PRESENT DAY FREEMASONRY, whatever its antecedents may have been, began with the formation of the Grand Lodge of England, in 1717. Perhaps it would be more accurate to date its beginning from the adoption by that Grand Lodge, about 1722, of the new “CHARGES OF A FREE-MASON, Extracted from the ancient Records of Lodges beyond Sea, and of those in England, Scotland, and Ireland, for the Use of the Lodges in London”.
The adoption of these “Charges” marks the dividing line between the old and the new order of things. They were published, in 1723, together with an introductory “History” of the Fraternity, the “General Regulations . . . for the Use of the Lodges in and about London and Westminster”, and supplementary material, in a printed volume entitled “THE CONSTITUTIONS OF THE FREE-MASONS : Containing the History, Charges, Regulations, etc., of that most Ancient and Right Worshipful Fraternity”. While primarily intended for the government of the Lodges in and about the cities of London and Westminster, These “New Constitutions”, as they are fitly called in the dedicatory preface, were soon widely distributed, pirated, translated into foreign languages, and became recognized universally as the fundamental law of the new Freemasonry which spread with astonishing rapidity over the civilized world.
If anyone doubts that Freemasonry, as it is practised today, was derived from the Grand Lodge of England, let him compare the new “Charges” with those of an older date. He will find that the severance from any and all pre-existing connections was as fundamental and complete as was the severance of the American colonies from England after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. Our national history begins with the Declaration. Indeed, the history of the United States is “merely the story of the working out of the principles set out in the Declaration”, as Cecil Chesterton has pointed out with a keen appreciation of the spirit of American democracy.
Just so the history of Freemasonry begins with a declaration of principles. These are set forth in the New Constitutions promulgated by the Grand Lodge of England, and form the basic law of the Fraternity throughout the world. Indeed, the story of Freemasonry is merely the working out of those principles.
Ossian Lang, History of Freemasonry in the State of New York (1922), pp. 1-2
A Summary Timeline:
1723 Constitutions (Hooke & Senex, London)
1730 Constitutions (J. Pennell, Dublin, Ireland)
1730 De instillingen, historien, wetten, ampten, orders, reglelmenten… (Cornelius van Zantem, Gravenhague, Netherlands) Dutch edition of the Constitutions translated by Johan Kuenen
1731 Constitutions (B. Creake, London)
1734 Constitutions (B. Franklin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) [note 1]
1735 A Pocket Companion (William Smith, London), pirated a large part of the Constitutions
1735 A Pocket Companion (William Smith, Dublin), as above.
1736 Constitution, histoires, loix, charges, reglements… (The Hague, Netherlands), French-language version of Kuenen’s translation
1738 Constitutions (J. Anderson, London)
1741 Constitutions (Frankfurt), German-language translation based on Kuenen
1751 Constitutions (E. Spratt, Dublin, Ireland)
1754 Constitutions (J. Entick, London)
1756 Constitutions (J. Entick, London)
1756 Ahiman Rezon (L. Dermott, London) [note 2]
1764 Ahiman Rezon (L. Dermott, London)
1765 Constitutions (J. Entick, London)
1767 Constitutions (J. Entick, London)
1769 Constitutions (G. Kearsley, London)
1778 Ahiman Rezon (L. Dermott, London)
1780 Ahiman Rezon (L. Dermott, London)
1782 Ahiman Rezon (L. Dermott, London)
1783 Constitutions (Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania)
1783 Rules and Regulations of the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts (Boston)
1784 Constitutions (J. Noorthouck, London)
1785 Constitutions (Grand Lodge of New York)
1787 Constitutions (Lodge #190 [Antients], Charleston, SC)
1787 Ahiman Rezon (L. Dermott, London)
1789 Constitutions (Grand Lodge of Connecticut)
1789 Constitutions (Grand Lodge of New York)
1789 Regulations (Grand Lodge of Virginia)
1790 Regulations (Grand Lodge of New Jersey)
1790 Regulations (Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania)
1791 Constitutions (Grand Lodge of Virginia)
1791 Regulations (Grand Lodge of South Carolina [Antients])
1792 Constitutions (I. Thomas, Worcester, MA, USA) [note 3]
1792 Regulations (Grand Lodge of New Hampshire)
1797 Ahiman Rezon (L. Dermott, London)
1797 Constitutions (Grand Lodge of Maryland)
1836 Constitutions (Grand Lodge of Scotland) [note 4]
1. ‘Reprinted in Philadelphia by Special Order, for the Use of the Brethren North America’: a verbatim reprint of the 1723 Constitutions. Copies were sold and distributed in Boston, Charleston, and elsewhere.
2. Six editions of Ahiman Rezon were published in England during Laurence Dermott’s lifetime and at least another six in the two decades to 1813. A further twenty or more editions of Ahiman Rezon were printed in Ireland over the same period while in North America Ahiman Rezon circulated widely. Following Independence, the book would provide the basis for the constitutions of most state grand lodges.
3. Georgia, North Carolina and other States followed suit in the early nineteenth century.
4. Although the 1723 Constitutions were co-written by a Scot, James Anderson, the Grand Lodge of Scotland, founded in 1736, did not make use of them formally. There were several reasons. They included Anderson’s focus on a Traditional History of Freemasonry that was concerned principally with England; and several ongoing disputes as to precedence and governance between the Grand Lodge of Scotland and of Scotland’s older lodges. For its first 100 years of existence, the Grand Lodge of Scotland thus had no regulations of its own albeit that it was ‘aware’ of the 1723 Constitutions and later editions. The lack of centralisation and standardisation of Masonic matters in Scotland and the absence of a consensus as to suitable rules and regulations for the governance of Scottish Freemasonry persisted into the nineteenth century and the Grand Lodge of Scotland did not adopt its own Constitutions and Laws until 1836, when the centennial celebration was the catalyst for their construction and publication.