William L. (William Leete) Stone.

Letters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams online

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preside over a lodge of master masons. The degree is usu-
ally conferred by chapters of Royal Arch Masons ; but any
master mason, on being elected to preside over a lodge, is
entitled to receive this degree, without placing himself with-
in the jurisdiction of the chapter, and must receive it,
before he can enter upon the discharge of his official duties.
When, therefore, any Mason of three degrees only, is elect-
ed master of a lodge, a pro. tern, lodge of individual past
masters is organized, specially, for the purpose of conferring
this degree. And when a master Mason has thus received
it, he is eligible to the office of master of the Grand Lodge,
and thus becomes grand master. Hence, sir, you will per-
<;eive, that a man who is not in fact a high Mason, may ne-
vertheless be' dignified by a grand title. Such is in truth the
position of a distinguished citizen of Kentucky, who is now
a candidate for that exalted station which was lately filled
by youi^elf. He has " passed the chair," but is only a Ma-



^n of three degrees ; and having once, many years ago,
been elected as grand master of the master Masons of Ken-
tucky, it has suited the present views of clamorous and
uncandid partizans, to make the attempt of exciting the
Anti-masonic prejudices against him, by proclaiming him to
be " a high Mason." What measure of success will attend
the unworthy effjrt, remains to be seen.

The chief object of this degree is to exemplify the neces-
sity of government, and to enforce upon the minds of those
who are called to govern, the importance of qualifying them-
selves for the skillful and efficient discharge of their duties.
The ceremonies of the degree are extended to no great
length ; but they are such as strongly to impress upon the
newly-elected master, a sense of his own deficiencies in the
matter of government, and the need he has of promptness
and energy in preserving the discipline of the society over
which he is to preside. The process of conferring the de-
gree — teaching by practical illustrations — is apparently
grave, though withal rather amusing. After the lodge is
opened upon the third degree, the master receives intelli-
gence from without, that some sudden emergency demands
his presence in another place, and he must consequently
leave the chair, and resign his office. He therefore calls
upon the brethren to elect a successor. Various candidates
are put in nomination — all of whom appear actively to elec-
tioneer for the station. But they are successively voted
down, and in the end, the unsuspecting candidate finds him-
self chosen master of the lodge. If he attempts to resign^
it is to no pui-pose, and after making all the excuses he can,
pleased, nevertheless, with his early popularity among the
brotherhood, he ascends the chair, decorated with the jewels
of the station. The old master retires, and the new one
attempts to proceed with the business which is now rapidly
crowded upon his attention. He knows nothing of the rules
of proceeding ; — the lodge becomes confused ; — every effort


he makes to preserve order, but adds to the confusion ; —
every member endeavors to augment his embarrassment ; —
he forgets, in liis ov^n confusion, the instructions as to the
method of preserving perfect silence, if nothing more, which
he had a few moments before received from his predeces-
sor ; — until, in the end, thinking he has been elected in good
faith, and believing, from the conduct of the brethren, that
he has suddenly become one of the most unpopular of men,
whereas he had perhaps just been exulting at his popularity,
he yields up his office in perfect despondency and conster-
nation. The old master then kindly re-appears, and soon
teaches him how to command order ; — for, indeed, as to
obedience, it frequently happens that a scrupulous compli-
ance with his own ignorant and inopportune mandates, has
occasioned the very confusion which had appalled him. The
new master is then advised to resign, whereupon he begins
to comprehend the part he has been acting, and gladly es-
capes from the irksome situation. I shall never forget my
own embarrassing exploits when first called to this trying

It is unquestionably true, that in the proceedings I have
attempted thus briefly to describe, there is often much con-
fusion and not a little merriment, — arising solely from the
perplexity, and the ludicrous conduct, performed with sober
gravity, by the candidate. I admit that the laugh, at a man
thus circumstanced, may " argue want of grace ;" but the
couplet must be finished in extenuation ; for " to be grave,"
would " exceed all power of face." Still, there is nothing
wicked, or malicious, or riotous, in all this ; although the
noise may have been misconstrued by those without the
lodge, into the wild uproar of revellers. But, a single rap,
at the proper moment, hushes all into instantaneous silence.
Indeed there is no body or society of men on earth, — no
meeting or assemblage, — under such strict, immediate, and
effective control, as a lodge or chapter of JMasons,


Ths lecture of this degree which the candidate then re-
ceives, is divided into numerous sections, and is very long.
It treats of the government of the society ; the disposition
of rulers ; and illustrates, (as we have just seen) the requi-
site qualifications. It includes the ceremony of opening and
closing lodges in the several preceding degrees. It com-
prehends, also, the forms of installations and consecrations,
as well in the grand, as in local lodges. Instructions are
likewise given at length for laying the foundations of build-
ings, and for their consecration. The initiate is also particu-
larly taught the forms of conducting the funerals of deceased
brethren. It would be alike tedious and unnecessary for
me to enter into details upon any of these points. All the
exercises and recitations are printed at large in the various
formularies extant, and so far as I have compared them, the
discrepancies are few and unimportant. The charges to
the master and wardens of a lodge, are appropriate, and
unexceptionable. Indeed, I should feel myself bound in
justice to cite a passage from the charge to the new past
master, in this place, were it not for the consideration that
it may possibly be more appropriately used elsewhere, be-
fore this discussion is closed.

I am, very respectfully, &c.


New- York, Dec. 5, 1831.

The sixth degree is that of " Most Excellent Master."
It professes to be a representation, on a small scale, of the
ceremony of completing the work of Solomon's temple, and
its dedication. All there is of tradition connected with tHs



degree, is embraced in the following morceau of unauthenti-
cated history :— " When the temple of Jerusalem was fin-
" ished, and the cap-stone celebrated, with great joy, king
" Solomon admitted to this degree, only those who had prov-
" ed themselves worthy, by their virtue, skill, and inflexible
« fidelity to the craft."

In opening the chapter upon this degree, the members
kneel around the altar, inclining their heads downwards,
with an air of solemn reverence, while the most excellent
master reads that noble lyric of the royal Hebrew poet,
the xxiv. Psalm. " The earth is the Lord's and the fullness
" thereof," &c. During the ceremony of receiving the can-
didate, the cxxii. Psalm is read, commencing — " I was glad
" when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the
" Lord." After the candidate has taken the obligation impo-
sed by the degree, the members form and march in proces-
sion, during the singing of an ode, set to appropriate music-
The only additional ceremony performed while the proces-
sion is thus engaged, is the adjusting of the cap-stone in a
mortice of an arch, which has been sprung across the room
from the columns of Jachin and Boaz — mere temporary
erections, of course. The sixth chapter of ii. Chronicles,
with the first four verses of the seventh, are also introduced
into this degree, containing Solomon's prayer of unexampled
sublimity, at the consecration, together with the account of
the resting of the cloud upon the temple, and its blazing forth
with insupportable splendor before the awe-struck legions of
Israel, while the glory of the Lord filled the house, and the
celestial fire flashed upon the sacrificial altar.

The charge to the candidate contains little that requires
special note. He is again admonished not to sacrifice his
good standing by misconduct, and directed to acquire a per-
fect knowledge of all the preceding degrees, that he may be
able to dispense light and truth to his uninformed brethren.


LETTER y. 40

In closing the chapter in this degree, the members kneel
around the altar as before, while that truly beautiful Psalm,
the xxiii., is read by the most excellent master.

Thus, sir, have I attempted to give you a brief, but, I hope,
intelligible account of my travels though six degrees of Ma-
sonry, in quest of the great secret light to which we were
constantly approximating, but never destined to reach — cer-
tainly not in that effulgence which we had been led to ex-
pect, and of which the Masons were wont to boast, if not
expressly by words, at least by v/ise and knowing looks,
and airs of mysterious importance, w^henever the subject
became one of conversation and inquiry among the uninitia-
ted. In saying that I was travelling " in search of the great
secret light," you will please not understand me as writing
in forgetfulness of what I have asserted in a former letter.
I anticipated the discovery of no astounding secret. Still, I
believed with Locke, in one of his annotations upon an an-
cient masonic manuscript found in the Bodleian Library, in
the hand-writing, as it was supposed, of Henry VI. Of the
"art of keeping secrets," mentioned in the manuscript,
Locke says : — " What kind of an art this is, I can by no
"means imagine. But certainly such an art the Masons
" must have ; for though, as some people suppose, they
" should have no secret at all ; even that must be a secret,
" which, being discovered, would expose them to the highest
" ridicule ; and therefore it requires the utmost caution to
" conceal it."* This was in truth about the measure of my
belief. The result will appear in the sequel.

I have now arrived at the seventh degree — that of the
Royal Arch. This is the principal of the four degrees con-
ferred by a chapter, as the third degree is chiefest in the
lodge of master Masons. In the first two degrees, the as-

* The authenticity of the letter of Locke, from which I haA^e here quoted,
has been questioned latterly by some of the over-zealous Anti-masonic wri-
ters ; but so f;\r as my observation has extended, I have seen no evidence
whatever of its spuriousness.


piling, and often disappointed, candidate, is continually ur-
ged on to the third, as that which will realize all his expec-
tations, and satisfy all his desires. So, also, of the seventh,
after the candidate has stepped from the lodge-room, into
the court of the chapter — it is in the Royal Arch degree only,
he is told, where the full fruition of light and knowledge is
to be enjoyed — where the aspiring student, like another Pro-
metheus, can, as it were, steal sacred fire from the chariot
of the sun to kindle his genius, and hold converse, face to
face, with immortal truth herself, in all her perfection and
beauty. To quote the books of the craft, " this degree is
" indescribably more august, sublime, and important, than all
" which precede it ; and is the summit and perfection of an-
" cient Masonry. It impresses on our minds a belief of the
" being and existence of a Supreme Deity, without begin-
" hing of days, or end of years, and reminds us of the rever-
" ence due to his holy nnme." Whether it was owing to
these considerations alone, or whether because of the perse-
verance of my companions, or because disappointed curiosi-
ty yet occupied a corner of my head or heart, I do not ex-
actly recollect ; certain it is, however, that I resolved to
proceed to the end, and, if there were any secret, to find it —
if any mystery to solve it.

In opening the chapter upon this degree, the members
assemble around the altar, kneeling reverentially, as in the
degree of Most Excellent Master, and joining hands, while
the third chapter of 2. Thessalonians, 6—18, is read by the
high priest. The ceremonies of opening having been com-
pleted, and the chapter declared in readiness for the despatch
of business, the candidates for exaltation are introduced,
and the work commences. The conferring of this degree
occupies a long time — four or five hours, of continued ac-
tion. Its traditions are as follows : The Royal Arch Ma-
son is taught to believe, from the silence of the scrip-
tures, at certain periods, concerning the book of the law,


and the light of tradition, rabbinical and masonic, that the
world is indebted to Freemasonry for the preservation of
the Mosaic dispensation, or the pentateuch. It is asserted,
that, previously to the time of Ezra the scribe, who correct-
ed, revised, and re-wrote some of the sacred books, there is
no mention of more than one copy of the book of the law —
namely, that written by the inspired lawgiver himself. Not
a word is said in the scriptm-es of this book, from the com-
mencement and durinof the reim of Manasseh, down to the
time it was discovered, accidentally, as it would seem, in the
reign of his grandson, Josiah. Hilkiah, the high priest, had
thoroughly to inspect and repair the temple, and while thus
employed, as the sacred record itself informs us, he acci-
dentally discovered an authentic copy of " the book of the
" law of the Lord, given by Moses," and carried it straight-
way and laid it before the king. The king commanded him
to read it aloud ; but when Hilkiah arrived at those passa-
ges which denounced God's anger against idolaters, and
speak of the punishments Vv'hich should come both upon the
people and their sovereign, in the event of his transgressing
their commandments, Josiah's horror and dismay rose to
the highest pitch.* From the whole scripture account of
the finding and reading of the law, the inference is irresist-
ible, that it had been lost — that the king, alike with the high
priest, and the people, were all, in a great measure, ignorant
of the book, and of its contents. Such, certainly, is the fair
interpretation of the account of the transaction in the ii.
Kings, and also of the copy of Ezra, as recorded in the
Chronicles. Josephus corroborates this opinion, and the
same view is clearly entertained by Henry, the pious and
learned commentator, who says " the spring of life was shut'
" up" — " the fountain sealed," to Josiah ; and after the dis-
covery, he says " the things contained in the scriptures were
" new to Josiah."

* Gleiff's Hist. Bible.


It is also said this invaluable treasure was again missing
from the reign of Josiah, until the days of Ezra, after the
return from Babylon. Over these tv^o dark and gloomy
periods a veil is cast, w^hich, as the masonic writers assure
us, none but skilful Masons have been able to rend asunder.
The prophetic eye of our grand master Solomon was of
course enabled to foresee future events. He foresaw that
wicked men would sway the sceptre, who would jeopard
the existence of the holy law itself; and he, consequently, in
the erection of the temple, provided a place of safety for the
deposite of the sacred treasure, the knowledge of which
was intrusted to but few. When the idolatrous Manasseh
ascended the throne of Judah, to preserve the book from the
rude hands of infidelity and violence, it was hidden away,
and remained in its place of security until found by Hilkiah,
as before related. Again, towards the close of the reign
of Josiah, foreseeing the wickedness of his son and successor,
and also the destruction of the temple, and the carrying
aWay into Babylon, Huldah, the prophetess, once more se-
creted the law in a place where it remained until the return
from the captivity. It was then discovered by Ezra, Zeru-
babcl, and their associates, on the removal of the ruins of
the old temple, preparatory to the erection of the new ; —
ns illustrated practically in the course of giving this degree.
The fact of this deposite, was a masonic secret — although
the Masonry of Huldah, being a female, is not properly
avouched. But another branch of the tradition runs thus : —
At the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, three
Masons of the degree of most excellent master, were tak-
en and conveyed among the captives to Babylon, where
they remained until the restoration, during the reign of Cy-
rus of Persia. They were then liberated and permitted to
return to the holy city, to assist in the rebuilding of the tem-
ple. After travelling many days over rough and rugged
roads, they arrived at the outer veil of the tabernacle, or


sacred pavilion, erected near the ruins of the temple, in imi-
tation of the tabernacle of the wilderness. This tabernacle
was an oblong square, enclosed by four veils, or curtains,
and divided into separate apartments, by four cross-veils,
including the veil at the western entrance. The veils were
guarded by armed sentinels, stationed at the place of en-
trance through each. At the easternmost end of the taber-
nacle, sat Haggai, Joshua and Zerubabel, in grand council,
to examine those who applied for permission to assist in the
glorious work of rebuilding the temple. The three most
excellent masters before referred to, and who must have
been pretty well advanced in life by this time, were, on their
arrival, introduced to the grand council — accepted as sound
and robust men — furnished with tools and implements, and
set to work in clearing away the rubbish, preparatory to
laying the foundations of the new edifice, with an injunction
carefully to preserve every thing that might be discovered
appearing valuable for use, or curious for examination.

When the candidate is introduced, a long prayer is read
from the book of forms, or oflered extemporaneously by any
clergyman who may be attendance. The tedious ceremo-
nies then commence, representing the carrying away of the
captives, chained, to Babylon ; the application to return and
build again the holy city and the temple ; the rugged roads
over which they were obliged to travel, and the obstacles
encountered and overcome. In the course of their labors
among the ruins of the old temple, they strike upon a secret
vault, into which they descend, — as the three most-excel-
lent masters before mentioned are supposed to have done, —
and among other discoveries they find a box, standing on a
pedestal, curiously wrought, and overlaid with gold. This
is brought up and delivered to the grand council, by whom
it is opened, and is discovered to be none other than the
ark of the covenant, containing the long lost book of the law.


the pot of Manna, and Aaron's rod, wliich "budded and
*' bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds.""*^ On the lid of
the box, were three mysterious characters, in a triangular
form, and within is discovered a key to the same, which
are found to signify the incommunicable name of the deity
— Jehovah — a name which the modern Jews superstitiously
decline pronouncing. From this brief — and it is a very
brief abstract — the design of the degree will readily sug-
gest itself. It is intended to inculcate a belief, that, under
providence, the christian world is indebted to Freemasonry
for the preservation, and discovery when lost, of the book
of the law, and also the highest reverence for the name of
the deity. It likewise has a direct bearing upon another
tenet of Masonry, viz : that the appropriate name of God,
and a knowledge of the Supreme Being, have been preserv-
ed by this institution, in every country where Masonry ex-
isted, while the rest of the world, and the people of those
heathen nations where it did exist, but who were not initia-
ted into its mysteries, were sunk in the darkness of pagan-
ism. During the process of conferring the degree, a great
multitude of passages of scripture are recited, some of wliich
are historical, while others are striking for their sublimity
and beauty, deeply impressive and devotional.f The lec-
ture which succeeds, embraces a variety of historical par-
ticulars respecting the first, and the rearing of the second
temple, together with rapid glances at the history of the
Jewish nation itself, from the days of Solomon to the return
from the captivit)^ — all of which must be familiar to those
who read their bibles, and the next best book of Jewish
history — Josephus.

♦Numb.xvii. 8—10.

■f The followini^ are the passages referred to : — Isaiah, xlii. 16. Exo. iii,
1 — 0. 2 Chron. xxxvi. 11—20. Ezra, i. 1-^3. Exod. iii. 13 — 14. Psfdm.cxli.
cxlii. cxliii. Exod. iv. I— 10. HapL^i. ii. 1—9—23. Zech. iv. 6—10. John,
i. 1_5. Dout. xxxi. 24— 26. Exod. xxv. 21. Exod. xvi. 32— .34. IS'uml.
xvii. 10. llcb. ix. 2— 5. Amos, ix. 11. Exod. vi. 23. 2. Chron. chap. x.



As a scenic representation, this degree, when conferred
within a chapter-room which is appropriately furnished, is
far-more splendid and effective, than either of its predeces-
sors. The pattern of the chapter is taken from the rich pa-
vilion-temple, erected by Moses in the wilderness. The
curtains are of blue, purple and scarlet — the first being an
emblem of universal friendship and benevolence ; the second
of harmony among brethren and everlasting truth ; and the
third inculcating fervency of our devotions to God, and zeal
in promoting the happiness of men. The robes of the offi-
cers, of yet richer materials and more brilliant colors — that
of the high priest being made after the pattern of the pon-
tifical robes of Aaron — together with the jewels and various
insignia of the order, combine, with the other fanciful deco-
rations, to make up a very attractive pageant. And the
actual adventures encountered during the work of the de-
gree — the kindling of curiosity, and the excitement of toil
and sudden vicissitudes, prevent the candidate from any
close scrutiny at the time, in regard to the bearing of the
circumstances represented, or the history, real or tradition-
al, upon which the degree is founded. Subsequent reflec-
tion, on the part of intelligent and well-informed men, satis-
fies them very shortly, that the facts upon w^hich the degree
is founded, are too absurd to render the legend probable,
could even its existence be traced back the half of a thou-
sand years. With such, however, where there is in fact
no delusion, and with whom the history and the traditions
are received exactly for what they are worth, and no more,
no harm can arise, as I can perceive, from these attempts to
impress lessons of the moral virtues by actions and symbols
addressed to the senses. But I fear that it is not so with
great numbers of unenlightened and simple-minded men.
Mingling these traditions with the little biblical learning
they may have picked up, they are exceedingly liable to

confound them altogether, and attach as much importance to



the legends of the lodge-room, as to the inspired records

In the final charge of the candidate exalted to thfs de-
gree, he is told, that the rites and ceremonies developed
therein, have been handed down through a chosen kw, un-
changed by time ; and he is exhorted to regard them with
the same veneration, and transmit them to his successors
with the same scrupulous purity. He is again admonished
as to the faithful discharge of his duties to his brethren and
his creator — " the sacred source from whence all earthly
" comforts flow" — and is told " that having attained this de-
" gree, he has arri\ ed at the summit and perfection of Ma-
" sonry." After the cliarge, the companions assemble, and,
kneeling again around the altar, the chapter is closed with
much solemnity.

Of the history of this degree I cannot speak with desirable
certainty. — It is asserted, but with how much truth I have
not the means of deciding, that the first warrant was granted
by Charles Edward Stuart, son of the pretender, to hold a
chapter of an order called the Scotch Jacobite, at Arras, in
France, where he had received many favors at the hands of

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 5 of 49)