Book Intro – A Text Book of Masonic Jurisprudence

The Foundations of Masonic Law are to be found in the Landmarks, or Unwritten Law, and in the Ancient Constitutions, or the Written Law. These will, therefore, constitute the subject matter of the present book.

 – PREFACE to the book…

Four years ago, I wrote, and soon after published, a treatise on the “Principles of Masonic Law,” which was received by the Fraternity with a readiness that convinced me I had not miscalculated the necessity of such a work. In the composition of it I was entering upon a field of Masonic Literature which had, up to that time, been traversed by no other writer.

There was, it is true, an abundance of authorities scattered over thousands of pages of Grand Lodge Proceedings and contained in the obiter dicta of Grand Masters’ Addresses, and the reports of Committees on Foreign Correspondence.

But these authorities were often of a conflicting character, and as often were repugnant to my sense of justice, and to the views I had long entertained of the spirit of equity and reason which pervaded the Masonic Institution.

Hence, while receiving much information on various points of Masonic  Law, from the writings of distinguished brethren, in different jurisdictions, I was repeatedly constrained to regret that there was no standard of authority by which I might be guided in doubtful cases, and that, with every disposition to stand upon the old ways — stare super vias antiquas — I was unable to discover any safe beacon to guide me in my search after these ancient ways.

I was, therefore, compelled, in most cases, to depend upon my own judgment, and to draw my conclusions as to what was Masonic Law, not from precedent, or usage, or authoritative statutes, but from the deductions of common sense and the analogies of the municipal and civil law, and the customs of other institutions.

It is not, therefore, surprising that in this dearth of light — myself being the humble pioneer in the attempt to reduce the principles of Masonic Law to a systematic science — with no books to guide — no precedents, in repeated instances, to direct me — I should, sometimes, have wandered from the true path, and erred in judgment.

My errors were, it is true, conscientiously committed. I gave all the talent, the experience and the legal skill that I had, to the investigation of every question that lay before me — and my mistakes were those, in most cases, inseparable from the condition of the subject I was treating, and from the first attempt to give systematic form to a new science.

But subsequent years of enlarged experience and more extensive research, directed with all the energy I possessed, to the correction of errors, and the review of former opinions, have led me to offer to the Masonic World that result of my labors which is embodied in the following pages.  

If I had been consulted on the subject, another edition of the “Principles of Masonic Law,” which was first published in 1856, would never have been given to the world; at least, it should not have been sent forth without a diligent correction of those opinions in it, which I now believe to be erroneous. As it now appears, it is not, in every part, a just representation of my views.

But the control of the book is not in my hands, and all that I can now do— and I ask this as an act of justice to myself — is to request my brethren, when they shall hereafter honor me by citing my opinions on Masonic Law, to look for those amended views, in this, my latest work, in which I have not felt any shame in correcting the immature theories, in many points, of my earlier labor.

There is no dishonor in acknowledging a mistake — there is much, in obstinately persisting in it.

I do not suppose that I shall ever write another work on Masonic Law. Of all Masonic literature it is the most tedious in its details — in the task of composition, the most laborious; and while I have sought, by the utmost care, to make the present treatise one worthy of the Fraternity, for whom I have written it, and to whom I am profoundly grateful for their uniform kindness to me, I shall gladly turn, henceforward, to the more congenial employment of investigating the symbols and the religious teachings of the Order.   

Charleston. S. C.
April, 1859.


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