Anniversaries

Now on View: 300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions

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The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, 1723. London, England. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, RARE 31 .A547 1723, c.2

This year, 2023, marks the three hundredth anniversary of the printing of The Constitutions of the Free-Masons, a book that codified the earliest rules and regulations of organized Freemasonry. To mark the occasion, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library has brought together seven editions of the Constitutions in a reading room exhibition, "300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions."

The Grand Lodge system of organized Freemasonry can be traced back to the 1717 founding of the Grand Lodge of England in London. The group published its first Constitutions in 1723. This work contained a mythologized history of Freemasonry, as well as the group’s Charges and Regulations, a set of rules governing lodges and the expected behavior of Masons. Although often referred to as “Anderson’s Constitutions,” after one of its authors, today, the 1723 Constitutions is viewed as the work of three people—the Reverend James Anderson (1679-1739), the Reverend Dr. John Theophilus Desaguliers (1683-1744), and George Payne (ca. 1685-1757).

The 1723 Constitutions begins with a “traditional history” of Freemasonry, written by Anderson. This narrative fancifully traces Freemasonry back to the biblical Adam in the Garden of Eden. Anderson’s history was intended—and should be read—as literary hyperbole, created to burnish the young organization by giving it a place within a well-known narrative. Following this is a section setting out rules and regulations governing who could join, as well as the Enlightenment principles of meritocracy and egalitarianism governing Freemasons. The ideas behind these rules and regulations still guide Masons today. They include civic responsibility, emphasis on personal merit above wealth or social standing, civility and morality, as well as a belief in a Supreme Being. Payne, who served as the Grand Lodge’s Grand Master in 1718 and 1720, wrote the General Regulations, which laid out the governance and operation of the Grand Lodge and its subordinate lodges.

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Constitutions of the Antient Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons, 1784. London, England. Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, RARE 31.A547 1784

The Constitutions were not a static document. They have been revised and reprinted many times. On view in the Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives reading room are three editions that were printed during the 1700s, along with two reprints of the 1723 edition published during the 1800s. The most recent copy on view is a century old—a reprint of Anderson’s Constitutions published in 1923, to mark the two hundredth anniversary of its publication.

Three centuries after its publication, the Constitutions still contain ideals and sentiments that Masons look to today. Although the United Grand Lodge of England’s Constitutions have undergone extensive revisions over the years, its Constitutions, as well as those that help govern Grand Lodges throughout the world, can still be traced back to Anderson’s 1723 Constitutions

300 Years of Anderson's Constitutions is on view at the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library's Van Gorden-Williams Library & Archives through March 8, 2024.


Happy 40th! A Look Back at the Museum & Library's Grand Opening

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Orientation Exhibition at Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, 1975. MNH 025

Forty years ago today, on April 20, 1975, the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library officially opened its doors to the public - two hundred years and one day after the Battle of Lexington. Over 1,400 people attended the opening day ceremonies, a crowd that included local school children, Active Members of the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, Northern Masonic Jurisdiction, state and local politicians, and representatives of various state and national-level Masonic organizations, as well as many local citizens. The Museum's first director, Clement M. Silvestro (1924-2014), predicted that the Museum & Library - opened in time to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial in 1976 - would be "counted among the enduring projects emanating from the Bicentennial commemorative events." Among the first exhibitions was an "orientation exhibition" (pictured above) in the Museum's lobby which "explained that the new Museum and Library is sponsored by the Scottish Rite of Freemasonry in the Northern Jurisdiction of the United States of America [and] was built to commemorate the 200th anniversary of our Nation's founding..."

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Flag raising ceremony at Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library, April 20, 1975. MNH 025

A recounting of the day's events in the Supreme Council's 1975 Annual Proceedings, includes a description of the flag raising ceremony (photo at right):

"Prior to the dedication ceremonies, students of the Lexington Public Schools presented the Museum with a thirteen-star flag, and raised it to the accompaniment of musket fire from the Minuteman Guard of Honor, and a musical salute by the Linn Village Drum Band. The fifth graders participating in the flag raising ceremony were George Young and Mary Lyons from the Adams School, Laura Taylor and Keith Johnson from the Munroe School, and Micah Sheveloff and Stephen Shapiro from the Bowman School."

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Museum Director Clement M. Silvestro speaking at Museum's dedication day ceremonies, April 20, 1975. MNH 025

Following the flag raising, a dedication ceremony took place in the Museum's auditorium. Members of the Scottish Rite's Supreme Council, led by then-Sovereign Grand Commander George A. Newbury, conducted a "richly symbolic and dramatic Masonic ceremony." Secretary of the Air Force, John L. McLucas, then delivered a dedicatory address. After McLucas spoke, Silvestro, the Museum's Director, standing at a lectern that's now part of the Museum's collection, delivered his own address to the packed auditorium.

 

Were you at the Museum & Library's "Dedication and Grand Opening" on April 20, 1975? Tell us about it in the comments below. If you took photos that day, we'd especially love to hear from you!