The prerogative of the Grand Master to make Masons at sight is described by Dr. Albert Mackey as the eighth of the Twenty-Five Landmarks of Free Masonry. To quote Dr. Mackey:
"It is a technical term, which may be defined to be the power to initiate, pass and raise candidates, by the Grand Master, in a Lodge of Emergency, or as it is called in the Book of Constitutions, 'an Occasional Lodge,' specially convened by him, and consisting of such Master Masons as he may call together for that purpose only; the Lodge ceasing to exist as soon as the initiation, passing, or raising has been accomplished, and the Brethren have been dismissed by the Grand Master.
"In 1731, Lord Lovell, being Grand Master, he 'formed an Occasional Lodge at Houghton Hall, Sir Robert Walpole's House in Norfolk,' and there made the Duke of Lorraine, afterwards Emperor of Germany, and the Duke of Newcastle, Master Masons.
"The initiation, passing and raising of Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1737, was done in an 'Occasional Lodge,' over which Dr. Desaguliers presided, but this cannot properly be called a 'making at sight,' because Dr. Desaguilers at the time was a Past Grand Master, and not the actual Grand Master at the time. He most probably acted under the dispensation of the Grand Master, who at that time was the Earl of Darnley.
"In 1766, Lord Blaney, who was then Grand Master, convened an 'Occasional Lodge,' and initiated, passed and raised the Duke of Gloucester.
"Again in 1767, John Salter, the Deputy then acting as Grand Master, convened an 'Occasional Lodge,' and conferred the three degrees on the Duke of Cumberland.
"In 1787 the Prince of Wales was made a Mason 'at an Occasional Lodge, convened,' says Preston, 'for the purpose at the Star and Garter, at Pall Mall, over which the Duke of Cumberland (Grand Master) presided in person.'
"It has been said, however, by those who deny the existence of this prerogative, that these 'Occasional Lodges' were only Special Communications of the Grand Lodge, and the 'makings' are thus supposed to have taken place under the authority of that body, and not of the Grand Master. The facts, however, do not sustain this position. Throughout the Book of Constitutions, other Communications, whether Stated or Special, are distinctly recorded as Communications of the Grand Lodge; while these 'Occasional Lodges' appear only to have been convened by the Grand Master for the purpose of making Masons. Besides, in many instances, the Lodge was held at a different place from that of the Grand Lodge, and the officers were not, with the exception of the Grand Master, the officers of the Grand Lodge. Thus the 'Occasional Lodge' which initiated the Duke of Lorraine was held at the residence of Sir Robert Walpole, in Norfolk, while the Grand Lodge always met in London. In 1766 the Grand Lodge held its Communication at the Crown and Anchor, but the 'Occasional Lodge' which in the same year conferred the degrees on the Duke of Gloucester, was convened at the Horn tavern. In the following year, the Lodge which initiated the Duke of Cumberland was convened at the 'Thatched House' tavern, the Grand Lodge continuing to meet at the Crown and Anchor.
"But, without doubt, a conclusive argument may be drawn from the dispensing powers of the Grand Master, which has never been denied. No one has doubted, or can doubt, the inherent right of the Grand Master to constitute Lodges by Dispensation, and in these Lodges so constituted, Masons may be legally entered, passed and raised. This is done every day. A constitutional number of Master Masons applying to the Grand Master, he grants them a Dispensation, under authority of which they proceed to open and hold a Lodge, and to make Masons. This Lodge is, however, admitted to be the mere creature of the Grand Master, for it is in his power at any time to revoke the Dispensation he had granted, and thus to dissolve the Lodge.
"But if the Grand Master has the power thus to enable others to confer the degrees and make Masons, by his individual authority out of his presence, are we not permitted to argue that he has also the right of congregating a proper number of Brethren and cause a Mason to be made in his sight? Can he delegate a power to others which he does not himself possess ? And is his calling together an 'Occasional Lodge' and making, with the assistance of the Brethren thus assembled, a Mason 'at sight; that is to say, in his presence, anything more or less than the exercise of his dispensing power, for a temporary period, and for a special purpose? The purpose having been effected, and the Mason having been made, he revokes his dispensation and the Lodge is dismissed. If we assumed any other ground than this, we should be compelled to say that though the Grand Master might authorize others to make Masons when he was absent, he could not do it himself when present. The form of the expression 'making Masons at sight' is borrowed from Lawrence Dermott, the Grand Secretary of the Athol or Schismatic Grand Lodge; 'making Masons in an Occasional Lodge,' is a phrase used by Anderson and his subsequent editors. Dermott, commenting on the Thirteenth of the Old Regulations, which prescribes that Fellow Crafts and Master Masons cannot be made in a private Lodge, except by the Dispensation of the Grand Master, says:
"'This is a very ancient regulation, but seldom put in practice, new Masons being generally made at private Lodges; however, the Right Worshipful Grand Master has full power and authority to make, or cause to be made, in his Worship's presence, Free and Accepted Masons at sight, and such making is good. But they cannot be made out of his Worship's presence without a written Dispensation for that purpose. Nor can his Worship oblige any warranted Lodge to receive the person so made, if the members should declare against him or them; but in such case the Right Worshipful Grand Master may grant them a warrant and form them into a new Lodge.'
"But the fact that Dermott uses the phrase does not militate against the existence of the prerogative, nor weaken the argument in its favor. For, in the first place, he is not quoted as authority, and secondly, it is very possible that he did not invent the expression, but found it already existing as a technical phrase generally used by the Craft, although not to be found in the old Book of Constitutions. The form there used is 'Making Masons in an Occasional Lodge,' which is of the same signification.
"The mode of exercising the prerogative is this: The Grand Master summons to his assistance not less than six other Masons, convenes a Lodge, and without any previous probation, but 'on Light' of the Candidate, confers the degrees upon him, after which he dissolves the Lodge and dismisses the Brethren."
I have discovered several instances of the prerogative having been exercised by the Grand Master in Pennsylvania.
Brother Joseph Eichbaum, Grand Master of that state in 1887, initiated, passed and raised a Candidate at an Emergent Communication on April 23rd of that year, in Philadelphia. He said the initiate was a young man with whom he had been in almost daily intercourse and closely associated with for some fourteen years and whose moral character he was fully prepared to vouch for. He claimed the right to be unquestioned, although the exercise of it possibly injudicious.
Brother Michael, Grand Master of Pennsylvania in 1893, called a Special Communication of the Grand Lodge on May 3rd of that year for the purpose of making a Mason at sight, and on June 13th, five weeks later, he visited Lodge No. 59 for the same purpose. His principal reason for exercising the prerogative was "in order that it might not be said that it has become obsolete by non-use."
In 1894, Brother Richard C. McCallister, Grand Master of Masons of South Dakota, granted Coteau Lodge No. 54 at Webster, a Dispensation to confer the three degrees upon Governor Sheldon, waiving the usual time. The Grand Master states that he was present and witnessed the conferring of the three degrees, which was done in a very satisfactory manner. "Although I am very well aware that Masonry regards no man for his worldly wealth or honors," he states, "in this case I fully believe the Candidate possessed both the internal and the external qualifications, and accordingly granted the Dispensation."
But the Committee on Jurisprudence did not approve of this action and made the following reference to it in their report, which was adopted by the Grand Lodge:
"In reference to the Dispensation granted for conferring the degrees out of time upon Governor Sheldon, the committee is of the opinion that this prerogative of the Grand Master should only be exercised in case of the greatest emergency, and only when the Candidate shows himself by examination, to be fully proficient as required by our by-laws and usages. The facts in he case reported did not, in our judgment, justify the exercise of such power."
Brother J.L. Spinks, Grand Master of Mississippi n 1895, gives the following account of having been made a Mason "at sight:"
"On June 1st, at sea, in Ship Island Harbor, and within the tate of Mississippi, by virtue of the high power in me vested as Grand Master of Masons, in and for the state of Mississippi, organized and opened a Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, and with the consent and assistance of the Brethren present erect, conferred the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, upon Captain George Maddrell, master of the British Steamship County of York, giving him in full the lectures of each degree, after which the Lodge was dissolved."
He says further:
"That anyone can or will question the right, or rather the prerogative of a Grand Master to do this, I do not for a moment suppose. That many do question the propriety, I am fully aware, as I have had many requests from many Brethren for full particulars, and from the tone of some of their letters, one would infer that I had committed the 'unpardonable sin.'
The Committee on Masonic Law and Jurisprudence, to whom the matter was referred, reported as follows:
"We have given such consideration to so much of the Most Worshipful Grand Master's address, as was possible under the circumstances. It is a question which must be considered as one of law and expediency. Under the first branch, we find that as late as 1875 the Grand Lodge adopted the 'Blue Lodge Text-Book,' containing Brother Mackey's Twenty-Five Landmarks, one of which is declaratory of such a prerogative residing in the Grand Master. In the present edition of the Text-Book there is a declaration of the 'Fundamental Principles of Masonry,' in which the Grand Master is declared to have certain prerogatives among which we find enumerated this:
"'To make Masons at sight, with the consent and assistance of the Masons he assembles into a Lodge.'
"As a question of expediency, your committee is unanimous in the opinion that if the prerogative exists, it ought not to be exercised under any circumstances whatever. And in expressing this opinion we do not wish to be misunderstood as criticizing the act of the Grand Master, for if he has the prerogative, it certainly is discretionary with him whether he will exercise it or not. We concede this right to the Grand Master, and while not approving the act, we cannot deny to him the right and if he has the right it surely is discretionary with him whether he will exercise it or not."
The matter was on motion recommitted to the same committee, with directions to further examine the question, and report at the next Annual Communication, at which time they reported, in part as follows:
"We are not insensible to the fact that in this Grand Lodge and in a number of others, the doctrine that the Grand Master possesses powers and prerogatives which are not subject to the control of the Grand Lodge, has been maintained, and we give due weight to the learning, zeal, and Masonic character of the large number of eminent Masons who have sustained the claim but notwithstanding the great array of names which may be cited against us, we fail to find in the arguments presented, a single reference to any Ancient Law, which gives, as we conceive, even by implication, to the Grand Master the right to set aside a law of the Grand Lodge, and without so doing he cannot make a Mason at sight. But, granting, for the sake of the argument, that he formerly possessed such a prerogative, we are confronted by the fact that every Grand Master, in modern times, is obligated at least thrice, to support and maintain the Constitution and Regulations of the Grand Lodge, and we think, therefore, that if they do not confer upon him the power of setting aside their provisions regarding the initiation of Candidates that he must be deemed to have waived whatever prerogatives he may have anciently possessed, by assuming the obligation of office. He is not above the law, but, if possible, more than any other Mason, bound to support and maintain it in all its integrity. Without entering into argument to demonstrate that the Grand Master is a Constitutional officer, it seems very clear to us that he is at least bound by the maxim in Masonry that 'those things which are not permitted to a Mason are clearly prohibited.' (Drummond, History of Masonry, page 552.) It is not permitted now, nor has it been since 1717, to make a Mason except in a Regular Lodge, nor since 1753, until due inquiry has been made as to his character, nor without the unanimous consent of the members of a Lodge, which qualification is not the subject of a Dispensation.
"Our conclusion, therefore, is that the prerogative of making a Mason at sight does not exist, and has not since 1717, or, if those who contend for exploded Masonic History, prefer it, since 1663, and we recommend the adoption of the following:
"Resolved, That it is the sense of this Grand Lodge that the prerogative of making a Mason at sight does not exist by virtue of any Landmark or Ancient Regulation, and is not conferred by the Constitution or Laws of this Grand Lodge."
In commenting upon the above resolution of our Mississippi Brethren, Brother Lawrence N. Greenleaf, Past Grand Master of Colorado, and Chairman of the Committee on Foreign Correspondence, says:
"From 1862 to 1875, the Constitution of this Grand Lodge, among other powers of the Grand Master enumerated in Article IX, contained the following:
"'It is his prerogative to make Masons at sight, and for this purpose may summon to his assistance such Brethren as he may deem necessary.'
"'In 1875 the revised Constitution was adopted and the above paragraph no longer appeared. Under 'Grand Master,' section twelve reads as follows:
"'The Most Worshipful Grand Master shall have and enjoy all the powers and prerogatives conferred by the Ancient Constitutions and Usages and Landmarks of Freemasonry.'"
(In the Book of Constitutions as revised by the Grand Lodge of Colorado in September, 1914, this section is now numbered 19.) Brother Greenleaf says further:
"While the prerogative has never been exercised in this district, it has nevertheless been deemed to exist. The report of the above committee is a valuable contribution in support of the negative side of the question, but we are not wholly convinced of its correctness.
"If it shall be shown that the prerogative referred to is an inherent right of the Grand Master, neither the Grand Lodge of Mississippi nor any other Grand Lodge can dispossess him of that right. 'Usage,' whether for 120 or 200 years, certainly must enter largely into the determination of the question."
Brother Thomas J. Shryock, Grand Master of Masons in Maryland in 1897, exercised this prerogative and says:
"By virtue of the authority in me vested as your Grand Master, I convened an 'Emergency Lodge,' and made 'at sight,' His Excellency Llovd Lowndes, Governor of Maryland, a Mason. An erroneous idea has arisen in the minds of many of the Fraternity as to the ceremony of making a Mason 'at sight,' and to erase this wrong, and perhaps damaging, impression, I deem it but proper to say that in the making of a Mason 'at sight' by the Grand Master, the Candidate is required to pass through all the forms and ceremonies incident to the conferring of the three degrees, in the same manner that an applicant does in applying to a Subordinate Lodge. The impression of some, that the Grand Master, by virtue of his authority, touches a man on the shoulder and creates him a Mason, is entirely erroneous, and as I know that this impression does exist to a certain extent, I think it proper to here state, so the Craft may understand it throughout our Jurisdiction, that such is not the case. The making of a Mason 'at sight' is one of the Landmarks of the Fraternity, the prerogative of the Grand Master, and I have on two occasions exercised that prerogative, as much for the purpose of not allowing it to become dormant as for any other reason.'"
William Howard Taft, Ex-President of the United States, was made a Mason "at sight," shortly before his inauguration in 1909. The ceremony took place at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Cincinnati, on February 18th of that year, of which the following account appears in the review on Foreign Correspondence in the Colorado Grand Lodge Proceedings of 1910:
"The ceremonies were simple and brief, the entire meeting, from its opening to its close, taking only one hour.
"Promptly at the appointed hour the Most Worshipful Grand Master of Ohio arose and made the announcement that by virtue of the power and authority vested in him by the Grand Lodge of Ohio, he declared the present Convocation of Master Masons to be an 'Occasional Lodge,' convened for the purpose of conferring upon Mr. William Howard Taft the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, and he declared such Lodge open, directed the Senior Deacon to perform his duty, and then called upon the Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge, Rev. Paul R. Hickok, to invoke the blessing of Almighty God.
"Brother William B. Melish, Past Grand Master, as Master of Ceremonies, then escorted Mr. William Howard Taft into the room and presented him at the altar, declaring him to be a legal resident of the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, and stated that he introduced him at his request, it being his desire to receive the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason.
"The Grand Master, after propounding the customary questions and receiving the required answers, obligated the Candidate in the Entered Apprentice obligation, and then instructed him fully in the unwritten work of that degree.
"The same procedure followed with the Fellow Craft and Master Mason degrees, the final statement being made that the details of the Master's degree would be exemplified in full form in the evening by Kilwinning Lodge, and that he would then have full opportunity to learn that part of the work more fully.
"The charge appertaining to the Master's degree was then read.
"The Grand Master then made proclamation that William Howard Taft, having received the degrees of Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master Mason, he declared him to be a Master Mason in good and regular standing.
"After congratulations and welcome to the recipient, he delivered an address setting forth the appreciation of the honor conferred after which the benediction was pronounced and the Grand Master then proclaimed the purpose for which the 'occasional Lodge' was convened having been effected, he declared the Lodge closed and dissolved."
Brother George Fleming Moore, Editor of the New Age, in the March, 1909, issue of that magazine, says:
"Before he was nominated for the Presidency, Secretary Taft expressed a desire to become a Mason and really made application 'of his own free will and accord.' The proper initial steps were taken to make him a Mason 'at sight' and Brother William B. Melish, an eminent Mason of Ohio, and a Past Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of that State; Levi C. Goodale, another Past Grand Master, and Jacob H. Bromwell, Grand Secretary of the Grand Lodge, joined in a petition addressed to Charles S. Hoskinson, Grand Master of Masons of the State of Ohio, asking that the three degrees conferred in the Blue Lodge might be given to William Howard Taft, and that he might be made a Mason 'at sight.'
"In this petition it was shown to the Grand Master that Mr. Taft had been compelled by official business to be absent from his home in Ohio for a long time. and that this had interfered with his initiation into the Fraternity."
The following article on this subject appeared in the June, 1909, issue of the New Age:
"The public press gives the information that President Taft has received notice of his election as an honorary member of a Lodge instituted in London, on June 3, 1909. The Duke of Connaught, who is a brother of King Edward VII, and Grand Master of Masons in England, has granted the Dispensation to carry out the arrangements.
"The President recently attended a meeting of Temple Lodge of Washington, D.C., and saw the third degree conferred. He was introduced by Grand Master Simpson of the Grand Lodge of the District, who had seen him made a Mason 'at sight' in Cincinnati, and was received and welcomed by T. C. Noyes, Worshipful Master of the Lodge, in the following words:
"Brother Taft: Along with Masons throughout the civilized world, the 8,000 Masons of the District rejoiced when you became a Master Mason. That was not so much because of your distinguished attainments, not so much because of your high official position, but because we knew that Masonry had come into its own.
"Masonry stands for the binding together of man to man, of men to men, of peoples to peoples, of nations to nations, all in one great Brotherhood of men under the Fatherhood of God. Your whole life, Sir, both private and public, had been Masonic before you took the degrees your private life was Masonic, your public life was Masonic, your smile was Masonic.
"We therefore rejoiced that you had finally come into the Brotherhood and had actually been made a Master Mason by taking the degrees, had become one of us in fact, as you had been in spirit, all through your life. It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to this Lodge, to invite you to a seat in the East."
"President Taft responded, in part, as follows:
"Worshipful Master, I appreciate in full your very cordial welcome. I am conscious that my introduction into Masonry needed some support and I attribute it to the spirit of mercy and charity that I am sure is found in a reception such as you have given, in order to justify the brevity of my initiation."