The Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction:
What Does It Mean? What Has it Caused? Is It Useful?
by Paul M. Bessel(1) (12/28/98 version)
(Please note that this article was written in 1998, and some of the information in it may be out of date now.)
To the extent that Masons are aware of the “doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction,” most believe it means that there can only be one regular, recognized Grand Lodge in each State of the United States and in each other country, that every lodge in any U.S. State or foreign country must belong to the one Grand Lodge in that jurisdiction, and that every regular Grand Lodge adheres to this important policy and has done so for a long time.
This belief has real results. For example, some Masons believe that because of the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction, it is not Masonically legal for any Grand Lodge to recognize a Prince Hall Grand Lodge, as there would then be two recognized Grand Lodges in the same state. Some also believe that this doctrine prohibits any Grand Lodge from recognizing two or more Grand Lodges in any country, such as France where there are several Grand Lodges, more than one of which is “regular” in the sense of following the same basic landmarks that we do.
However, according to expert Masonic authorities the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction does not mean what most Masons think it means. It has never really been in full effect, certainly not in the great majority of places around the world, and not even in the United States. Yet the existence of this doctrine, or of what Masons think the doctrine is, causes problems and may be more harmful than helpful. It has been in the process of disappearing for a while, and it might be helpful for Masonry as a whole to consider whether it should or should not be adhered to now, even in theory.
Non U.S. Grand Lodges with Lodges in Areas Where they Recognize Local Grand Lodges
Most Grand Lodges in the world take it for granted that it is normal and Masonically acceptable for any regular Grand Lodge to recognize and charter Lodges in areas where other Grand Lodges also recognize and charter Lodges, and also to recognize two or more Grand Lodges in the same geographical territory.
The most regular of regular Grand Lodges, the United Grand Lodge of England, today (1997) has chartered dozens of Lodges in several provinces in Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Chile, Portugal, several states in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Togo, at the same time the UGLE recognizes Grand Lodges in each of these countries and provinces.(2) Also, in December 1994 the UGLE (United Grand Lodge of England) officially recognized the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, at the same time continuing its recognition of the A.F.& A.M. Grand Lodge of Massachusetts, with the full support of that Grand Lodge in Massachusetts.(3) Neither the United Grand Lodge of England or the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts felt that the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction prohibited this, or if they might have thought the doctrine prohibited this action, they took it and supported it anyway.
The Grand Lodges of Scotland and Ireland today (1997) also have many lodges chartered under them in countries, provinces, and states where they also recognize local Grand Lodges.(4)
In the past, the Grand Lodge of Hamburg, in Germany, instituted three lodges in New York, and the Grand Orient of France chartered or recognized lodges outside the local Grand Lodges in Louisiana and Pennsylvania.(5)
However, in the United States, some still say that the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction means that “there can be but one recognized Grand Lodge in a state and that it must have exclusive territorial jurisdiction therein.”(6)
The Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction in the United States
The concept of there being only one Grand Lodge permitted in any geographical area is so much an American one, not accepted by Masons anywhere else, that it is sometimes called the “American Doctrine.”(7) But even here, it has often been ignored.
A lodge in Indian Territory, now Oklahoma, that was chartered by the Grand Lodge of Kansas refused to join the Grand Lodge of Indian Territory and apparently was permitted to remain with the Grand Lodge of Kansas in violation of the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction. The Grand Lodge of Minnesota chartered two lodges in Dakota Territory, one before and one after the formation of the Grand Lodge there in 1875. The Grand Lodge of Illinois refused for some time to take jurisdiction over three lodges in its territory that had been chartered by Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee, and the Grand Lodge of Illinois allowed the Grand Lodge of Missouri to revoke the charter of a lodge located in Illinois. The Grand Lodge of Wisconsin issued a dispensation for a lodge in Illinois, claiming the right to do so because Illinois had not stopped the Grand Lodge of Missouri from doing the same thing in Illinois. The Grand Lodge of Missouri chartered lodges in Illinois, and also kept two lodges in New Mexico on its rolls even after it recognized the Grand Lodge of New Mexico in 1877.(8)
An example of one lodge shows how Grand Lodges have ignored the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction whenever they wished. Alexandria-Washington Lodge No. 22, then called Alexandria Lodge and located in Virginia, was chartered in 1783 by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, although the Grand Lodge of Virginia had been founded in 1777, six years earlier, had a Grand Master and other officers in place, and was operating in a peaceful country from 1783 through 1788, and met in November 1784, October 1785, October 1786, and October 1787, all during the time when Alexandria Lodge continued to be chartered by the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, and neither the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania nor the Grand Lodge of Virginia, nor Alexandria Lodge, saw anything amiss or tried to change the Grand Lodge affiliation of Alexandria Lodge.(9)
Five years later, in 1788, Alexandria Lodge surrendered its Pennsylvania Charter and obtained one from the Grand Lodge of Virginia (for reasons that had nothing to do with territorial exclusivity, but Alexandria Lodge’s question whether the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania should declare its independence from the Grand Lodge of England merely because the United States had won its independence)(10), but just 12 years later in 1800 the city of Alexandria was no longer in Virginia. The District of Columbia had then been founded and it included Alexandria. In 1811 when the Grand Lodge of DC was formed all the lodges under the Grand Lodge of Maryland and Virginia that were then in DC territory joined the Grand Lodge of DC that covered their territory — except Alexandria Lodge, which insisted on remaining with the Grand Lodge of Virginia even though it was not located in Virginia.(11) Again, it appears that neither the Grand Lodge of DC nor the Grand Lodge of Virginia objected to this apparent violation of the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction, which was undoubtedly promulgated by that date. As with many things in Freemasonry, we are not sure when the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction began, but Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia indicates that the Grand Lodge of New York stated it in 1796 and “[t]he idea spread by common consent and regard for its merit.”(12)
The Grand Lodge of Virginia also apparently ignored exclusive territorial jurisdiction by granting a dispensation and then a charter to Baltimore Union Lodge No. 21 in Maryland. Although Brown’s history of Virginia Freemasonry says no invasion of jurisdiction was intended,(13) implying that Virginia was not aware if a Grand Lodge existed in Maryland, the History of Freemasonry in Maryland points out that Virginia kept Baltimore Union Lodge on its rolls from 1788 until after 1800, and that when the Grand Lodge of Virginia found out that the Grand Lodge of Maryland was functioning it “should have, at once, revoked the Charter” of the Baltimore Lodge under the Grand Lodge of Virginia.(14) Virginia did not do so, and Maryland does not seem to have complained, indicating that the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction was again ignored. The Grand Lodge of Virginia also chartered Lexington Lodge No. 25 in Kentucky and kept that lodge on its rolls during a time when that was not part of the Commonwealth of Virginia.(15)
In the 1860’s the Grand Lodge of Louisiana complained to other U.S. Grand Lodges that the Grand Orient of France had invaded Louisiana’s territorial integrity by recognizing a body in Louisiana that was not accepted by the Grand Lodge there, and the other U.S. Grand Lodges withdrew their recognition of the Grand Orient of France.(16) While this shows support for the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction, there have been other instances where U.S. Grand Lodges have not reacted at all when a Grand Lodge told them about another Grand Lodge supposedly violating their territorial integrity. For a recent example, the Grand Lodge of Oregon complained to the other Grand Lodges that the Grand Lodge of Idaho violated Oregon’s territorial integrity in 1993(17) (by recognizing a Prince Hall Grand Lodge whose jurisdiction covered both Oregon and Idaho), but all the other U.S. Grand Lodges, except Georgia, refused to take any action. Again, the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction was ignored by U.S. Grand Lodges.
In 1960 (and for many decades before then), the Grand Lodges of Alabama, California, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Vermont, and Wisconsin still recognized both the Grand Lodge of France (GLF) and the National Grand Lodge National (GLNF).(18) A prominent Masonic book on this subject said at that time, “It is evident … that ‘exclusive jurisdiction’ no longer means that all lodges within a defined territory must belong to the same Grand Lodge.”(19)
Even today (1997) Grand Lodges in the United States have chartered lodges in jurisdictions where other Grand Lodges, recognized ones, exist. The Grand Lodge of Massachusetts has several lodges in Panama, Chile, and Japan, where there are existing Grand Lodges that are recognized by the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts as well as others.(20)
In Alaska, where the Grand Lodge of Alaska has 19 or 20 chartered lodges, the Grand Lodge of Washington State also has 3 or 4 chartered lodges.(21) It is sometimes pointed out that the Grand Lodges of Alaska and Washington concur in this arrangement. So, these two Grand Lodges that supposedly give lip service to the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction both accept the fact that some lodges in the territory covered by the Grand Lodge of Alaska can continue to give allegiance to a different Grand Lodge.
Another example of American Grand Lodges taking actions that violate the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction, as that doctrine is generally believed, is furnished by the 28 American Grand Lodges that have recognized additional Grand Lodges in their own jurisdictions in the last nine years. The Grand Lodge of Connecticut, which might have said that no other Grand Lodge could legitimately charter lodges in its state, instead recognized the Grand Lodge of Prince Hall Masonry in that state in 1989.(22) More than half of the Grand Lodges in the United States have since taken similar actions(23), and the United Grand Lodge of England, the Grand Lodge of Ireland, the Grand Lodges of at least 6 Canadian Provinces, and other regular Grand Lodges have also recognized Prince Hall Grand Lodges in states where they continue to recognize the “traditional” Grand Lodges. The momentum is definitely in the direction of more Grand Lodges doing this soon.
At least one American jurisdiction recently very specifically rejected the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction for itself. The Grand Lodge of Oregon, in June 1997, changed a part of its Constitution that previously read, “Powers and Activities of the Grand Lodge … Jurisdiction, Exclusive — To exercise exclusive Original Jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to Ancient Craft Masonry in the State of Oregon,” to read, “To exercise exclusive Original Jurisdiction over all matters pertaining to Ancient Craft Masonry, for its members, in the State of Oregon.” (emphasis added) This was done, it was said, to enable the Oregon Grand Lodge to recognize its Prince Hall counterpart. The report of the Jurisprudence Committee specifically talked about exclusive and concurrent territorial jurisdiction, and said, “Adoption of this proposal would make the State of Oregon an area of concurrent jurisdiction in which any and all Grand Lodges would be free to operate….The decision is irrevocable.” The committee recommended that this change not be adopted, but it was adopted by the Grand Lodge in a vote where ¾ was necessary for adoption.(24)
Michigan’s Grand Lodge took similar action in 1995 and 1996. Its pertinent portion of its Constitution now reads, “This Grand Lodge…is the only source of authority on all matters pertaining to Ancient Craft Masonry within its Chartered Lodges in the States of Michigan.” (emphasis added) The explanation accompanying this change when it was proposed said that exclusive territorial jurisdiction was a “self declared authority.” Instead, the Grand Lodge of Michigan said it is supreme over those Lodges which have received their Charters from that Grand Lodge, which by accepting their Charters agreed to that supremacy for those Lodges.(25)
Stewart W. Miner, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge of DC and a Past Grand Master of Virginia, and a respected scholar of Freemasonry, made the following observations about the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction in 1992: (a) it no longer exists, (b) it was only applied selectively in the past, (c) inconsistent application encouraged challenge, and (d) American Grand Lodges modified their interpretation of it when they deemed it prudent to do so.(26)
What the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction Really Means
In addition to the problems already mentioned, there is a great difference between what most people think the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction means, and what the authoritative Masonic body in the United States on this subject says it means.
It has already been mentioned that most think the doctrine means, as Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia says, that “there can be but one recognized Grand Lodge in a state and that it must have exclusive territorial jurisdiction therein.” However, the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons of North America has defined the doctrine in a very different way.
This Commission was established by the Conference of Grand Masters in 1952. Its purpose was and is to compile information that can be useful for individual Grand Lodges in making their determinations about which Grand Lodges to recognize.(27) The Commission has developed a reputation of being very distinguished and knowledgeable, and although the Commission says, “The Commission neither advises nor recommends that recognition be given to any Grand Lodges….,”(28) it is considered so knowledgeable about issues relating to recognition that its recommendations are sometimes referred to as constituting “recognition” by the Conference of Grand Masters and many Grand Lodges make all their decisions on recognition based on the recommendations of this Commission.(29)
The Commission on Information for Recognition has had to deal with the subject of the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction in great detail, and its conclusions are entitled to great weight. The Commission’s definition of this doctrine is different from what most Masons think the doctrine means, and from the definition provided in Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia. The Commission said:
“There can be no question about Exclusive Jurisdiction. It is a basic principle that a Grand Lodge must be autonomous and have sole and undisputed authority over its constituent Lodges. This cannot be shared with any other Masonic council or power. But the question of exclusive territorial jurisdiction is not so clear cut. In some European and Latin American countries, a geographical or politically self-contained unit may be served by two or more Grand Lodges. If these Grand Lodges and hence their constituent Lodges are working in amity, and both are worthy of recognition in all other respects, this joint occupation of a country, state or political subdivision should not bar them from recognition.”(31) (emphasis added)
In other words, the Commission on Information for Recognition has said that the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction means that all the Lodges chartered by a particular Grand Lodge give their loyalty only to that Grand Lodge, but there can be lodges chartered by different Grand Lodges in the same territory. There can be several Grand Lodges in a single geographic territory, all with many lodges under them, so long as each lodge gives its loyalty to only one Grand Lodges, and the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction is not violated, according to the 1975 statement by the Commission on Information for Recognition as reported and accepted by the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America.
It should be noted that the Commission said this applies where Grand Lodges in the same territory are “in amity,” and repeated this in 1986, saying, “The Commission recognizes that the American doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction is subject to exceptions, one of which is an agreement on the part of the Grand Lodge located in a territory that another Grand Lodge may operate within that territory.”(32) In 1997, the Commission refused to recommend recognition of the new “Regular Grand Lodge of Andorra,” because even though 7 lodges in Andorra formed that Grand Lodge, there are 2 Lodges in that country under the National Grand Lodge of France and 1 under the Grand Lodge of Spain. Thus, the Regular Grand Lodge of Andorra “does not ‘share territorial jurisdiction by mutual consent or treaty.'” (emphasis in original)(33)
Significance of the Doctrine of Exclusive Territorial Jurisdiction and Any Changes
All of this is more than just a possibly interesting historical study. This doctrine, or what most Masons think this doctrine says, has definite effects on policies that are adopted by Grand Lodges today.
Some who are opposed to recognizing Prince Hall Freemasonry sometimes say they are opposed because of the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction; because, they say, is it not possible to have more than one recognized Grand Lodge in any state. Some say this in good faith, and some might say this to hide other reasons for opposing Prince Hall recognition.
Freemasonry’s ritual teaches the importance of honesty in all our dealings in the world, particularly with brother Masons. Therefore, it is important to eliminate any confusion about whether or not it is possible under Masonic law to recognize a Grand Lodge in the same state or territory as another Grand Lodge, or to accept the lodges under that Grand Lodge as being just as regular as ours. There is no question that the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction does not prevent this from happening, and there is nothing at all improper or irregular in those Grand Lodges in states and countries that have recognized Prince Hall or other Grand Lodges in the same places where other recognized Grand Lodges exist.
There is also nothing in the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction that would in any way hinder the Grand Lodge of any state in the United States from, for example, recognizing the Grand Lodge of France at the same time that the National Grand Lodge of France is also recognized, or from changing the situation where the United Grand Lodge of England, on the one hand, and all the United States Grand Lodges, on the other hand, recognize different Grand Lodges in Italy and Greece. Each one could recognize both of the Grand Lodges in those countries, if they wished to.
In short, decisions about which Grand Lodges to recognize should be made on the basis on which ones meet the standards established by each Grand Lodge, and not on the basis of the elusive, confusing, and often-violated doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction. In fact, it might be clearer if the doctrine were simply declared to be no longer useful or in force.(34)
Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, by Henry Wilson Coil, revised by Allen E. Roberts, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, Richmond, Virginia, 1996.
Freemasonry in Virginia (1733-1936), by William Moseley Brown, published by Masonic Home Press, Inc., Richmond, 1936.
Freemasons’ Guide and Compendium, by Bernard E. Jones, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, New York, 1950.
Grand Lodge Recognition: A Symposium on the Conditions of Grand Lodge Recognition, compiled and published by the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, New York, 1956.
History of Freemasonry in Maryland, by Edward T. Schultz, published in Baltimore, 1884.
Information for Recognition: Reports on Grand Lodges in Other Lands, edited by Thomas S. Roy, prepared by the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, New York, 1958.
List of Lodges – Masonic, published by Pentagraph Publishers, Bloomington, Illinois, each year.
Mackey’s Revised Encyclopedia of Freemasonry, by Albert G. Mackey, revised and enlarged by Robert I. Clegg, with supplemental volume by H.L. Haywood, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., New York, 1946.
Masonic Addresses and Writings of Roscoe Pound, published by Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Company, New York, 1953.
Proceedings of Grand Lodges in the United States, for Masonic jurisdictions and for years cited in this article.
Recognition Lists of World Grand Lodges, edited by Thomas S. Roy, prepared by the Commission on Information for Recognition of the Conference of Grand Masters of Masons in North America, 1960.
Regular, Irregular and Clandestine Grand Lodges: A Study in Foreign Recognitions, by Ray V. Denslow, published by The Masonic Service Association, Washington, DC, 1956.
Regularity of Origin: A Study of Masonic Precedents, by Christopher Haffner, published by the Paul Chater Lodge of Installed Masters No. 5391 EC and Lodge Cosmopolitan No. 428 SC, Hong Kong, 1986.
“Reports of the Commission on Information for Recognition” of the Conferences of Grand Masters of Masons in North America, annual reports, for the years cited in this article.
“The American Doctrine: A Concept Under Siege,” by Stewart W. Miner, in 1992 Transactions of Virginia Research Lodge No. 1777, at pages 11-25.
The Lodge of Washington: A History of the Alexandria Washington Lodge, No. 22, A.F. and A.M. of Alexandria, VA., 1783-1876, by F.L. Brockett, published by G.H. Ramey & Son, Publishers, Alexandria, VA., 1899.
“The Regular Freemason: A Short History of Masonic Regularity,” by Michel Brodsky, in Ars Quatuor Coronatorum: Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076, volume 106 for the year 1993, published 1994, page 103.
23. For a complete list of Grand Lodges that have recognized Prince Hall Masonry, including dates of taking action and citations to their Proceedings for details, see the “Prince Hall Recognition” page on the Internet, at http://bessel.org/pha.htm. The Masonic Service Association of North America also issues periodic reports of Grand Lodges that have recognized Prince Hall Masonry.
34. There are other difficulties caused by the existence of the doctrine of exclusive territorial jurisdiction. For example, a man who lives in New Jersey might petition to join a Masonic Lodge in, for example, the District of Columbia, because he often travels there on business, or is planning to move there, or feels a closeness to the member of that lodge. However, New Jersey is said to “own” him by having exclusive jurisdiction over all men in its territory, so the Secretary of the DC lodge has to write to the Grand Secretary of DC, who writes to the Grand Secretary of New Jersey, who writes to the Secretary of the Lodge located near where the man lives in New Jersey, asking if that lodge will give up its “jurisdiction” over this man. If the lodge says it will not, then the man cannot become a Mason unless he joins the lodge that refused to allow him to join the lodge he wanted to join. If the lodge says it will give permission, then New Jersey is said to “waive” its jurisdiction and permit the lodge in DC to vote on whether it will accept him. Waivers of jurisdiction are almost always granted, but the process takes months or years, and often men lose their desire to join any Masonic lodge in the process. At best, this results in useless paperwork and delay. At worst, it convinces more people that Freemasonry is a relic of the past, tying itself up in bureaucracy for no reason, and, most importantly, more concerned with satisfying the territorial desires of some people than in promoting the freedom of each person to decide which lodge he wants to petition to join, and of each lodge to vote on whomever it wishes to have join it. (Some might say that this system allows local people who know the man in, for example, New Jersey, to alert the lodge in, for example, DC, that this man would not make a good Mason. However, in the modern world there is little or no likelihood that local people will know a man any better than those living in another state, and in any case, if the DC lodge, in this example, wanted the benefit of advice from the New Jersey lodge, it could request their advice without being required to apply for a waiver of jurisdiction.
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