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ÉTUDES MAÇONNIQUES - MASONIC PAPERS
by W.Bro. ALAIN BERNHEIM 33°
MY APPROACH TO MASONIC HISTORY - Washington (D.C.), 2009
Speech given to the Scottish Rite Research Society (SRRS) annual meeting Washington (D. C.), October 6, 2009.|
After his speech, Ill. Bro. William B. Brunk, 33°, the President of the SRRS awarded Ill. Alain Bernheim, 33°, the Albert Gallatin Mackey Award "for Lifetime Achievement", a distinction which was awarded five times only since the SRRS was founded and never before to a non-American Brother.
few days ago, I finished writing a book entitled The Rite of Thirty-three
Degrees - From Frederick Dalcho to Charles Riandey. In each chapter, I was
confronted with the same situation, namely, what I was writing about was the
consequence of what happened before. Accordingly, I had to go a few years
backwards in order to show the links which resulted in a specific situation.
often I had another problem: in order to explain what happened then or what had
happened before, I had to go into facts which are not found in Masonic books
because they are considered unpleasant.
can be unpleasant for various reasons. One of them is that a Grand Master or a
Grand Commander acted in a way which has little to do with the place where you
are supposed to find a Mason if he gets lost, namely between the Square and the
reason can be that such facts do not fit in the way specific periods of Masonic
history are told by authorities. Or - something which also happens quite often -
they are described in such a way that their unpleasantness disappears. But then,
history makes little sense, if any sense at all.
me give you an example.
this Supreme Council was opened in Charleston in 1801, its name was the Supreme
Council of the 33d Degree for the United States of America. Its first Grand
Commander, John Mitchell, died in 1816 and his Lieutenant, Frederick Dalcho,
succeeded him. About that time, a Grand Consistory located in New York and
founded by a Frenchman named Joseph Cerneau, opened a Rose Croix Chapter as well
as a Grand Council of Princes of the Royal Secret in Charleston.
know of course that along the 19th Century up to the present day,
Cerneau is described with rather unflattering words such as impostor of the
first magnitude, irregular, spurious… However, what you may not know is
something you will not find in Masonic books. Namely that Grand Commander
Dalcho, in December 1821, suggested to the Cerneau representative in Charleston
that Cerneau’s Grand Consistory in New York and Dalcho’s Supreme Council in
Charleston should divide the whole territory of the United States between them.
Dalcho’s offer stays in the Minutes of Cerneau’s Grand Consistory. Was
Cerneau such a bad person after all?
question is an interesting one for the following reason. Of all the Masonic
characters I had to cope with in my book, Moses Holbrook, John James Joseph
Gourgas, Dr Charles Morison, Charles Riandey and a few others, Dr Frederick
Dalcho appears as the most honest one. I never caught him doing anything wrong
and, besides, I often witnessed him doing the right thing.
instance, when in August 1827 Gourgas and his Supreme Council in New York
managed to get Holbrook and all the members of the Supreme Council in Charleston
sign that strange and remarkable document known as the Secret Constitutions and swear never to
let them be copied, Dalcho did not submit to this “brotherly” blackmail. He
was the only one who did not sign.
a straightforward honest person like Dalcho was ready to come to terms with
Cerneau, then maybe Cerneau was not that bad. Indeed, when Robert Reid in 1911
wrote the story of Washington Lodge, No. 21 of the Grand Lodge of New York - the
Lodge of which Cerneau was a member from 1810 until his return to France in 1827
-, he found only positive things to say about his Masonic conduct.
let me explain why I am familiar with Dalcho’s offer.
N. M. J. History Committee
1950, the Northern Jurisdiction created a History Committee. It met eleven times
until 1955 and kept Minutes which were written down with a typewriter for
private circulation only. At one of these meetings, on 21 September 1951, Harold
Voorhis made a report. He had gone through Cerneau’s Consistory’s Minutes
and found what I just told you about Dalcho’s offer to Cerneau. Three years
later, Grand Commander Bushnell and his Committee disagreed upon the point of
whether the Committee’s discoveries should be published or not. Bushnell
decided to discontinue the Committee’s meetings and that its Minutes should be
locked. Fortunately, more than twenty years ago, a German friend of mine
received a whole set of these Minutes and gave them to me.
know next to nothing about the Minutes of Cerneau’s Grand Consistory. They
sleep in the archives of the Northern Masonic Jurisdiction and have never been
published… yet. It would be very interesting to read them and see what they
have to say. It would be a great sign of generosity if their lawful owners would
make this possible.
with Dalcho, another remarkable character was Grand Commander Pike. First of
all, he realized the importance of documents. At a time when there was no
typewriters, no scanning machines, no computers, he copied large parts of the
archives owned by his Supreme Council and had them printed in the Official
Bulletins of the Southern Jurisdiction. These Bulletins,
ten volumes of some 600 to 700 pages each, were a one-man enterprise, his own.
only that… Pike also issued in the Bulletins
most of his correspondence as Grand Commander with various Supreme Councils in
the world. Do you think this would be acceptable to-day ? For sure, Pike could
change his mind about a lot of things, but he was always straight and, like Mrs.
Thatcher, wrote what he meant and meant what he wrote.
let us take another example of how Masonic historians can be unpleasant.
De La Motta
know that along the 19th Century, most official Scottish Rite
documents included the exact latitude of the town where they were drawn up. When
Emanuel De La Motta, the third member of the Charleston Supreme Council, decided
to go to New York in 1813 and have his eyes operated – he had cataract – it
stays in all Masonic books that he founded then the Northern Masonic
he did something of the kind is beyond doubt – when and how he did it is
another story which I tell in my book – but what he certainly did not do is to
put his signature on three different documents on the same day, August 5, 1813,
each of them bearing a different latitude for New York. If you bring together
some documents which are reproduced in facsimiles in Masonic books, you will see
that such is the case.
anybody notice this ? If someone did - and I have reasons to believe that
Brother Lobingier, a remarkable historian, did notice it – then, either they
decided not to mention that disturbing fact or… they were discouraged to do
can bring very odd situations. What I am going to tell you now happened half a
century ago, which for you means your grand parents’ time, and for me,
speaking Supreme Councils in amity, that is both American ones, Canada and the
three British ones, decided to meet together in Quebec in Montebello in 1954.
Since they had never met eye to eye before, the first thing they did, on the
first day of their Conference, was to have each of them describe itself for the
benefit of the others. Lieutenant Commander Loyd, from England, explained that
his Supreme Council worked only the 18th Degree of the Ancient and
Accepted Scottish Rite. Then he candidly stated that in order to belong to the
Rite in England, one had to be Christian. He said:
feel that there should be no twisting of this Christian belief but a full
acknowledgment of our Christian faith […] The Ancient and Accepted Rite,
in our view, is a higher degree and it should not be brought down to the level
of universal Freemasonry which is governed by the Craft, Royal Arch, Mark, and
other similar Degrees.
and Scotland stated they worked after the same principle: no Jews, no
Mohammedans. It came out in the following discussion that the British Councils
did not object to both American Councils having a different policy, but all
three of them were agreed not to recognize any Supreme Council which accepts
non-Christian Brethren, except both American ones.
gave a shock to Judge Harkins, the Grand Commander of the Southern Jurisdiction.
He was so appalled that he saw no alternative but decline the recognition of his
Supreme Council by the three British ones. He took the opportunity to remind his
colleagues that when Charleston’s Supreme Council was founded, it had four
Jews among its earliest members and asked further whether the British Councils
acknowledged the authority of the Grand Constitutions. That question was never
answered and the Montebello Conference ended in perfect harmony.
the way, when England had a rather strong difference of opinion with Scotland in
October 1877 – it lasted twelve years during which the relations between both
Supreme Councils were broken –, they decided to suppress the word Scottish
from the name of our Rite. They still do to-day: for them, the Ancient and
Accepted Scottish Rite is… the Ancient and Accepted Rite.
to add a personal touch to the above story, twenty years ago, I happened to
mention the four Jewish original members of the Charleston Supreme Council in a
paper which was issued in a semi-official publication of the Swiss Supreme
Council. Some time later, the Editor told me that the Swiss Commander, not
believing that what I had written was true, contacted the Southern Jurisdiction
and was told – maybe to his dismay - that my statement was correct.
see why some historians can be very difficult persons to cope with and I am
afraid that I belong to that family. As a matter of fact, I feel happy and proud
believe that history must make sense. When it doesn’t, then it has been
twisted some way or the other. What I try to do, when I write, is to explain,
not to judge.
is a matter which I leave to my readers. They should decide if what I write is
true and as complete as possible. They should check whether the quotes I make
are accurate and see to it that I do not leave out parts which would be
detrimental to what I try to explain. This is the reason why I insert lots of
notes and references whenever I write a short paper or a longish book. Not to
show off, but to let curious and critical readers exert control upon what I
write. In my humble opinion, historians who do not do that have very little
respect for their readers.
somedody writes about history, there are two possibilities only : either he
(or she) quotes from a book or from a paper – and this, of course, is not
problematic in any way as long as a reference is clearly given – or he (or
she) found a document which nobody knew about, and then that document must be
accurately transcribed and its location precisely given.
told this to a friend once and he commented drily : you forget a third
possibility : the author’s imagination !
of all, whenever you read a statement or whenever anyone makes a sharp statement
in front of you related to Masonic history, never forget to ask that simple
question: How do you know? The answer may surprise you !