Mackey’s notorious list and its impact on Maryland Masonry. Originally published in The Philalethes Magazine, vol. 44, no. 3, June 1991 authored by S. Brent Morris
A mushroom may grow ever so tall, on a boundary line or at a corner, but it will never be mistaken for a landmark
Albert Pike on Mackey’s “Landmarks”
Freemasonry in Maryland, as in the rest of the world, is changing. This is a continuing process that began in 1717 at the Goose and Gridiron Tavern in London when four lodges made a radical innovation on the body of Masonry and created the office of Grand Master, an office that prior to that date had been only legendary. The additions, corrections, and elaborations to our Craft have come in fits and spurts since then, and we should not be so naïve to think that our Grand Lodge is immune. What is needed to face the challenges of change is an openness of mind and a flexibility of procedures.
Maryland Masonry is fortunate that its leaders have had minds open to the evolving needs of the Craft. They have laid a solid foundation on which the Grand Lodge has set goals, established programs, and disseminated the tenets of our profession. However, there is a grave danger that we are losing our flexibility of procedures which will be so essentially necessary for our survival in the twenty-first century.
At the 1989 Semiannual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Maryland, we witnessed the elimination of informed debate on several potentially vital pieces of legislation and the disenfranchisement of the representatives of the subordinate Lodges. This disregard for democratic principles was not part of a conspiracy nor planned with malice, but rather it sadly followed from a strict application of Mackey’s so-called “Landmarks of Freemasonry.” These twenty-five platitudes never have been adopted formally by the Grand Lodge of Maryland, but they threaten to become liabilities through a rigid interpretation.
Albert Galatin Mackey is one of the best-known American authors on Freemasonry. What is less well-known is that his creative genius often overshadowed his quest for historical accuracy and truth. In 1858, Mackey invented his list and foisted it upon an unsuspecting American Craft. Soon after there was a headlong rush by “scholars” to create lists of Landmarks and thus fill in what they perceived as a nagging gap in Masonic tradition. Right behind these creative writers came the Grand Lodges, each trying to outdo the other in adopting the “true” list of fundamental Landmarks of Freemasonry.
These enterprises resulted in nothing less than confusion in the temple. Of the American Grand Lodges, thirteen have adopted no formal list, five rely upon the Old Charges, ten have produced their own lists (ranging from seven to thirty-nine Landmarks), eight use Mackey by custom, and only thirteen have formally adopted his tabulation. The United Grand Lodge of England, the source and origin of all Freemasonry, has never seen fit to adopt any formal enumeration and in particular has never endorsed Mackey’s list, and our English Brethren seem none the worse for it.
Where in all of this does the Grand Lodge of Maryland stand?—somewhere between using Mackey by custom and by formal adoption. In November, 1939, R.W. Harry C. Mueller, Grand Secretary wrote that “Maryland has included in its Code Mackey’s twenty-five Landmarks. By the adoption of this Code we feel that the twenty-five Landmarks in their entirety were adopted also, although there was no specific mention made of this, nor has there been at any time.”
Thus the foundation of Masonic Jurisprudence in Maryland has never been formally adopted!
Isn’t the simplest solution to formally adopt Mackey’s product and to be done with it? That would easily solve the problem F the status of Mackey’s landmarks in Maryland, but like most simple-minded solutions, it’s more wrong than right. There is a naïve satisfaction in having an absolute list of guiding principles, and a childlike comfort in being able to assert, “These constitute the Landmarks … in which it is not in the power of any man, or body men, to make the least innovation.” However, naïve satisfaction and childlike comfort should not be the guiding forces of Maryland Freemasonry as it prepares to face the rigors of the twenty-first century.
To begin with, Mackey was simply wrong. Some of his so-called “Landmarks” are universally agreed upon, but most are just creatures of his fertile imagination. Albert Pike’s scathing denunciation of Mackey’s concoction stands as the damning opinion of contemporary scholar, and Pike was not alone in his condemnation. No serious student of Freemasonry has accepted Mackey’s 1858 list in its entirety, nor have more than thirteen Grand Lodges. “So far as known, no Grand Lodge outside the United States has ever adopted any list of landmarks.…” Even a partial list of those disagreeing with Mackey provides a Who’s Who of Masonic scholarship.
Some Masonic Scholars Disagreeing With Mackey’s Landmarks:
- 1856, Rob Moms, Past Grand Master, Kentucky
- 1858, J. W. S. Mitchell, Past Grand Master, Missouri
- 1885, Robert Freke Gould, Past Master Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076
- 1888, Albert Pike, Sovereign Grand Commander. Southern Jurisdiction
- 1910, George Fleming Moore, Sovereign Grand Commander, Southern Jurisdiction
- 1919, Roscoe Pound, Dean, Faculty of Law in Harvard University
- 1923, Joseph D. Evans, Past Grand Master, New York
- 1924, Melvin M. Johnson. Past Grand Master, Massachusetts
- 1931, E. W. Timberlake, Jr., Past Grand Mater, North Carolina
- 1961, Henry Wilson Coil, Fellow of the Philalethes Society
- 1973, Dwight L. Smith, Past Grand Master, Indiana
A Landmark should be something so fundamental, so basic to the fabric of Freemasonry, that any deviation merits immediate condemnation. Mackey’s creation fails this test rather miserably. There is no reason to analyze each of his landmarks; a few particulars should suffice. For example, the Grand Lodge of North Carolina not only does not recognize the prerogative of a Grand Master to make Masons at sight (Mackey’s Landmark 8), but also does not recognize any Mason made by this method, regardless of whether he may belong to a regularly chartered Lodge. Yet we still maintain fraternal relations with the Grand Lodge of North Carolina. Several of the regular European Grand Lodges we recognize use a Grand Masonic Word different from Maryland, thus effectively negating the Mackey’s first landmark, the modes of recognition.
Freemasonry recently has come under increasingly vicious attacks from narrow-minded religionists. One of the frequent accusations made against our gentle Craft is that we are a “secret society” with all of the vague connotations of unknown evil that charge carries. Maryland has wrestled with this problem and has tried to solve it with our rather awkwardly worded Standing Resolution No. 8, which says in part “that our Order is not a secret one in the sense that everything that goes on in the Lodge room may never be revealed; rather it is an Order which has certain secrets which we do not share with the world outside these doors.”
This is all fine and good, but Mackey’s Twenty-third Landmark states in simple, plain language, “Freemasonry is a secret society.” If we adopt Mackey’s invention, then we are declaring to the world that we are indeed a secret society (despite our waffling resolutions to the contrary). If we are not a secret society, then Landmark 23 of Mackey is not a Landmark of Maryland.
The Grand Lodge of Maryland presents another paradox on the one hand we acknowledge by custom Mackey’s Landmark 14, “the right of every Mason to visit and sit in every regular Lodge.” On the other hand we ignore this clear, absolute right and allow only the privilege of visitation. A Brother visiting a Maryland Lodge may be denied admission if any member of that Lodge personally demands it. In fact, Maryland’s deviation from this “landmark” has earned us special condemnation in Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence, as an offensive example of a “very contracted view of the universality of Freemasonry.…”
At the 1989 Semiannual Communication of the Grand Lodge of Maryland, an amendment to the Constitution was proposed that would have allowed subordinate lodges to conduct normal business in the first degree. The Committee on Masonic Jurisprudence carefully considered the matter, adhered faithfully to Mackey’s landmarks, and made the straightforward decision that “the proposed Amendment … would violate the Landmarks of Freemasonry and Masonic history and tradition.” This inescapable conclusion that the committee reached by following Mackey’s authority is logically precise and historically wrong. On May 18, 1842, the Grand Lodge of Maryland “Resolved, That all the business of a Lodge, except that of conferring the inferior degrees, and the instruction therein, should be transacted in a Master Mason’s Lodge.”
In other words, from 1749 to 1842, every Lodge in Maryland conducted its business on the first degree—in violation of Mackey’s landmarks and Masonic history and tradition! How is it possible that our first ninety-three years of Masonic activity violated the Landmarks of Freemasonry and Masonic history and tradition? For that matter, what does this say about the United Grand Lodge of England, whose Lodges have never stopped meeting on the first degree? These contradictions are possible only if Mackey’s inventive list is given official status in Maryland, and we abandon our original history and customs.
Finally, there is the example of the recently aborted attempt to provide checks and balances upon the powers of the Grand Master of Maryland. The argument which prevented the amendments from even being discussed was that Mackey’s so- called landmarks do not allow the Grand Lodge to limit the authority of the Grand Master. Mackey states with his usual authoritative tone that Grand Masters and Grand Lodges are “coeval” (a highfalutin word that means “of equal antiquity”). However, there is no foundation in fact—only in modern Masonic ritual—that Grand Lodges or Grand Masters existed before that historic 1717 meeting in London.
These lofty, theoretical arguments overlook a fundamental problem: if the Grand Lodge cannot limit the powers of the Grand Master, how did we get the limitations we now have? Perhaps the Grand Architect Himself ordained the requirement that the Grand Lodge has to approve edicts of the Grand Master for them to remain in force? The powers of the Grand Master spring from the consent of the lodges he governs, and they can modify his powers whenever or however they see fit.
The fact is, Mackey’s fabrication never has been adopted formally by the Grand Lodge of Maryland nor has it made any particular contribution to our jurisprudence. What is true is that Mackey has been regularly ignored by the Grand Lodge of Maryland when convenient, though his invention most recently prevented a democratic discussion of important issues facing the Grand Lodge of Maryland. The solution to the confusion is straight forward: drop Mackey’s lame “landmarks” (either by agreement or by formal edict or by resolution) and give the Grand Lodge of Maryland the flexibility and authority it needs to face the problems of the future.
Quotations from Some Masonic Scholars Disagreeing with Mackey’s “Landmarks”
Robert Freke Gould
We shall vainly search in the records of those early times for a full specification of the twenty-five “Landmarks” which modem research pronounces to be both ancient and unalterable … Of the Ancient Landmarks it has been observed, with more or less foundation in truth: “Nobody knows what they comprise or omit; they are of no earthly authority, because everything is a landmark when an opponent desires to silence you, but nothing is a landmark that stands in his own way.”
The History of Freemasonry, New York: John C. Yorston & Co., 1885, vol. 2, p. 59.
There is no common agreement in regard to what are and what are not landmarks. That has never been definitely settled. Each writer makes out for himself the list or catalogue of them, according to his own fancy, some counting more of them and others less.
Most of these so-called landmarks were not known either to Ancient Craft Masonry in England or Scotland before the revolution of 1723, or to the new Masonry, as landmarks, for years afterwards. It is a pity that Masonry has not a Pope, or cannot make one of some Grand Master, Editor, or Chairman of a Committee on Foreign Correspondence, endowed with infallibility, to determine the age which a landmark must have to entitle it to call itself a landmark; what is the essential nature of a landmark; how many of the supposed twenty-five are landmarks, and what others the oracular wisdom of the author [Mackey] of this catalogue has overlooked.
Proceedings of the Masonic Veterans’s Association of Iowa, 1888 (reprinted in Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, New York: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Co., 1961, pp. 367–59).
E. W. Timberlake, Jr.
A number of Grand Lodges have undertaken, by express enactment, to fix what the landmarks shall be within their respective jurisdictions, and these differ very widely. For example, nine American Grand Lodges declare that the ancient charges contain the landmarks, while several Grand Lodges have adopted statements of their own, varying all the way from seven in West Virginia and ten in New Jersey to thirty-nine in Nevada and fifty- four in Kentucky. It would seem obvious, therefore, that, since even a Grand Lodge can neither create nor abolish a landmark, such declaratory enactments cannot be viewed in any other light than as Masonic legislation.… It is generally conceded that Dr. Mackey’s list includes all of the landmarks, but it is not conceded that all those which he enumerates as landmarks, are in reality such.
“The Landmarks of Masonry,” Nocalore, vol. 1, part 1. pp. 416,1931.
The skeptic says, first, that down to the appearance of Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence “landmark” was a term floating about in Masonic writing without any definite meaning. It had come down from the operative Craft where it had meant trade secrets, and had been used loosely for “traditions” or for “authorized ritual” or for “significant historical occurrences,” and Oliver had even talked of “obsolete landmarks.” Second, he says. the definition of a landmark, the criteria of a landmark, and the fixed landmarks generally received in England and American from 1860 on, come from Mackey. Bro. Hextall says: “It was more because Mackey’s list purported to fill an obvious gap than from any signal claims it possessed that it obtained a rapid circulation and found a ready acceptance.” Perhaps this is too strong. But it must be admitted that dogmatism with respect to the landmarks cannot be found anywhere in Masonic writings prior to Mackey and that our present views have very largely been formed—even if not wholly formed—by the influence of his writings.…
In reading [Mackey’s definition of a landmark] we must bear in mind that it was written in 1856, before the rise of modem Masonic history and before the rise of modem ideas in legal science in the United States. Hence it is influenced by certain uncritical ideas of Masonic history and by some ideas as to the making of customary law reminiscent of Hale’s History of the Common Law, to which some lawyer may have directly or indirectly referred him. But we may reject these incidental points and the essential theory will remain unaffected—the theory of a body of immemorial recognized fundamentals which give to the Ma¬ sonic order, if one may say so, its Masonic character, and may not be altered without taking away that character. It is true Mackey’s list of landmarks goes beyond this. But it goes beyond his definition as he puts it; and the reason is to be found in his failure to distinguish between the landmarks and the common law.
Lectures on Masonic Jurisprudence, New York: Board of General Activities [Grand Lodge, F. & A.M.], 1941, pp. 32–34.
Henry Wilson Coil
The way to define a thing or a principle is to examine it closely, list its peculiarities, state how it looks and acts, what it does and does not do, and what it is not as well as what it is. Again, the landmarkers reversed the process by attempting to define the unknown thing arbitrarily and, then armed with that prejudicial formula, search through the rituals, the regulations, and even unofficial literature in search of items which would satisfy the definitions. They did not know that the definition is the conclusion, not the beginning of such enquiry. But, worse yet, they commonly included some items which did not conform to their definitions. Of this class, one of the leaders, Mackey, was a striking example. What he called ancient and unwritten principles were in several of his proposals no more than legislation of the premier Grand Lodge set forth in the Constitutions and General Regulations published in 1723. Some that he called universal were not followed in all, possibly not even in a majority of Masonic jurisdiction. Those called unalterable had already been altered in some instances, and Mackey, himself, gave out several additions which altered his unalterable list of twenty-five.
Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, New York: Macoy Publishing & Masonic Supply Company, 1961, p. 364.
Dwight L. Smith
The Grand Lodge of England, which should know a thing or two about the ancient landmarks, never has “adopted” landmarks or in any way attempted to define them other than to make casual references to certain practices. To my knowledge, no Grand Lodge of Freemasons outside the United States has ever become concerned about what the landmarks are, or how many there may be.
Not so in the U.S.A. Beginning about the middle of the Nineteenth Century, Grand Lodges started trying to define the landmarks and enumerating them. They literally ran races to see how many ancient landmarks they could “adopt” officially. Some lists became so long and so all-inclusive that it was hardly safe to take aim at the brass cuspidor for fear an ancient landmark would be removed. And the hilarious feature about the various lists of “official” and “unalterable” landmarks is that so many are in total disagreement with their neighbors’ lists!
“Of Landmarks and Cuspidors,” The Philalethes, vol. 26, no. 1 (February 1973), pp. 6 & 22.
Coil, Henry W., et al. Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia. New York: Macoy Publishing aid Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1961.
Gould, Robert Freke, et al. The History of Freemasonry. New York: John C. Yorston & Co., 1885.
Mackey, Albert G. Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence. Revised by R. I. Clegg. Chicago; The Masonic History Company, 1927.
Maryland, Grand Lodge of. Maryland Manual of Ancient Craft Masonry. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Md., 1935.
Reports to the Annual Communication. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M, of Maryland, November 17, 1986.
Reports to the Semiannual Communication. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & AM of Maryland, May 15, 1989.
Masonic Service Association. “The Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry.” The little Masonic Library. 5 vols. Richmond: Macoy Publishing aid Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946.
Pike, Albert. “The Landmarks of Freemasonry.” The Little Masonic Library. 5 vols. Richmond: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946.
Pound, Roscoe. Lectures on Masonic Jurisprudence. New York: Board of General Purposes, [Grand Lodge, F. & A.M.], 1941.
Schultz, Edward T. History of Freemasonry in Maryland. 4 vols. Baltimore: J. H. Medairy & Co., 1887.
Smith, Dwight L. “Of Landmarks and Cuspidors.” The Philalethes, vol. 26, no. 1 (Feb. 1973.)
Timberlake, E. W. Jr. “The Landmarks of Masonry.” Nocalore, vol.1, part 1 (1931).
 Albert Pike, “The Landmarks of Freemasonry,” The Little Masonic Library, 5 vols. Richmond: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946, vol. 1, p. 66.
 Masonic Service Association, “The Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry,” The Little Masonic Library, Richmond: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., Inc., 1946. vol. 1, p. 95.
 Masonic Service Association, “The Ancient Landmarks of Freemasonry,” pp. 76–77.
 Grand Lodge of Maryland, Maryland Manual of Ancient Craft Masonry, Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F.&A.M. of Md., 1935, p. C.
 Henry W. Coil, et al., Coil’s Masonic Encyclopedia, N.Y.: Macoy Publishing and Masonic Supply Co., 1961, p. 360.
 Grand Lodge of Maryland. Reports to the Annual Communication. Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Maryland, November 17, 1986, p. 29.
 Albert G. Mackey, Mackey’s Masonic Jurisprudence, rev. R. I. Clegg, Chicago: The Masonic History Co., 1927, p. 141.
 Grand Lodge of Maryland, Reports to the Semi-Annual Communication, Baltimore: Grand Lodge, A.F. & A.M. of Maryland, May 15, 1989, p. 29.
 Edward T. Schultz, History of Freemasonry in Maryland, 4 vols., Baltimore: J. H. Medairy & Co., 1887, vol. 3, p. 67.