GRAND MASTER’S POWERS
No presiding officer, president or chairman of any secular body
possesses the powers of a Grand Master. But it is a mistake to
consider this high office as altogether without limitations. In the
forty-nine Grand Jurisdictions on the Union the powers of the Grand
East widely differ, albeit all have certain powers in common. All
Grand Master preside over their Grand Lodges; all can preside over
any particular Lodge; all can call Special Communications’ al can
issue certain dispensations; all can arrest Charters of Lodges for
cause. But in many details the powers of the Grand East differ
almost as much as their longitudes.
To define and compare the extent and limitation of the powers of
Grand Masters requires a complete study of Constitutions, laws,
rules, edicts, decisions, landmarks, customs and practices. Masonry
has a large body of unwritten law, as binding and as strictly
followed as that which is written; he would be a wise student indeed
who could claim to be wholly familiar with all the unwritten law of
forty-nine Grand Jurisdictions.
Certain powers and limitations of powers of Grand Masters, however,
are set forth in Constitutions of forty-seven of America’s forty-nine
Grand Lodges. It is these which, in the main, are here considered.
But it is to be noted that lack of constitutional statement of any
power, in any Grand Jurisdiction, does not necessarily mean that the
Grand Master does not have it.
All Jurisdictions agree in the inviolability of the Ancient
Landmarks. Those Jurisdictions which have adopted compilations of
Ancient Landmarks this regard them as the foundation stone of all
Masonic law. More than half of the forty-nine Jurisdictions have
such compilations; these are:
Either Mackey’s list of twenty-five, or
Special lists adopted in the particular Grand Jurisdiction; most
special lists merely amplify Mackey’s, contracting or expanding it
to a greater or lesser number.
Mackey’s fourth to eight Landmarks, concerned with the Grand Master,
read as follows:
4. The government of the Fraternity by a Grand Master.
5. The prerogative of the Grand Master to preside over every assembly
of the Craft.
6. The prerogative of the Grand Master to grant dispensations for
conferring degrees at irregular intervals.
7. The prerogative of the Grand Master to give dispensations for
opening and holding Lodges.
8 The prerogative of the Grand Master to make Masons at sight.
In 19 Jurisdictions, no one in Grand Lodge may question a Grand
Master’s ruling; what he decides is final. In 22 Grand Jurisdictions
an appeal from a Grand Master’s decision may be made to Grand Lodge.
In others the question is undecided, because it has never been tried.
Grand Masters have certain suspending powers; in many Grand
Jurisdictions these are strictly defined. Twelve Grand Jurisdictions
specifically state that the Grand Master may suspend any Master of a
particular Lodge; three permit him to suspend the Master and Wardens;
three any elective Lodge officer; four, “any” Lodge officer. In all
these the Grand Master must report to Grand Lodge, which passes
finally on the matter. In certain Grand Lodges which do not hedge the
Grand Master with any limiting definitions of power, he may suspend a
Master, but it is by common consent, a belief that this is inherent
in the powers of the office, not given by written law.
Doubtless any Grand Master could, and would, suspend a Master for
just cause, whether or not the power is defined in the Constitution
of his Jurisdiction. But to suspend a Grand Lodge officer, the Grand
Master must, indeed, read his Constitution. In Utah and Missouri
this may be done provided the Grand Master has the written consent of
the Deputy Grand Master and the Grand Wardens, or any two of them.
In North Dakota and Wisconsin the Grand Master may suspend any Grand
Lodge officer except the Deputy Grand Master and the Grand Wardens.
In Kansas and New Mexico he may suspend any elective officer of Grand
Lodge. In Georgia and Tennessee, with the written consent of the
Grand Wardens, he may suspend any appointive officer of Grand Lodge.
In Idaho the Grand Master may suspend any member of the Grand Lodge.
In Florida he may suspend the Grand Secretary and the Grand
Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire and Rhode Island give
the Grand Master the power to suspend any “brother” from Masonry.
Tennessee expressly forbids the Grand Master to suspend a brother
without a trial and sentence. In the five Jurisdictions in which the
Grand Master has his autocratic power over the individual, the
suspension is reviewable by Grand Lodge at the next Stated
Communication. It is probable that this power might be used in at
least 3 more Jurisdictions, without authority of special enactment,
merely because of the broad general power conferred in the
Constitution, or the silence of that document on any powers.
Several Grand Jurisdictions expressly prohibit suspending any law of
Grand Lodge; Mississippi permits the suspension of certain by-laws.
In the majority of Grand Jurisdictions, where suspension of laws is
not permitted, it is doubtful that any Grand Master would assume the
power, or that Grand Lodge would uphold him if he did! In several
Grand Jurisdictions the general powers are so broad that the Grand
Master can do practically anything he desires. In the Third
Landmark, as recognized in New Jersey, it is stated:
“He may suspend during his pleasure, the operation of any rule or law
of Masonry not a Landmark.”
The right of the Grand Master to “make a Mason at sight,” Mackey’s
eighth landmark, has caused much discussion. The term is a misnomer,
since the act is generally understood as being in the presence, and
with the help, of a Lodge convened for the purpose by the dispensing
power of the Grand Master.
16 Grand Jurisdictions expressly permit this in the written law,
three of them providing that it must be done in a regularly
constituted Lodge. In giving the power Kansas states. “It is one
which should never be exercised.” Arkansas permits a Grand Master to
communicate “the secrets of Masonry with or without ceremonies., the
Grand Master might call to his assistance a Lodge, or Masons, or may
act alone.” Arkansas also states “the power should not exercised in
any case, except by dispensing with time.” Other Grand Lodges permit
the act by their adoption of Mackey’s list of Landmarks.
Four Grand Jurisdictions constitutionally forbid the making of Masons
“at sight” by a Grand Master.
Can a Grand Master be tried? Most Grand Jurisdictions are silent on
the subject, but as few have provided that he may; thus, in South
Carolina, any Lodge may impeach the Grand Master on the expiration of
his term in office; he is then tried by the Grand Lodge, in which a
two thirds majority may convict and pass sentence - what, is not
stated. In Texas the “Grand Master may be suspended from office by
this Grand Lodge, for sufficient cause, after due notice and a
hearing.” Connecticut states that the Grand Master is exempted “from
trial during the term of his office and afterwards, for any official
act as Grand Master.”
At least four Grand Lodges expressly give the Grand Master a second
vote, in the event of a tie. In certain Grand Jurisdictions in which
the Masters of Lodges have the privilege of casting a vote in the
event of a tie, it is assumed that the Grand Master possesses the
Limitations of powers of Grand Masters in various Jurisdictions are
at time confusingly contradictory. North Carolina states: “The
Grand Master is the creature of the Grand Lodge, deriving all his
authority from that body. . . .” Kansas states: “The Grand Master
is not the creature of the Grand Lodge; the office existed before the
organization of Grand Lodges.” Pennsylvania gives the Grand Master
power to “issue edicts, regulating the action of Lodges, or for the
government of the same, their officers, and members.” And in
Pennsylvania a Grand Master’s edict is Masonic Law.
Some Grand Jurisdictions define what a Grand Master may and may not
do regarding physical requirements of candidates. When North
Carolina and Kansas Lodges determined that a candidate is physically
disqualified, the Grand Master may not grant a dispensation for him
to get the degrees. In Texas the Grand Master “shall pass upon the
physical qualifications of all candidates . . .having any physical
maim or defect. . .”
In all Grand Jurisdictions the Grand Master may call the Grand Lodge
in Special Communication. In some he must give 30 days notice, in
others, reasonable notice, in still others, notice is left to his
Many interesting restrictions are written in the laws of the several
Grand Jurisdictions. New Hampshire specifies that at the semi-annual
communications of the Grand Lodge it is the duty of the Grand Master
to “give, or cause to be given, exemplification of the Work and
Lectures of each degree.” North Dakota says: “he may cause the
ritual and lectures of any one of the symbolic degrees in Masonry to
be exemplified before the Grand Lodge at the annual communication.”
Montana states: “The Grand Master has no authority to legislate by
decision when the law is silent.”
Utah permits a Grand Master to “heal” or reobligate a Mason
irregularly made in a regular Lodge, but such “healing” must take
place in a duly opened chartered Lodge.
In Massachusetts the Grand Master “is requested to make a detailed
report of the financial condition of the Grand Lodge in his annual
address.” In practically all Jurisdictions, an annual report is
“required” of the Grand Master.
Tennessee specifically states that the Grand Master has not the power
to allow a Lodge to change any part of the ritual; then adds: “Nor
should he answer questions pertaining to changes in the ritual but
should refer them to the Board of Custodians.”
Texas lays on the Grand Master the duty of seeing that the “three
principal officers (of a new Lodge, or a resurrected Lodge, long
demised) are proficient in their respective duties and are
collectively capable of conferring the three degrees, and that the
Lodge is supplied with adequate equipment and a safe and secure
lodgeroom and anteroom.”
New York gives her Grand Master authority to withdraw any amount of
money from the Grand Treasurer or from the “Trustees of the Masonic
Hall and Asylum Fund for the relief of Brethren in this Jurisdiction
or in sister Jurisdictions in times of calamity and disaster.” The
same power has been assumed time and time again by many Grand
Masters, and is invariably upheld by the Grand Lodge.
North Carolina forbids a Grand Master to give any decision which “is
to be kept secret from the Lodges, or suppressed from his report to
the Grand Lodge.”
Tennessee permits a Grand Master “to reverse the a action of a
Subordinate Lodge in order to correct a known illegality.” The same
Jurisdiction also provides that a Grand Master may “administer
exclusion in the Grand Lodge for refusal to submit to its Rules of
Order, contumacy to the authority of the Grand Master, or for other
conduct not sufficiently lens to require charges and trial, but too
much so to be allowed to pass without notice.” Tennessee also
provides that “only a Subordinate Lodge, not the Grand Lodge, may be
opened for the purpose of laying a foundation stone.”
Mississippi forbids her Grand Master to “exercise any of prerogatives
to the injury of another person.”
To determine which Grand Master has the most uncontrolled power is
beyond the scope of this Bulletin. In Virginia and the Constitution
of Delaware the Grand Master’s powers are not defined or limited; in
Pennsylvania a Grand Master’s edicts become law; in several
Jurisdictions in which a Grand Master may suspend not only a Lodge,
its Master and officers, but any individual brother, he possesses a
potency as tremendous as it is seldom exercised. It is also to be
noted that in those Jurisdictions which content themselves with the
shortest and broadest constitutional definitions of a Grand Master’s
powers, the general conduct of Grand Masters has been an exemplary
and as wise as in those Grand Jurisdictions in which the Grand
Master’s powers, prerogatives, rights and privileges are written in
All Grand Jurisdictions regard the Grand Master as the ruler of the
whole Craft, as well as the Grand Lodge; a Lodge or a brother who
questions the authority of a Grand Master is so infrequent as to be
remarked. Lodging great power in the hands of the Grand Master seems
to grow occupants of the Grand East who measure up to their
tremendous responsibilities. Few, indeed, are they who do not take
competent advice on all matters of importance before acting; very few
are the Grand Masters who rule in an autocratic manner. Other
organizations find it essential to fence presiding officers with
rules, laws, inhibitions, reviews, checks, balances - making them
more servants than masters. In Grand Lodges the Grand Master is to
all intents and purposes as much “master” as is the Worshipful Master
of his Lodge “master” in that organization. All of which is a fine
tribute not only to the sterling men who work their slow way up to
the Grand East, but to the gentle teachings of Freemasonry, which has
so much more of “thou shalt” than “thou shalt not” in their