History of the Relationship of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia
by Paul M. Bessel, January 23, 2000
There are 3 major Masonic grand bodies in France. Our Grand Lodge has recognized each of them, and for a while we recognized two at the same time. We now only recognize one, but another of these grand bodies would also like to be recognized by our Grand Lodge and says it meets all the standards for recognition as a regular Masonic Grand Lodge.
The 3 major Masonic grand bodies in France, and some basic information about each, are:
GOF -- Grand Orient of France -- According to Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, this is the largest and oldest masonic grand body in France. In 1870 the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia Grand Lodge broke relations with the GOF because they recognized a Scottish Rite Supreme Council in Louisiana that the Grand Lodge of Louisiana did not want recognized. Later, in 1877, the GOF adopted a resolution making it an option for a lodge to use the Bible on altars and to require candidates to express a belief in God. Our Grand Lodge has not re-recognized the GOF and is not likely to do so unless the GOF changes some of its basic policies.
GLF -- Grand Lodge of France -- According to Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, this is the second largest and second oldest masonic grand body in France. In 1917 the D.C. Grand Lodge recognized the GLF, which uses the Bible in lodges, requires candidates to express a belief in God, admits only men, and in its practices is as regular as other Grand Lodges that we recognize. Several other U.S. Grand Lodges also recognized the GLF. However, in 1966 we withdrew our recognition of the GLF because the Commission on Information for Recognition recommended that action and all other U.S. Grand Lodges did so, based on a report that the GLF and the GOF had established some coordination on such things as sharing information about applicants. The GLF would like our Grand Lodge and others to reestablish recognition with it.
GLNF -- National Grand Lodge of France -- According to Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia, this is the third largest and third oldest masonic grand body in France. In 1953 our Grand Lodge recognized the GLNF, which had been established in 1913 and which follows regular Masonic practices. From 1953 through 1966, for 13 years, the D.C. Grand Lodge recognized both the GLF and the GLNF as being regular, and specifically said that our policies permit our Grand Lodge to recognize both at the same time, if we wish to do so.
Question: Should the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia consider again recognizing the GLF, which we recognized for 49 years from 1917 through 1966, while we continue to recognize the GLNF, finding both to be Masonically regular, and indicating that we are willing to recognize more than one Grand Lodge in France as we do in other countries?
(Facts in the following chart are from Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia and other sources cited in the Bibliography of this article.)
1870: Break in Fraternal Relations with the GOF - Grand Orient of France
In the early days of Freemasonry, and apparently in the early days of the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia, too, the concept of officially voting to "recognize" a foreign Grand Lodge was not as formal as it is now. The same was true for "de-recognizing" any foreign Grand Lodge.
It is also useful to note that in France the course of Freemasonry has sometimes been confusing. For the purposes of this topic, it is useful to note that there have always been more than one grand masonic body (called a Grand Lodge, Grand Orient, Supreme Council, or something else) in France. Until the 1900s, the major French masonic grand body was the Grand Orient of France (GOF), and the GOF continues to be the largest French masonic grand body to this day. The others that are now significant are the Grand Lodge of France (GLF) and the National Grand Lodge of France (GLNF).
In 1870, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia's Committee on Jurisprudence presented a report to our Grand Lodge that dealt with a jurisdictional dispute in the State of Louisiana. It reported that 12 years earlier a "spurious and clandestine" Supreme Council of the Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite was established in New Orleans and started to confer the 3 Craft degrees within Louisiana. No Masonic grand jurisdiction recognized this group until 1868, when the Grand Master of the Grand Orient of France (GOF) issued a decree in which he recognized it on "socialistic and political grounds." However, when the U.S. Scottish Rite Supreme Councils for the Northern Masonic and Southern Jurisdictions, requested the Grand Master of the GOF to reconsider his action, he replied that he would. Therefore, the Grand Lodge of D.C. resolved that until the GOF annulled its recognition of the "spurious Grand Council of the State of Louisiana," all Masonic intercourse between the GOF and this Grand Lodge is dissolved. (1)
It is very significant, when we remember the time period of this action - shortly after the Civil War - that the GOF decree and report, as printed in the Louisiana Proceedings, states that one of the reasons the GOF recognized this "Supreme Council of … Louisiana" is because that group allowed the initiation of men "without regard to nationality, race, or color." The GOF report mentioned "civil and political equality … between the white and colored races," opposition to slavery, and the necessity of its abolition. (2) Thus, "The split of French Masonry with that of America actually came in 1869 when the Grand Orient [GOF] passed a resolution that neither color, race, nor religion should disqualify a man for initiation." (3)
It is important to note that the severance of relations between the GOF and American Grand Lodges, including ours, had nothing to do with any change in the policy of the GOF concerning the place of the Bible in lodges, or whether candidates for Freemasonry would be asked if they had a belief in God. Those actions took place in 1877, long after recognition had been withdrawn. The cause of the cutting of ties with the GOF by our Grand Lodge in 1870 was a jurisdictional dispute in Louisiana. In addition, our Grand Lodge Proceedings indicate that the severance of ties with the GOF was tentative, and it is also important to note that our severance of fraternal relations with the GOF in 1870 had nothing whatever to do with the Grand Lodge of France (GLF), or the National Grand Lodge of France (GLNF) which did not yet exist at that time. (4)
1914: First Comments by District of Columbia Grand Lodge on the GLNF
In 1914, the D.C. Grand Lodge Committee on Correspondence reported that a group of French Masons had recently seceded from the GOF, formed the "Grand Lodge National, Independent and Regular for France and the French colonies" (GLNF), and been recognized by the United Grand Lodge of England. It told our Grand Lodge that it was regular but our Correspondence Committee said it wanted time to verify this. Also, our Committee pointed out that the 1870 rupture of relations with the GOF could automatically be ended if the GOF informed us that it had ended its support of the spurious Louisiana body (which might not even have been in existence by 1914). Thus, the GOF could automatically reclaim recognition, and if our Grand Lodge recognized the new "GLNF," we would then be in the position of recognizing 2 Grand Lodges in France. This would create a problem:
"It has become a fixed principle in American Masonry to recognize but one Grand Lodge in any one place, and though this principle may be of modern origin it is faithfully adhered to in this Republic.
"It might, therefore, be a matter of embarrassment to this Grand Lodge to formally recognize this seceding body of Masons and then be confronted by the information that the Grand Orient had acceded to the conditions imposed in our 1870 resolutions and claimed the resumption of fraternal relations.
"Your committee therefore recommends that action on this petition for recognition be postponed."
No mention was made of the Grand Lodge of France (GLF), which was in existence in 1914 (and had been since at least 1894) when the GLNF made this request for recognition, because it appears that the GLF had not made any request for our recognition. (5)
1917: District of Columbia Recognition of the GLF - Grand Lodge of France
In April 1917 the United States entered World War I on the side of the Allies, primarily Great Britain and France. There was a tremendous surge of patriotism and brotherly affection between Americans and the British and French. Among other signs of this feeling was a resolution adopted on December 13, 1917, by the Grand Masters of 22 American jurisdictions including the District of Columbia, that included the following language:
"It has long been a source of deep regret in the minds of American Freemasons that, in their opinion, substantial reasons existed which prevented their fraternal affiliation with the Masons of France, and that regret is now largely increased by the fact that their country and our country are inseparably yoked together in a mighty struggle for the establishment of the principles that they and we stand for." (6)
Less than a week after this resolution was adopted by 22 Grand Masters, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia held its annual Grand Communication. The Committee on Correspondence reported that our Grand Lodge had received a letter from the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of France (GLF), in which he requested formal recognition and exchange of representatives with the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia. The Committee found that the request was in due form, that it had been formed as described by the GLF, and that it did not share the policies of the Grand Orient of France (GOF) concerning the place of God in lodge practices and was not connected with the GOF. The Committee "cordially" recommended formal recognition and an exchange of representatives with the GLF, and this recommendation was adopted by our Grand Lodge.
No mention was made of the GLNF, which our Grand Lodge knew about, having considered its request for recognition just 3 years earlier, and having rejected it in part because of the possibility of the GOF again becoming recognized by our Grand Lodge and thus putting us in the position of recognizing 2 Grand Lodges in France. (7) The possibility of recognizing 2 Grand Lodges in France was apparently of no concern in 1917.
Including our Grand Lodge's recognition of the GLF, 23 U.S. Grand Lodges recognized and/or permitted visitation with the GLF during the World War I period. (8)
From 1917 to 1966, about 50 years, the Grand Lodge of the District of Columbia and the Grand Lodge of France (GLF) were in an official and formal state of recognition, just as we recognize other Grand Lodges, and we named representatives to each other's Grand Lodge.
1952 and 1953: D.C. Simultaneous Recognition of the GLNF and the GLF
In 1952, the Correspondence Committee of our Grand Lodge again considered France. It said the GLNF had requested recognition, having already been recognized by England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and 20 U.S. States. The Committee pointed out that the GLF was constituted in 1904 (although the GLF dates is beginning to 1894 or earlier) and recognized by our Grand Lodge in 1917. As of 1952, it was recognized by 6 U.S. Grand Lodges. However, instead of saying that the GLNF's request for recognition could not be considered because we could only recognize one Grand Lodge in France, this time the Correspondence Committee recommended that "any change of recognition in France should be made only after proper consideration and disposition of the exiting recognition." (9)
Then, in 1953, our Grand Lodge took some interesting actions. A Special Committee to revise the Standards of Recognition reported its recommendations for changes in the requirements that would henceforth be used by the District of Columbia Grand Lodge when deciding whether or not to recognize a foreign Grand Lodge. Among the changes was an amendment to a provision that had previously (since 1930) stated that to be recognized, a Grand Lodge would have to have:
"... sole, undisputed and exclusive authority over the symbolic lodges within its jurisdiction ...." (10)
In the new recognitions standards, which are still in effect today, to be recognized a foreign Grand Lodge had to have:
"... sovereign jurisdiction over the Lodges under its control; ... with sole, undisputed and exclusive authority over the Craft or Symbolic Degrees ...; ... and that it does not extend its authority into, or establish lodges in, a territory occupied by a lawful Grand Lodge, without the expressed consent of said Grand Lodge ...." (11)
While this might be interpreted as retaining the "Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction," the American masonic doctrine that since the late 1700s was felt by many to mean that each U.S. Grand Lodge could only recognize one Grand Lodge in any U.S. State or foreign country, it could also be interpreted differently. (12) However, immediately after the adoption of the change in recognition standards, the Committee on Correspondence submitted a report on the GLF and the GLNF. It repeated that the Grand Lodge of D.C. had been in recognition with the GLF for 36 years, but quoted from letters, including one from the Grand Master of the GLF, that said some lodges in the GLF had not returned the Bible to their altars but that the GLF in 1953 reminded all lodges to do this. No change was suggested in D.C.'s recognition of the GLF. The Committee then recommended that our Grand Lodge also recognize the GLNF, and said:
".... The approval of this recognition, while continuing the former recognition of another Grand Lodge in the same territory is not in conflict with the 'Basic Principles for Grand Lodge Recognition' which was just adopted. Your committee base their recommendation on the belief that the Declaration of Basic Principles adopted by and presented in behalf of the [GLNF] meets our requirements.... The Grand Lodges of Alabama, California and Rhode Island recognize both the [GLF] and the [GLNF]."
Our Proceedings say this "report was then considered and the recommendations approved, which resulted in the continued recognition of the [GLF] and the recognition of the [GLNF] and the exchange of representatives." (13)
Thus, our Grand Lodge had clearly and knowingly recognized 2 Masonic grand bodies in France, which were known not to recognize each other or to support having any other Grand Lodge recognize the other. It can be said that our Grand Lodge has not adhered to the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction since 1953, specifically in the case of France. (14)
1965-1966: Withdrawal of Recognition of the GLF - Grand Lodge of France
The Commission on Information for Recognition was established by the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in 1952, to coordinate the effort to find out about foreign Grand Lodges so U.S. Grand Lodges could make their decisions, individually, about which ones to recognize. The Commission is now the most influential and knowledgeable body in the U.S. about recognition issues.
In 1958, the Commission wrote in one of its reports:
"There can be no question as to the regularity of both of these Grand Lodges in France [GLNF and GLF], apart from the regrettable circumstance of the relations of the Grand Lodge with the Grand Orient of France." (15)
In February 1965 the Commission reported that it received a letter from the Grand Master of the GLF, in which he said the GLF and the GOF had agreed to a compact that their Grand Secretaries would communicate with each other about such things as their memberships and candidates. Although the GLF did not say so, and denies it, the Commission commented about this compact:
"This is an acknowledgment of the validity and regularity of the Grand Orient as a Masonic body, and such an acknowledgment is not acceptable to regular Grand Lodges....
"By its compact with the Grand Orient of France, a body outside the pale of regular masonry, The Grand Lodge of France has forfeited all claim to be considered a regular Grand Lodge, and therefore all right to recognition." (16)
However, there are other Grand Lodges that then and now have ties with unrecognized Grand Lodges, and the Commission did not make it clear why this particular agreement between the GLF and the GOF was in such a different category as to require such an extreme reaction.
In August 1965, The New Age Magazine (now called The Scottish Rite Journal), the official publication of the Supreme Council of the Scottish Rite, Southern Jurisdiction of the U.S., published a Grand Commander's Message in which he described the GOF as "a hopelessly irregular, clandestine, illegitimate Grand Lodge." He then accused the GLF of making an alliance with the "spurious Grand Orient," and thus making the GLF "and all its members irregular and clandestine." In fact, the Grand Commander said he suspended fraternal relations with the Supreme Council for France on January 14, 1965. (17)
Following these leads, the Correspondence Committee of the D.C. Grand Lodge in December 1965 presented a report about France. It said that although the GLF required the presence of the VSL in its lodges, it "was either unwilling or unable to enforce this requirement in every instance during the past decade," although our committee did not say how it knew, or thought, that this was a fact. Our committee then reported on the compact between the GLF and the GOF, as described by the Commission on Information for Recognition and the Scottish Rite's Grand Commander, and said it was bringing this to the attention of our Grand Lodge because, "after 48 years of fraternal recognition with the Grand Lodge of France," its "failure to strictly observe the presence of the Volume of the Sacred Law on the masonic altar at all times when a lodge is open, and because a closer intimacy with the Grand Orient of France, are cause of grave concern among regular Grand Lodges." [sic] Our Correspondence Committee concluded by saying it was watching developments. (18)
The following year, in May 1966, the Correspondence Committee of our Grand Lodge dropped the other shoe. It recommended withdrawal of fraternal recognition of the GLF. The committee repeated portions of the Commission on Information for Recognition's report from the previous year, and quotes from the Scottish Rite Grand Commander's article on the previous year, and spoke very favorably about the GLNF and its efforts to replace the Supreme Council for the Scottish Rite in France. Our Grand Lodge was also told that the only Grand Lodge in the U.S. that then recognized the GLF besides our own was the Grand Lodge of Louisiana, and recommended that our Grand Lodge rescind the recognition of the GLF, while making no change in our recognition of the GLNF. Our Proceedings indicate that this recommendation was adopted. (19)
Since 1966, it appears there has been no change. The GLNF is recognized by our Grand Lodge and all others in the U.S., and the GLF is not recognized by ours or any other U.S. Grand Lodge. However, some representatives of the GLF who have spoken with U.S. Masons have said that their Grand Lodge is and always has been regular (Bible on lodge altars, candidates required to state belief in God, only men in lodges, etc.) and that the comments made by others about the GLF in 1965-1966 and later were and are inaccurate. They claim they are as regular in their practices as the other Grand Lodges that we recognize, and they should be recognized, too. Some GLNF representatives tell us that the GLF does not allow the Bible or God in its lodges, admits women, and is irregular. This is a factual matter, that probably could be resolved by a detailed investigation.
Some might claim that even if the GLF is regular, it cannot be recognized at the same time we recognize the GLNF because the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction only allows us to recognize one Masonic grand lodge in France. However, our Grand Lodge recognized the GLF 36 years before we recognized the GLNF, and in 1953 we recognized the GLNF while still recognizing the GLF. If we were not permitted to recognize two Grand Lodges in France, then we had no right to recognize the GLNF in 1953 and should have continued to only recognize the GLF. Since 1953 there have not been any changes in our standards for recognition, so if in 1953 we could recognize both the GLF and add recognition of the GLNF, at the present or any future time we could continue to recognize the GLNF and also recognize the GLF.
Bernheim, Alain. "A Brief History of French Freemasonry," in The Plumbline, Spring/Summer 1997, vol. 6, no. 1, p. 1.
Bessel, Paul M. "U.S. Recognition of French Grand Lodges in the 1900s," in Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society, volume 5, 1996, pages 221-244.
Brodsky, Michel. "The Regular Freemason: A Short History of Masonic Regularity," Ars Quatuor Coronatorum, vol. 106 (1993), p. 103.
Coil, Henry Wilson, et al. Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia. Rev. ed. Revised by Allen E. Roberts. Richmond, Virginia: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, 1996.
Conference of Grand Masters 1965 Transactions
Denslow, Ray V. Freemasonry in the Eastern Hemisphere, published by the author, 1954.
District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1870, 1914, 1917, 1952, 1953, 1965, 1966
Haffner, Christopher. Regularity of Origin: A Study of Masonic Precedents. Hong Kong: Paul Chater Lodge of Installed Masters No. 5391, E.C. and Lodge Cosmopolitan No. 428, S.C., 1986.
Miner, Stewart W. "The American Doctrine: A Concept Under Siege," 1992 Transactions of the Virginia Research Lodge No. 1777, pp. 11-25 (paper delivered at that lodge on March 28, 1992).
The New Age Magazine (now called The Scottish Rite Journal), August 1965
Roy, Thomas S., ed. Information for Recognition: Reports on Grand Lodges in Other Lands. Ed. Thomas S. Roy. New York: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, 1958.
1. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1870, pages 6-7.
2. Louisiana Proceedings 1869, pp. 76, 78.
3. Ray V. Denslow, Freemasonry in the Eastern Hemisphere, p. 170.
4. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1917, page 335.
5. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1914, pages 95-96.
6. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1917, pages 82-83.
7. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1917, pages 100-102.
8. Bessel, Paul M. "U.S. Recognition of French Grand Lodges in the 1900s," in Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society, volume 5, 1996, pages 221-244.
9. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1952, pages 52-53.
10. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1930, page 19.
11. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1953, page 48.
12. For details about the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction, see Stewart W. Miner, "The American Doctrine: A Concept Under Siege," 1992 Transactions of the Virginia Research Lodge No. 1777, pp. 11-25.
13. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1953, pages 49-50.
14. Our Grand Lodge also recognizes more than one Grand Lodge, each claiming jurisdiction over common territory, in Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia.
15. Roy, Thomas S., ed. Information for Recognition: Reports on Grand Lodges in Other Lands, page 105.
16. Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America 1965, pages 40-41.
17. The New Age Magazine, August 1965, pages 3, 54-55.
18. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1965, pages 41-42.
19. District of Columbia Grand Lodge Proceedings 1966, pages 15-17.
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