William L. (William Leete) Stone.

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

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the paths of honor, integrity and truth. Among the em-
blems, at one stage of the degree, is the Holy Bible, on
which lies a human skull, representing mortality resting
upon divinity ; and teaching that a foithful reliance on the
promises therein revealed, will afford consolation in the
gloomy hour of death, and insure inevitable happiness in
the world to come. A number of very solemn and affecting
lessons from the christian dispensation of the scriptures, in
addition to those just cited, are read in the course of this de-
gree. f After the reading of St. Matthew's account of the
ascension, a transparency is disclosed, brilliantly represent-
ing the triumph of the Saviour over death and the grave,
and his sublime flight to the regions of the skies. An ap-
propriate hymn is sung at this stage of the exercises ; and
v/hen well performed, this splendid and awful representa-
tion of the conclusion of the hallow^ed sacrifice of the Re-
deemer of the world, is deeply imposing and affecting. The
candidate is then addressed by the prelate, in language full
of pathos, tenderness and devotional feeling, which cannot,
and, in most cases, I venture to say, does not, fail of making
a solemn impression.

Such is an outline of the character and principles of the
Templar's degree, as conferred in the United States. Its
foundation, it will be perceived, is in the christian religion,
and its ceremonies of a nature that cannot be otherwise than
of the most solemn description. There is no room for
mirth or amusement in the Templar's degree ; and although
some of the representations may appear unmeaning in this
enlightened age, or at least fit only for the dark centuries
of monkish superstition ; and although objections may be

* Matl. xxiv. 14—25. and 3G— 49.

t Jarne?, i. 1 — 10, 2G, 27. A portion of llio 2fl chap, of Jamo?. Matt,
xxvii. 24— 33. Arts i. 15—26. IMatt. xxvi. 36—50. Matt, x.xviii. Acts
x.x.viii. 1 — 6. .Tohn's Cvospcl. xix. 19. John x?:. 24 — 28.



raised by the scrupulous, against such uses of those awfully
solemn and touching portions of the book of Hte, yet I feel
myself abundantly warranted in saying, that, whatever else
may be said of it, still it is not an anti-christian order. I
have not gone into a minute description of all the rites and
ceremonies of the degree ; but have faithfully developed
all the facts and principles upon which it is founded, and all
the details which it is essential for the world to know. I
have never mingled in more solemn assemblies, than in an
encampment of Templars, engaged in conferring this de-
gree. I have seldom heard voices more tremulous than
those I have heard reciting the affecting lessons contained
in its ritual ; and I have seen and felt that every heart Was
swelling in unison. Still, I owe it in candor to add, that 1
have never been altogether reconciled to the conferring of
itj and have felt many misgivings, respecting it. Its repre-
sentations have appeared too solemn — too deeply affecting
— too intimately connected with the immortal interests and
destiny of man, to be handled by those of unclean lips — by
any one whose piety is not of the most fervent and unques-
tioned description — by any one, in short, whose office it is
not to minister at the altar in holy things.

When this degree was first introduced as an appendage
to Masonry, I know not. The first meeting' of Knights
Templars in America, so far as I am informed, was held at
Philadelphia, in May, 1797. Professor Robison, of Edin-
burgh, a Mason and a distinguished scholar, speaks of the
order as "fictitious," — in saying which he is unquestionably
correct. He states that " it was formed in the lodge of the
" Knights of Benevolencfe, at Lyons, in France, and was
" considered the model of all the rest of the mimic chiv-


Very respectfully, yours, &c.



New- York, Dec. 15, 1831.

I propose in the present letter, to glance rapidly at the
nature of the masonic obligations ; not, sir, for the purpose
of vindicating the whole, or any part of them, — (for under
my present views, the multiplication, even of legal oaths,
should be avoided as far as it is practicable to do so ; while
all extra judicial oaths, are always highly improper,) — but
simply for the purpose of showing how those obligations
have been administered, received, and understood, by virtu-
ous and intelligent men. " Swear not at all," is the com-
mand of Him who spake as never man spake, " neither by
" the heavens, for it is God's throne, nor by the earth, for it
" is his footstool, but let your yea be yea, and your nay,
" nay ; for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil :"
and although in the imperfect condition of human society,
a literal compliance with this divine injunction has been
deemed impracticable, yet it is a golden rule, which ought
never to be transgressed when its violation can be avoided.
Nay, more : any society, secret or otherwise, that adminis-
ters oaths, must be dangerous to the well being of the com-
munity, if those oaths can be supposed by any one who takes
them, to be of higher obligation than the laws, or if they can
be so far tortured as to allow of such a construction. That
the obligations of the masonic order, in some portions of our
country, have been thus construed, and thus acted upon,
will appear so clearly before this discussion is closed, as to
render denial impossible. And this single fact, were it un-
supported by any other circumstances, would, in my mind,



be sufficient to render it obligatory upon the Masons to re-
linquish the order.

In making the preceding admission, however, I must be
allowed, in behalf of all those virtuous and intelligent citi-
zens with whom I have formerly associated as a Mason, ut-
terly to disclaim any and all constructions of those obliga-
tions, at variance with the laws of God or man, or which
conflict with a proper discharge of all the moral, social, and
religious duties of life. It is to the provisions of the obli-
gations of the tiiird and seventh degrees, I believe, that
the greatest exceptions have been taken, and which have
provoked the severest condemnation. What the precise
terms of those obligations are, after the numerous publica-
tions that have been made since the developements of Mor-
gan, it would be unnecessary for me to repeat. Indeed, it
will be found that although there is a general concurrence
in the provisions, very wide diversities of language have
existed ; and from some of the disclosures that have fallen
under my observation, I am not without apprehension that
serious innovations upon the established forms, have been
designedly made. For the purpose of this examination, I
shall adopt the obligations as they appear in Barnard's Light
on Masonry^ — the more especially since the general accu-
racy of those obligations, as they have been given in the
■western lodges of this state, has been judicially established
by the testimony of Masons who do not believe in the bind-
ing force of such obligations when they come in conflict
with tlie laws.* To sustain the other point, also — that of
a wide disagreement in the phraseology of these obligations,
as given in diflerent places — I beg leave to refer you to the
enclosed copies of the obligations of the seven degrees, as
they were given twenty-five years since, in the lodge and
chapter of an eastern city. They were copied by a friend


* See Appendix A.


of mine, more than twenty years ago, from the manuscript
of a gentleman, who had been master of the lodge, and high
priest of the chapter, and who now occupies, with distin-
guished ability, a high judicial station in his native state. I
have this copy in my possession. The forms are the same
that were used for a long series of years in the city to which
I refer ; and when Royal Arch Masonry was introduced
into Rochester, in this state, these forms, from the identical
papers before me, were then and there introduced and
adopted.* The obligation of the seventh, or Royal Arch
degree, as contained in this manuscript, you will perceive
is almost as widely different from that contained in Barnard's
book, as the poles are asunder.

The principal objection to the Master Mason's obligation
is raised with reference to that portion which is supposed to
read as follows : — " Furthermore do I promise and swear,
" that a Master Mason's secrets, given to me in charge as
" such, shall remain as secure and inviolable in my breast as
" in his own, when communicated to me, murder and trea-
« son excepted ; and they left to my own election." The
last seven words of this section, are, in my apprehension, an
innovation. I have not been accustomed to hear the obli-
gation so conferred ; but even if I am in error upon this
point, the explanations under which this, and all the other
obligations are given, and the charges which follow, conclu-
sively show, that among men of principle and sense, they
have never been received as binding one Mason, under any
possible circumstances, to conceal the villainy of another.
The simple fact as to the taking of these obligations, is this.
When the candidate is brought to the altar, he is premon-
ished that he is about to take upon himself a solemn obliga-
tion. That obligation, he is told, will be imposed upon him
in the same manner in which it has come down to them,

* See Appendix B.


and in the same terms in which it has been taken by others.
In taking it he is Hkewise told, that whatever may be the
peculiar forms of expression or phraseology in which the
obligation is given, he is expressly to understand, that no-
thing therein contained is to interfere with his political or
religious principles ; with his duty to God ; or the laws of
his country. He is also assured, that the obligation will be
repeated slowly, and if, at any time, at any stage of it, he
objects to any part of the oath, he is at liberty to state his
objection ; and should the explanations prove unsatisfacto-
ry, he is assured that he shall be as safely conducted out of
the lodge, as he was brought into it. I give these explana-
tions as I received them, and as I have been in the habit of
seeing them conferred upon others. If the practice has
been different elsewhere, in the west, the class of Masons,
in whose behalf I am making them, are not to blame. I
know that a very different notion prevails, as to the manner
of introducing a candidate ; it having been widely and in-
dustriously affirmed, that the moment the candidate crosses
the threshold of a lodge-room, he is deprived of all freedom
of action, and is compelled, by terror and threats, if not by
positive force, to proceed. And I have been astonished,
since I began this investigation, to find that Elder Barnard
has himself affirmed this misrepresentation. His words are :
" The reader will here learn one reason why those who en-
" ter a lodge, never come out, until they have taken the
" degree. The candidate is made to promise upon his hon-
" or, that he will * conform to all the ancient established
" usages and customs of the fraternity ;' hence, let him be
" ever so much opposed to the ceremonies of initiation, or
" the oath of the degree, he cannot go back, for he feels
" bound by his promise. Should he, however, feel constrain-
" ed to violate his word, the persuasions, and, if necessary,
" the threats of the master and brethren, counsel him to go


"forward !"* There is not, sir, so far as I have any know-
ledge of the usages of Masonry, a single syllable of truth in
the passage I have here quoted. Nor do any of my mason-
ic acquaintances hesitate to declare, their utter and entire
ignorance of even a single instance wherein any such con-
straint was ever practised or even thought of. On the con-
trary, through the whole system, from the lowest to the
highest degree, every step is the result of the most entire
freedom of thought and action. And if a contrary prac-
tice has prevailed, it could only have been, as I have had
occasion to remark before, amongst men who were capable
of compassing a deliberate and atrocious murder.

But again : while the obligation is administered, the can-
didate supports the holy bible between his hands ; and when
it is completed, he is obliged solemnly to pledge himself that
he receives that book as " the rule and guide of his faith and
" practice." The square and compasses are placed on the
top of it, as it lies open upon the altar. Of these he is told,
that the square is a symbolical admonition, that he is to
square his actions by that book, while the compasses teach
him to circumscribe his views and desires within proper
limits, and keep his passions within due bounds. I care
nothing for the assertion lately made, that the bible is only
placed there to gull and deceive the christian, while the
square and compasses are for the infidel to swear by. The
fact is not so. Is it then to be believed, that men of acknow-
ledged talents and worth in public stations, and of virtuous
and frequently religious habits in the walks of private life —
with the holy bible in their hands, which they are solemnly
pledged to receive, as the rule and guide of their faith and
practice — and under the grave and positive charge from the
officer administering the obligation, that it is to be taken in
strict subordination to the civil laws, — can understand that

* Barnard's IJcrht, p. 17,


obligation, whatever may be the pecuHarities of its phrase-
ology, as requiring them to countenance vice and criminali-
ty even by silence ? Can it for a moment be supposed, that
the hundreds of eminent men, whose patriotism is unques-
tioned, and the exercise of whose talents has helped to make
up the " measure" of the nation's glory ; — can it be believed,
that the hundreds of eloquent divines, whose talents and vir-
tues have shed a lustre upon the church history of our coun-
try, and who, by their walk and conversation, have, in their
own lives, illustrated the beauty of holiness ; — is it to be credi-
ted, that the tens of thousands of those persons ranking among
the most intelligent and virtuous citizens of the most moral
and enlightened people on earth ; — is it, I ask, possible, that
any portion of this community, can, on calm reflection, be-
lieve, that such men have oaths upon their consciences,
binding them to eternal silence in regard to the guilt of any
man, because he happens to be a Freemason, no matter
wiiat be the grade of offence, whether it be the picking of a
pocket, or the shedding of blood ? It does really seem to
me impossible, that such an opinion could, at any moment,
have prevailed, to any considerable extent, amongst reflect-
ing and intelligent citizens. Yet, still, I am aware that an
awful example of fact can be cited against me. And I am
also aware, that the authors of the example to which I refer,
have not been treated by the whole masonic fraternity
with that degree of indignation and abhorrence which they
justly merited. On the contrary, it is but too true, that, in
some instances, ignorance and fanaticism have conspired to
extend aid and comfort to those, who, with good cause, are
believed to be of the guilty number. Still, however, I must
protest against the construction attempted to be put upon
the obligations, as being directly at variance with the inter-
pretation always given them by those with whom I have
formerly mingled in intimate fellowship among masons.


Allow me, sir, to pursue this subject of masonic secrets a
little farther, since I shall probably not have a better op-
portunity for disclosing my entire views upon this much-
discussed feature of the masonic institution. From the pe-
riod at which I reached the summit of what is called ancient
Masonry, I have held but one opinion in relation to masonic
secrets ; and in that opinion I have always found my intel-
ligent brethren ready to concur. It was this : That the es-
sential secrets of Mas amy, consisted in nothing more than
the signs, grips, pass-words and tokens, essential to the jwe-
servation of the society from the inroads of impostors ; to-
gether with certain symbolical emblems, the technical terms
appertaining to which served as a sort of universal language,
by which the members of the fraternity could distinguish
each other, in all places and countries where lodges were
instituted, and conducted like those of the United States.
Such, and such only, have I been accustomed to consider as
the essential secrets of the order — secrets of not the least
consequence to the world, but which were essential for the
preservation of the society. All the principles, history, and
traditions of the order, I have always made the subjects of
free conversation, vdienever it was desired. This opinion
is moreover sustained by the text-books of the order.
The Monitor says : — " Did the particular secrets, or pe-
"culiar forms prevalent among Masons, constitute the-
^^ essence of the art, it might be alledged that our amuse-
"ments were trifling, and our ceremonies superficial.
" But this is not the case." The Rev. Salem Town, long
the Grand Chaplain of the Royal Arch Chapter of this state,
whose book on speculative Masonry has been sanctioned by
the highest masonic officers in the country, expressly de-
clares, that " our leading tenets are no secrets." And again,
" by a full and fair exposition of our great leading princi-
" pies, we betray no secrets^ So have I always held and
acted ; and I have never been able to repress a smile of

72 LETTER Vll.

contempt, whenever I have occasionally seen the foohsh
brethren putting on airs of reserve and mystery, and shak-
ing their heads with owlish gravity and wisdom, if the se-
crets of Freemasonry should by chance become the theme
of inquiry and conversation. In regard to the grips and
pass- words before mentioned, such have been common with
many other societies. It is so with the celebrated Tamma-
ny Society ; it has been so until very recently, with the
Phi Beta Kappa, a purely literary society ; and it was so
with the old and much-calumniated Washing^ton Benevolent
Society. Nor in either case, so far as I am informed, has
danger been apprehended merely from the secret.

So far as it respects the secrets of the lodge-room, in gen-
eral, I have regarded them as conventional only — to be held
no more sacred than the conversation at the table of a pri-
vate dinner party, which every gentleman is bound in honor
not publicly to repeat. It is usual when a candidate is pro-
posed for membership of a lodge, that his habits and char-
acter be canvassed, and it would be disgraceful to betray
the confidence of such discussions. In like manner, it would
be a violation of faith, to state, that such or such a man had
applied for membership, and been black-balled. In cases of
applications for charity, moreover, it would be alike dishon-
orable and unkind, to proclaim the names of the petitioners
upon the house-tops. These things, therefore, are secrets —
but only conventional secrets — such as most other societies,
and even boards of bank directors, must necessarily have,
as well as churches, and presbyteries, and synods.

Secrecy and silence were qualities zealously cultivated, and
strictly enjoined, by many philosophers of antiquity; when
observed with discretion, and not illegally, they are eminent-
ly conducive to the peace and happiness of human society
— the grand conservators of well regulated social inter-
course ; — and numerous are the occurrences within the ob-
servation of us all, tending to show that the art of presort -


ing them inviolate, is often a desirable and laudable attain-
ment. " A tale-bearer," says Solomon, " revealeth secrets ;
" but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth them. Disco-
" ver not a secret to another, lest he that heareth it put thee
" to shame, and thine infamy turn not away. He that keep-
" eth his tongue, keepeth his own soul." To the same pur-
pose we read in the book of Ecclesiasticus : " Whoever dis-
"covereth secrets, shall nevei*' find a friend to his mind.
" Love thy friend, and be faithful unto him ; but if thou be-
"wrayeth his secrets follow no more after him: for as a
" man hath destroyed his enemy, so hast thou lost the love
" of thy neighbor. As for a wound, it may be bound up ;
" and after reviling, there may be reconcilement : but he
" that bewrayeth secrets, is without hope." — These are the
Avords of wisdom, and my regard for the secrets of the
lodge-room had ever " this extent — no m.ore."

The foregoing expositions, like every other contained in
these letters, have been made with all possible frankness
and sincerity ; and I trust, sir, that after reading them, you
will do me the justice to believe, that should a brother Ma-
son tell me, as a secret, that he had robbed a store, I should
very speedily make the matter public in the police office ;
or, should he say that he had helped to murder William
Morgan, I should as certainly help the civil authorities to
put him in the way of being hanged. In one word, sir, no
Mason is bound by any obligation, to keep the secrets of an
unworthy brother ; and whenever a Mason, knowingly and
wilfully and criminally, violates those restraining acts which
are necessary to secure the life, liberty and happiness of
the citizen, he becomes unworthy of confidence, and the
obligation of secrecy is cancelled by the higher obligation
which rests upon every good man, to maintain the supre-
macy OF THE LAWS. Such is now, and ever has been, my
construction of this feature of the masonic obligations ; and,

such, also, is the construction of those Masons with whom I



have associated or conferred. In it you "will perceive, sir,
that my views are more rigid than those laid down in the
books. " A promise cannot be deemed unlawful," says Arch-
deacon Paley, " where it produces, when performed, no ef-
" feet, beyond what would have taken place, had the pro-
" mise never been made." " Upon this principle, promises
" of secrecy ought not to be violated, although the public
" would derive advantage from the discovery. Such pro-
" mises contain no unlawfulness in them, to destroy their ob-
" ligation ; for, as the information would not have been
" imparted upon any other condition, the public lose nothing
" by the promise, which they would have gained without it."*
It remains, in the present letter, that I should ofier some
explanations upon that portion of the obligation supposed to
be taken in the Royal Arch degree, which, unexplained, has
been considered so highly exceptionable. That section, as
it has been proved, judicially, at the west, reads as follows :
— " Furthermore do I promise and swear, that I will aid
" and assist a companion Royal Arch Mason when engaged
" in any difficulty ; and espouse his cause so far as to extri-
" cate him from the same, if in my power, whether he be
" right or wrong. Also, that I will promote a companion
" Royal Arch Mason's political preferment, in preference to
** another of equal qualifications. Furthermore do I pro-
" mise and swear, that a companion Royal Arch Mason's
" secrets, given me in charge as such, and I knowing them
" to be such, shall remain as secure and, inviolable in my
" breast as in his own, murder and treason not excepted.^^
First and foremost I have to remark, upon the passage here
quoted, and which has so justly called forth a large measure
of the public indignation, that the pledge in favor of the po-
litical preferment of a companion, and the words " %o^," in
tiie italicised passage, are infamous interpolations. The
obligation has never been so given, within the range of my

* Moral Phi. chap. v. — of Promises.


masonic experience, and is not so sanctioned or allowed by
the Grand Chapter, having jurisdiction in the premises.
Nor have I, as yet, found a Royal Arch Mason v^'^ho recol-
lects ever to have heard the obligation so given. The po-
litical interpolation, either in this, or the third degree, has
been traced to Vermont, whence it was brought into this
state by a gentleman who has occupied an exalted office in
this state, and who now holds a seat in congress. As to
the other, and more heinous alteration, I know not whence
it came ; but there is no doubt of its having been so given
of late in the western region of New- York. But the fact

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Leete) StoneLetters on masonry and anti-masonry, addressed to the Hon. John Quincy Adams → online text (page 7 of 49)