REPORT ON AGE FOR MASONIC MEMBERSHIP
From Proceedings, Page 2002-149ff:
In the Grand Constitution (Section 102) we are advised, “This Grand Lodge recognizes the following Landmarks” and then explains that under subsection (g) of Section 102, “A Mason must be a free born male adult.” No other age reference is made in our Grand Constitution that aids in our understanding of the number of years one must reach to be a “male adult”. Why our judicious ancient forebears selected the term “male adult” is unclear. What is clear, however, had they intended to set a firm membership age at twenty-one they would have said so.
We have every reason to believe that our Masonic forebears were men of great wisdom and it is reasonable to infer that their failure to set a definitive age was intentional and not accidental. Logic suggests that the age requirement was made ambiguous to permit future Grand Masters to fix the age based upon their good judgment and the usages and customs of generations yet to come.
The Ancient Landmarks are said, by some scholars, to be the “unchanging and unchangeable fundamentals which make the Craft what it is, and without which it would be something entirely different.” An acknowledged Masonic authority, Albert Gallatin Mackey, a prolific Masonic writer and scholar, lists twenty-five Ancient Landmarks in his thoughtful writings. The twenty-fifth landmark reads, “These Landmarks can never be changed.” The 18th Landmark, addressing the issue of age, uses the term “mature age", not the age of twenty-one. Our Grand Lodge adopted seven of the twenty-five Mackey Landmarks and noted that the seven adopted Landmarks are not exclusive.
There is no effort to change or alter the language employed in our Ancient Landmarks but there is a sincere desire to resolve the obvious ambiguities in the term “male adult” as used in our Grand Lodge Landmarks and to clarify that ambiguity in the light of the custom and usages of the present generation of Masons. The common law teaches us that where a document, including our Grand Constitutions, contains ambiguous, uncertain or equivocal language in its terms, all the circumstances leading up to its creation should be reviewed but not for the purpose of contradicting or changing its terms. “Male Adult” is ambiguous, uncertain and equivocal and we would benefit from an analysis of that term in the light of today’s Masonic environment.
Mackey wrote, “What that age must be (to be made a Mason) is not settled by any universal law or Landmarks of the order. The ancient regulations do not express any determinate number of years at the expiration of which a candidate becomes legally entitled to apply for admission.” The language used is, that he must be of “mature and discreet age”. Albert Pike, a controversial Masonic scholar, noted his disagreement with Mackey’s position that the eighteenth Landmark holds that a candidate must be “of legal age”.
Pike wrote in response that, “It was not anciently necessary that, to become a Apprentice, a man should be a man of lawful age. The candidate was described as a youth who was not generally of age.” Both learned Brothers agree that there is no fixed age in years proscribed in any of the Masonic literature.
The Book of Constitutions, compiled by scholarly James Anderson in 1723, contains the well known “Charges of a Freemason” which teaches that, “The person admitted a Member of a Lodge must be good and true, free-born, and of mature and discrete age, no bondsman, no woman, no immoral or scandalous men, but of good report.” Another Masonic treatise “Antiquity MS.” written in 1686, addressed the qualifications to become a Mason. In that treatise it was noted that a candidate must “be made able in all degrees, free born of a good kindred true and no Bondsman and that he have his right limbs as a man ought to have”. It is noteworthy that no age requirement was included.
Our own Right Worshipful Brother Roscoe Pound, a past Deputy Grand Master, an American jurist, a professor and Dean of the Harvard Law School, a Masonic scholar and the author of Lectures on Masonic Jurisprudence, addressed that precise issue some eighty-six years ago. In 1916 he was quoted, in our Grand Lodge Proceedings, as saying, “that the Mason must be a man, free born of full age according to the law and custom of the time and place.” Right Worshipful Pound also authored Roscoe Pound’s Landmarks, in 1924. In that literary offering he lists seven Landmarks, the seventh being, “That a Mason must be a man, free born, and of age.”
The official position of our Grand Lodge is that a candidate must be a “male adult”. This has been interpreted as meaning “full age” and “of age” according to the law and custom of the time and place. This variance may represent a difference without a distinction but it is of some significance to the extent that in our Jurisdiction there is no definitive age in years for becoming a Mason – it is interrelated with the law and custom of the time and place.
The Rules for the construction of statutes in Massachusetts is governed by General Law chapter 4 section 7, enacted in 1973 and helps us to understand the thoughtful approach used by the Commonwealth in interpreting the same or similar terms used by Massachusetts Masons relating to age. The statute reads in material part as follows:
- Clause forty-nine: “Full Age” shall mean eighteen years of age or older.
- Clause fiftieth: “Adult” shall mean any person who has attained the age of eighteen.
- Clause Fifty-first: “Age of Majority" shall mean eighteen years of age.
The above represents the law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1973, at this time and place.
Landmarks are frequently in disagreement with one another. Whether the Ancient Landmarks are material or symbolic, they can only be preserved in their stability if they avoid absolutes and address Masonic fundamentals on a firm foundation; otherwise they are without credibility. For example, in the Landmarks or the Unwritten Law, Mackey wrote that the eighteenth ancient landmark has a qualification that a candidate shall, “be a man un-mutilated, free born, and of mature age. That is to say, a woman, a cripple, or a slave, or one born in slavery, is disqualified for initiation into the rite of Freemasonry.” There is no support in this jurisdiction for that requirement, nor should there be. To require a candidate to be un-mutilated thereby disqualifying a cripple, a slave, or one born in slavery, is unacceptable and I suspect that we would not disqualify a man because of the happenstance of his being born in slavery. It appears inconsistent with custom and usages at this time and place as well as our Masonic Common Law.
The issue here is more akin to the applicability of custom and usage to establish the age in years of an “adult male” or the meaning of the term “full age” in this generation. Custom and usage are, by implication, incorporated into most documents to aid in its interpretation, not as tending to contradict or vary the document, but to explain its meaning. Historically, the age requirement of twenty-one has not been absolute throughout the Masonic World. Under the Scottish Constitution the age to enter Masonry was eighteen until 1891 when it was raised to twenty-one. Under the Irish Constitution the age was twenty-one, then it was raised to twenty-five until 1817 when it was lowered again to twenty-one. The Grand Lodge of Hanover permitted sons of Freemasons to be admitted at eighteen. The Grand Orient of France permitted sons of Freemasons who performed six months in the army to join at eighteen. Clearly, over its long history, Grand Jurisdictions have felt free to set their own age requirements based upon their own culture and the custom and usages of the day.
Custom and usage of yesteryear are not the custom and usage of today. For example, in the city across the river, the Cambridge City Council this past March voted eight to one to lower the local voting age in Cambridge to seventeen. It was argued by the Councilors that times are changing and the definition of an “adult” is changing correspondingly. In Scotland the Liberal Democrats and Scottish National Party have already come out in support of reducing the voting age to sixteen. A spokesman for the Party said: “Sixteen has traditionally been the age of majority in Scotland”.
There is a valid debate in England, where the voting age is eighteen, about what constitutes adulthood. The society, which has monitored British elections for almost 120 years, has decided to back calls for the voting age to be lowered. It argues that sixteen year-olds are seen as adults in a range of other ways and so should not be denied a role in democracy. “For tax purposes and in matters such as getting married, getting a job, paying taxes, sixteen-year-olds are viewed as adults, yet as far as democracy is concerned, adulthood comes at eighteen.”
The custom and usage applicable to age have drastically changed since Brother Pound made his pronouncement in 1916. In the interim we have had World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf Conflict, and we are looking at another potential conflict in Iraq. America looked to these young eighteen year old “male adults” to pay their allegiance to their country by serving in the armed forces. Custom and law ordained that these young men were old enough to serve their country and many made the supreme sacrifice. Can it be that these young men were old enough to give their lives in the defense of their country but not old enough to become a Mason?
Masonic historians point out that we had Grand Masters before we had Grand Lodges and that the Grand Master’s authority is derived from two sources. First, the accidental rights which come from the Constitutions and Regulations of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts and the inherent rights which comes from the Landmarks and ancient usages of the Craft. Logic suggests that our founding fathers selected the language quoted in the Ancient Landmarks and intentionally omitted a precise age. They reserved that decision for future generations to interpret in the light of their culture.
There is nothing in our Grand Constitution or in the Ancient Landmarks that limit the authority of the Grand Master to declare what the custom and usage are in this millennium as related to the age required to become a Mason in this Grand Jurisdiction. Our Grand Master has the authority, within the meaning of the Ancient Landmarks and the interpretation of Brother Roscoe Pound, to declare that at eighteen years of age, a man is a “male adult“ and is of “full age” according to the law and custom of this time and place. It is within the authority of the Grand Master to make that declaration if he chooses to do so.
Respectfully Submitted, R. W. Robert L. Steadman