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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.

A 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.


Quite 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.


Facts 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 Compass.


Another 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.


Let me give you an example.


Dalcho and Cerneau

When 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.


You 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.


This Dalcho’s offer stays in the Minutes of Cerneau’s Grand Consistory. Was Cerneau such a bad person after all?


The 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.


For 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.


If 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.


Now let me explain why I am familiar with Dalcho’s offer.


The N. M. J. History Committee

In 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.


We 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.


Albert Pike

Together 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.


Not 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.


Now let us take another example of how Masonic historians can be unpleasant.


Emanuel De La Motta

You 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 Jurisdiction.


That 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.


Did 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 so.


The Montebello Conference

Ignorance 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, yesterday.


English 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:

We 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.


Ireland 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.


This 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.


By 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.


Now, 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.



You 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 about it.


I 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.


Judging 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.


When 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.


I told this to a friend once and he commented drily : you forget a third possibility : the author’s imagination !


Last 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 !