a lesson, AND THEN if you think he has done a good enough job THEN he can sit in your lodge. This is not a very Fraternal way of treating a man who you just told how much you appreciated." (21)
The Grand Secretary of Alabama told the Grand Secretary of the District of Columbia that no lodge had reported any problem with conducting business while open in degrees other than the 3rd. He added that while there is some opposition to this practice, especially by some of the older members, overall, Lodges that allow EAs and FCs to attend report that this is very beneficial in advancing candidates, and added a personal observation: "We open and conduct business in the EA & FC degrees at my Lodge (Andrew Jackson # 173). To date, all our FC & MM candidates attend Lodge regularly." (22)
Then, in 1999 there were 4 more Grand Lodges that allowed business to be conducted on the 1st, or any degree.
The Minnesota Grand Lodge, by a vote in April 1999, adopted a resolution that allows the Worshipful Master of each lodge to open and conduct business on any degree, but only Master Masons are considered to be members and only they can vote. (23) The Grand Secretary of Minnesota told the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia that he believes it is still rare for lodges in his jurisdiction to conduct business while open on the 1st or 2nd degrees, but he had heard of a few lodges doing so. He felt it was too soon to tell if this was worthwhile, but added that he had not heard of any problems, and "if one EA could attend then there is no harm done." (24)
Montana handled this subject in an unusual manner. The Grand Lodge voted, and the Grand Master issued a Dispensation, granting authorization to 13 lodges to experiment, from October 1, 1999, to May 1, 2000, by conducing business on the EA or FC degrees if a Brother of one of those degrees is present. Earlier, in 1996, a motion to permit business on the 1st degree failed by 4 votes to achieve a majority, which was needed for adoption by the Grand Lodge of Montana. (25)
The Grand Lodge of Maryland also adopted a resolution in late 1999 permitting, at the discretion of the Worshipful Master, lodges to be opened in any of the 3 degrees and to do all business in any degree except that which relates to a specific degree. Again, it was provided that only Master Masons who are members of the lodge may case a ballot, vote, or participate in debate on any matter coming before the lodge, or exercise any other right or privilege of membership relating to the business of the lodge.
Finally, the Grand Lodge of Colorado is said to have also adopted a resolution permitting lodges to conduct business on the 1st degree.
Grand Lodges that Rejected this Change or that are Considering It
Not every U.S. Grand Lodge that has considered this subject has adopted a change in its policy. The District of Columbia, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Oklahoma, and Texas are known to have rejected proposals to allow lodges to conduct business on the 1st degree.
In 1993 the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia considered a very detailed proposal to require lodge business on the EA degree, but this did not receive the vote needed for adoption. A special committee had been appointed to consider this proposal, and it was discussed at length at an annual leadership retreat. However, the special committee did not arrive at a consensus, and the Jurisprudence Committee recommended rejection. (26)
The District of Columbia again considered this subject in 1999, when a proposal was voted on that would have permitted lodges to conduct business on any degree was defeated. However, some of those voting against the proposal stated they would support this idea if a committee examined it in detail and presented a more detailed report in the future.
Oklahoma's Grand Lodge rejected a 1995 proposal that would have permitted Worshipful Masters to open Stated Communications on any degree, with voting limited to Master Masons. In 1999 the Grand Master appointed a committee to look into this subject again, and late in 1999 the Grand Lodge voted on it. This time the proposal said EAs and FCs would not vote in lodges open on those degrees except on degree proficiencies or during Masonic trials in those degrees. A majority voted in favor of adoption, but it did not receive a majority that was needed for adoption.
It has been reported that the Grand Lodge of Texas considered proposals to allow business on the 1st degree several times, and defeated them by similar margins each time. In 1999 the Grand Master recommended that the Grand Lodge initiate a study of whether lodges should be permitted to conduct business on the EA degree.
In Indiana, in 1999 the Grand Master by edict permitted lodges to conduct business on the 1st degree, but it was not approved by Grand Lodge. It is not clear if it was defeated because of opposition to conducting business on the 1st degree or for other reasons.
Alaska's Grand Lodge considered a resolution to allow Worshipful Masters to open and conduct business on any degree, with only Master Masons being allowed to vote. This was considered at the April 1999 meeting, and was "carried over" to the next Grand Communication.
In Illinois, a provision to permit business to be done at a Stated Communication on any degree, with voting restricted to Master Masons, was on the agenda to be considered at the 1999 Grand Communication, but it was said that it was likely to be laid over for a year.
In New York a proposal to open lodge on the 1st degree for all communications was referred to the Jurisprudence Committee and the Custodians of the work for further study. A vote is likely at the May 2000 meeting. (27)
Possible Benefits or Problems with Allowing Business in Lodges on Any Degree
Many of the resolutions that have been adopted or considered by Grand Lodges on this subject have described the benefits their proponents felt would result from allowing lodges to conduct business on the 1st, or any degree. These have included:
Some arguments have also been presented for not changing the current U.S. majority rule of only allowing business to be done in lodges open on the 3rd degree:
All Masons did business in lodges open on the 1st degree until this was changed in the United States around the 1840s, for reasons that are not clear. From then until the late 1900s all U.S. lodges were required to conduct business only on the 3rd degree, with EAs and FCs excluded from Stated Communications. In the last 11 years 12 U.S. Grand Lodges have changed their rules and allow Worshipful Masters of Lodges to open and conduct business on any degree, with voting restricted to Master Masons. This is different from Grand Lodges outside the U.S., where EAs and above are considered full members of their lodges, with the right to vote.
There are some potential benefits, and some potential problems, if lodges are permitted to conduct business on any degree, or if they are required to open and conduct business only on the 1st degree. If they have discretion, and if problems develop, they can resume conducting business in lodges open on the 3rd degree.
In any case, there are some questions that should be considered by any Grand Lodge considering allowing lodges (and/or Grand Lodges) to conduct business on the 1st, or on any degree:
It is likely that this subject will continue to be discussed, and probably likely that eventually American Masonry will come into line with lodges in the rest of the world, permitting business to be done on the 1st degree. In time, that is likely to become the usual place where business is done, but it also appears that in the United States only Master Masons will be permitted to vote on lodge business.
Still, it would be useful if those Grand Lodges that are considering this subject, and Worshipful Masters who then consider using their discretion to open and conduct business on the 1st or 2nd degrees, would carefully consider how they will do this, and what will or will not be permitted in such circumstances. This will help avoid misunderstandings and controversies that might otherwise arise if and when this change takes place to allow lodge business to be conducted while open on the 1st degree -- or, as some would say, the elimination of the change made in the 1840s that required business to be conducted only on the 3rd degree.
Arizona Grand Lodge Proceedings 1997
Bessel, Paul M., Conversations by telephone, mail, and email messages with Brethren, including Masonic officers, from different parts of the United States and other countries, as referenced in this paper.
Campbell, Douglas, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Minnesota, Response, received January 27, 2000, to a Survey sent to him from the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
Chase, George W., Digest of Masonic Law: Being a Complete Code of Regulations, Decision and Opinions upon Questions of Masonic Jurisprudence, published by Macoy & Sickels, Publishers, New York, 1863.
Connecticut Grand Lodge Proceedings 1987
Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, by Henry Wilson Coil, revised in 1995 by Allen E. Roberts, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., Richmond, Virginia.
District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1832 to 1845
District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1993
The Empire State (New York) Mason, Summer 1999
Hanig, Joseph F., Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Idaho, Response, received January 25, 2000, to a Survey sent to him from the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
Idaho Grand Lodge Proceedings 1996
Illinois Grand Lodge Proceedings 1844
Kansas Grand Lodge Proceedings 1988
Kelley, Gerald D., Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of Alabama, Response, received January 27, 2000, to a Survey sent to him from the Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia.
Mackey, Albert G., Jurisprudence of Freemasonry: The Written and Unwritten Laws of Freemasonry. Revised by Robert Ingham Clegg, and Louis B. Blakemore, 14th Edition, published by The Masonic History Company, Chicago, Illinois, 1953.
Missouri Grand Lodge Proceedings 1994
Morris, Rob, History of Freemasonry in Kentucky, published in Louisville, Kentucky, 1859.
Montana Grand Lodge Proceedings 1997
Nevada Grand Lodge Proceedings 1997
Nevada Grand Lodge Proceedings 1998
Roberts, Allen E., Freemasonry in American History, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1985.
Roberts, Allen E., Masonic Trivia and Facts, published by Anchor Communications, Highland Springs, Virginia, 1994.
Vaughn, William Preston, The Antimasonic Party in the United States 1826-1843, published by The University Press of Kentucky, 1983.
Washington Grand Lodge Proceedings 1995/1996
1. Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, revised edition, 1995, page 188.
2. The Builder magazine, July 1916; and Roberts, Allen. Freemasonry in American History, page 326.
3. Chase's Digest of Masonic Law, 1863, pages 405-406.
4. Chase's Digest of Masonic Law, 1863, page 408.
5. Chase's Digest of Masonic Law, 1863, page 408.
6. Roberts, Allen E. Masonic Trivia and Facts, page 82; and Roberts, Allen. Freemasonry in American History, page 326.
7. Chase's Digest of Masonic Law, 1863, page 408.
8. History of Freemasonry in Kentucky, page 354.
9. Illinois Grand Lodge Proceedings 1844, page 127.
10. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1832 to 1845, pages 8, 14, 234.
11. Vaughn, William Preston. The Antimasonic Party in the United States 1826-1843, pages 18, 50.
12. Mackey, Albert G. Jurisprudence of Freemasonry, Revised by Robert Ingham Clegg and Louis B. Blakemore, 14th edition, 1953, page 221.
13. Connecticut Grand Lodge Proceedings 1987, page 101.
14. Kent and Pope, Freemasonry Universal.
15. Missouri Grand Lodge Proceedings 1994, pages 60-61. Section 7.060 of the Missouri Grand Lodge Bylaws.
16. Washington Grand Lodge Proceedings 1995/1996, pages 89-90, 290-291.
17. Idaho Grand Lodge Proceedings 1996, page 80.
18. Message from the Grand Secretary of Idaho to the Grand Secretary of the District of Columbia, received January 25, 2000.
19. Arizona Grand Lodge Proceedings 1997, pages 47-49, 161-163.
20. Nevada Grand Lodge Proceedings 1998, pages 68-71, and Nevada Grand Lodge Proceedings 1999, pages 89-92.
21. Email message from the GM of Alabama in 1997-1998, Steve J. Brownfield, to the author of this paper, sent on January 14, 1999.
22. Message from the Grand Secretary of Alabama to the Grand Secretary of the District of Columbia, received January 27, 2000.
23. Minnesota Grand Lodge General Regulations, Section G13.10.
24. Letter from the Grand Secretary of Minnesota to the Grand Secretary of the District of Columbia, received January 27, 2000.
25. Montana Grand Lodge Proceedings 1997, pages 110-111, 158-159.
26. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1993, pages 22-27, 49-66.
27. The Empire State Mason (official publication of the Grand Lodge of New York), Summer 1999 issue.
28. The Builder magazine was published from 1915 through 1930, by the National Masonic Research Society. Its editors included Joseph Fort Newton and H.L. Haywood. Many Freemasons, including the author of this paper, consider the articles and other items published in The Builder to be among the best Masonic writing ever done.
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