WILLIAM HILLIARD 1778-1836
Deputy Grand Master, 1831
AT THE ANNUAL VISITATION TO AMICABLE LODGE, NOVEMBER 1829
Published at the request of said Lodge, CAMBRIDGE: E. W. METCALF AND COMPANY. 1829.
It is under circumstances somewhat peculiar,—arising partly from the comparatively advanced period of life at which I became a member of the Masonic family, but principally from the very novel situation in which, as an institution, we are now placed,—that I offer to address you. In respect to the first particular, I shall merely state, by way of apology, that more that one half of the ordinary life of man had elapsed, before I became initiated into the mysteries of Free Masonry. At no period of my life did I entertain any prejudices against the institution sufficiently powerful to deter me from uniting with the fraternity; but a variety of circumstances had prevented me from becoming an initiate. In some situations in which I have been placed, and in habits of intimacy with those who were masons, erroneous opinions may have been formed, as to the moral tendency of the institution; but these opinions were generally counteracted by a knowledge of the fact, that many of the wisest and best men in the community were its firm friends and advocates, and that it embraced in its arms statesmen, philosophers, jurists, physicians, and divines, alike distinguished for their exalted talents and virtues. And especially, when I beheld the father of his country, the immortal Washington, whose study and ambition it was to promote the highest and the lasting good, of his country, a mason, no prejudices against the institution could longer exist.
Could it be supposed, that he, who with his right hand was endeavouring to establish a permanent foundation upon which to erect the superstructure of liberty, would unite himself with an individual, or any body of men, whose object it was to subvert the principles of liberty, to undermine and destroy the foundations upon which the building should stand, whose erection employed all the energies of his body and mind? To suppose this, would do violence to every principle of our nature. This fact alone, that he was a Mason and a father and true friend to his country, is sufficient to create a doubt, whether the prejudices existing against the institution are well founded, and to induce one to pause and reflect, long and seriously, before he utters a sweeping denunciation against it.
If any slight prejudices ever existed in my mind, they were overcome so far as to induce me, even at an advanced stage of life, to become a member of the Masonic family. It will hardly be suspected, that any one, in the down-hill road of life, would be induced to this step by motives of ambition and a love of distinction,— by the mere trappings of outward parade, or the love of popularity. It is more than sufficient to look for the operation of these motives upon those who are just commencing the career of public action, and whose youthful and aspiring ambition might prevent a more sober and discreet reflection upon the causes and consequences of measures. But although external objects may have an overbearing influence, when presented to the view of the youthful mind, yet it is true, that these objects lose most of their charms when the lapse of years sobers down and chastens the feelings. I will say no more upon this head, lest it should appear that I am ambitious to prove, that my own motives were not to gratify ambition, or a love of distinction, in becoming a member of this fraternity.
But thus much I will say, that, from the experiment and from-all the reflection which I have been able to give the subject in review, no relentings have ever been experienced upon the resolution thus formed and executed. On the contrary, I can conscientiously bear my very feeble, and, in a public view, very unimportant testimony, in favor of the benign and happy tendency, both of the principles and of the practical effects of the institution of free masonry. This testimony would not be given, especially in this period of high excitement, and of deep-rooted and wide-spreading prejudice against the institution, were it not the deliberate, unbiassed judgment which I have formed. This leads me, for a few moments, to request your attention, while I shall take a very cursory view of the evils which are said to result from the existence of our order.
We will, in silence, pass by all those attempts that have been made by the unrestrained indulgence of the pen of slander and abuse, with which some of the journals of the day have been filled, as beneath the notice of men or of masons, and consider the more formidable array set up against us by the proceedings of state, county, or city conventions. It will be found by tracing the progress of these proceedings, that one and the same song has been sung by all, that the existence of our body is dangerous to the maintenance of our republican institutions, and, of consequence, to civil and religious liberty; or, to use the very modest language of the Boston Resolutions, "that all secret combinations of men, for the purpose of promoting personal interests in opposition to the general welfare of the community, are daring encroachments upon the liberties of the people," — "that the disclosures which have been made of the principles and obligations of free masonary, prove it to be of dangerous tendency, liable to be used by the ambitious and designing as an engine for exalting unworthy men, and effecting unworthy purposes, weakening the sanctions of morality and religion by the multiplicity of profane oaths, and producing an irreverent familiarity with religious forms and sacred things," — "that we regard with feelings of approbation those individuals who have had the courage and magnanimity to renounce masonic obligations, and expose its unhallowed secrets, and consider such as deserving the protection and countenance of all good citizens,—that we cordially co-operate with those of our fellow-citizens, in various parts of the United States, who have applied themselves to the investigation of the character of free masonry."
Wonderful disclosure, indeed,—secrets all out, and still all secret associations are dangerous to republican governments, and the principles and character of free masonry are to be investigated, under the co-operation and with the grateful acknowledgments of the Boston Committee of Safety! We cannot but apply here the old and trite maxim, "Evil be to them that evil think." Upon any other subject, is it usual to renounce and to denounce the principles of any man or body of men, and with the same breath to recommend an investigation of those principles? —to condemn the secrets of the subject as dangerous to our very existence, and still urge it upon all our good citizens to be very vigilant to find out what these secrets are? Strange inconsistency of man! Strange perversion of the understanding, to support unreasonable and unfounded prejudices!
To trace the origin and progress of the present state of excitement in relation to masonry, would be as useless as it would be uninteresting to those who now hear me, and I shall forbear entering on it at large. Suffice it to say, that the English language has been ransacked, and all the ingenuity and artifice of designing men have been brought to stand in battle array against it, and, if it were possible, to blot out its existence from the annals of history. None of the deleterious effects, which are said to result from its existence, have ever been realized, in the lapse of centuries, or under any form of government. They are the mere creatures of the imagination, bugbears and phantoms, to excite the fears, and to lead astray the children of credulity from the path of truth, into the labyrinth of deception and falsehood.
We have the right, and we do demand and call for the proofs, to substantiate the charges which have been made to ring in the ears of the community, from one extremity of our land to the other, that masonry is dangerous to the virtue and to the liberties of the people. Such charges emanate from a corrupt fountain, and, therefore, the streams issuing therefrom, instead of fertilizing, retard the growth, and destroy the vital principle of virtuous public sentiment If we trace them to their origin, we shall find, that the leading motive of all this slander and reproach has been self-aggrandisement, and proceeds mainly from a selfish principle, under the specious and deceptive garb of the public good.
In attending to the history of free masonry, it were easy to prove, from historical records as well as observation, that the strongest prejudices and passions, that have exerted their influence against the principles of the institution, have always been found to exist in those countries, where the darkness of ignorance, and the iron hand of despotism have prevented the spread of general information and the lights of science; and where the horrors of the Inquisition have overpowered the native feelings and energies of the human mind, and bound it fast in the chains of abject slavery. (Note: Previously to the French Revolution, there was an attempt to fasten upon free masons, all the absurdities and unprincipled measures of the Illuminati of Germany. In this attempt, the famous Abbé Barruel, of France, and Professor Robison, of Scotland, were distinguished. The prejudices thus excited against the order, in the German States, were but of a temporary influence; under the present government of Prussia, masonry is not only tolerated, but encouraged, and the author witnessed, six years since, a splendid masonic parade in the city of Berlin in honor of the marriage of the heir apparent to the throne of Prussia, who is a mason.)
It would be equally easy, also, to prove from the same sources, that in our own comparatively enlightened country, these prejudices and passions have exerted their influence, with a few exceptions, in those places, where the advantages of education have been but spar ingly enjoyed, and where reason has not been permitted to perform its office in judging of men and things according to their abstract and relative worth.
Let it, however, be understood, that I appear here not as the advocate of masons, but of the institution, as separate and distinct from its individual members. Far be it from me to say that there are not just grounds of complaint and reproach attached to our order, from the principles and conduct of some, who may attempt to shelter themselves under the wings of our extended charity. Far be it from me to think, or to say, that our institution is not, like all others of human origin, susceptible of much improvement, both as to form and substance ; on the contrary, I believe much might be done in this respect, to lessen and obviate objections honestly existing in the minds of many of its friends. But neither the time nor the occasion would justify me in entering upon this subject. It is one, which calls for the collected wisdom of the fraternity. But let it not be forgotten, that by a careful attention to all the objections, offered against us by our opponents, the whole force of the argument relied upon, rests upon that unphilosophical mode of reasoning, by which the abuse and perversion of an object is made to operate against its existence. This method of reasoning, it will be readily seen, goes to sap the foundation of all establishments, and to destroy at once the best and the noblest institutions, human or divine, with, which the world was ever blessed. Reason and religion themselves, the best gifts of God to man, must yield their claims to our veneration and homage, because they are, or may be, perverted to the basest of purposes.
Charity, in the most extensive signification of the word, is one of the prominent principles, by which we profess to be governed, and 1 would be the last, knowingly and wilfully, to commit a breach upon this beautiful, this heavenly trait of human character. The charity I here mean, is that which "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." But will it, can it be considered as doing any violence to this article of our creed and principle of our action, to say, that from all the evidence before us, neither our pretended friends, nor our open, avowed enemies, have appeared to be governed by the purest motives, in their opposition? Has there been no leading motive to action, but such as is consistent with a due regard to the public safety, and the preservation of the public virtue? Have there been no insidious attempts to wound the feel ings, to lessen the respectability, to destroy the reputation of any of our peaceable and unoffending citizens, and to rise, either in civil, reli gious, or political life, upon their fall? Has it not been the whole burden of the song, to cast a stigma upon the character of a large portion of the .community, to blacken, and even stain with blood, the pages of their whole history, merely for the supposed misconduct of a few individuals?
But, still farther, has not this spirit of opposition extended itself to as shameless an act of persecution, as ever stained and disgraced the page of history ? Who are these boasted friends of liberty, of pub lic justice, of the purity of our government and of our laws, that will,hold up the rod of terror to deter a man from doing what he conscientiously believes to be right in itself, and beneficial to society, and which has not been, and cannot be, proved injurious in its individ ual or social, influence?: What kind of liberty is that, which would de prive a man of his influence upon society, either in the civil, political, or religious walks of life; drive him from the scene of his usefulness, and even take from him and his virtuous friends and family, the bread that nourishes them ?—and all this, for what ? Be cause he is a mason ! O shame, where is thy blush ? O liberty, whither art thou fled.*
(Note: In answer to these questions, I cannot omit a passing notice to a distinguished individual, who has set himself up as a mark even to those who are not sharp shooters. This man has seen fit voluntarily to place himself at the head of an assemblage in a neighbouring county, who, like the memorable assemblage at the famed city of Ephesus, on a former occasion, knew not why or wherefore they were come together, but who, nevertheless, were disposed, with one accord and with one voice, to cry out, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" This idol of modern anti-masonry has been pleased to denounce masonry, without chapter or verse, as dangerous to the liberties of the people, as subversive of the peace and good order of the community, and as deserving the reprobation of all good men; and to hold up to public execration all secret associations, of whatever character, or for whatever purpose they have been formed. I take leave to remind that gentleman of a no very distant period, when he was not only an ardent approver but an active applauder of secret associations; of those associations too, whose object it was to bring about the French Revolution; who, in pursuance of secret and deep laid plans, dethroned and beheaded one of the best of kings, and whose murderous fangs were imbrued in the heart-blood of the innocent members of his family :— who deluged the French nation with the blood of its most virtuous and patriotic citizens, and who established a military despotism that overthrew their.own government, and shook to their centre most of the governments in Europe, and threatened the utter destruction of liberty throughout the civilized world ! Associations like these might well be dreaded by minds less sensitive than his to the influence of secret associations of the present day. Yet the combinations and associations of former days, some of whose good fruits have been alluded to, were not only harmless, but praiseworthy. So much for integrity of purpose and consistency of character.— Who, in reference to these things, can forbear the admonition, "Physician, heal thyself?"
We have heard of persecutions of former days for conscience' sake, which make us shudder at their recital. We have heard of the stake and the gibbet being held up in terrorem, before those who would not bow the knee, and prostrate the reasoning powers and faculties, which the God of nature had given them, before the shrine and the altars of an unknown God. We have heard of the persecutions, which drove our fathers to seek an asylum from its windy storm and tempest, in this then barren wilderness. We have heard in later times, and in a more refined state of society, of the bloody guillotine erected for all those, who would not abjure their king and country, and vociferate the popular language of liberty and equality, vive la Republique. And in still later times — to the disgrace of our boasted republican institutions be it said,—we see and hear of those, who would blast the reputation, destroy the influence, and even intercept the daily bread of those, who are associated with, and refuse to renounce their attachment to, an institution which has been, and still is, the fairest and the strongest pillar in support of our republican edifice. Let a principle like this be generally countenanced and cherished through the community, and we may bid farewell to all for which our fathers fought, and which their children have received from them, as the richest legacy they had to bestow. The spirit of persecution is the same in every age, and in every country, whether it be directed against an individual, or a community. It aims at nothing short of the complete extermination of those, at whom it is directed. It feeds upon envy,— it drinks in the gall of bitterness,— it is clothed with the garments of destruction, — its tender mercies are cruel. It is the same spirit which rankled in the bosom of Saul of Tarsus, when, on his way to Damascus, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, he was arrested by the interposition of Heaven, in those memorable words, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?" Of all the evils, which man is capable of inflicting upon his brother man, O deliver us from that of harbouring and exercising the spirit of persecution.
To specify the advantages, which have resulted to individuals and to the community from the institution of masonry, would be but to give a particular history of it from its first establishment to the present day. It would be bringing to view, under every form of government, the character of the most loyal subjects and of the most patriotic citizens, sworn friends to the constitution and laws of their country. It would be opening before you a fountain, from which continued streams of benevolent efforts have been flowing, to meliorate the condition of man, and to mitigate the. sufferings incident to humanity. It would present to your view an altar, erected, not to an unknown God, but to the sovereign,, almighty Architect of the universe. It would present to you the word of God to guide, and the emblems of rectitude and uprightness to instruct us in all our intercourse with the world. It would, in fine, be presenting to you,; in. bold, relief, a system of moral sentiment and moral feeling, second only to that, which we profess to receive as our first and. our chief guide and pattern.
Nothing, my friends, in my opinion, can be farther from the truth, than that, the principles of masonry are at variance with the order and. safety of our political or religious institutions, that they tend to. undermine and destroy the foundations of civil society, and introduce anarchy and confusion into the social compact. We hesitate, not to pronounce it a libel upon the fraternity, unsupported by the least particle of evidence, and originating only in the disordered imagination, or the wicked heart of its enemies. Whatever may be said of the dangers that may arise from the existence of other secret associations, who never have, avowed, and never dared to avow, their principles and motives of action, let it never be forgotten, that the principles of masonry have always been presented to the world, without reserve, and as clear as the noon-day sun.. A holy reverence for the Deity, and an expanded benevolence to man, have been, and still are, deeply engraven upon the heart, and are the avowed principles that govern every true mason. With these governing principles, carried out into the various walks and relations of life, will it still be said, that our institution is subversive of all that is good, and all that is worthy of public confidence, dangerous to the moral, arid religious, and political safety of the community, and that, if suffered to exist, our government and all that we hold most dear in society, will be jeoparded if not entirely overthrown? Away with such airy phantoms and dreams of the night. Away with such disorders of the imagination; such depravity of heart, such calumnies against a great body of citizens, and an institution,, fraught with principles upon which the foundations of. our republican edifice-must stand. Shall we for a moment believe, that so. large a body of men as compose our fraternity, or any considerable' portion of them, can. be actuated by those motives, which go. directly to undermine and destroy the foundation upon which the public weal, and our own individual safety, security, and happiness so essentially depend? It would seem hardly necessary to refute such calumnies, were it not, that the credulity of the age in which we live has given a wide spread to them, and that every exertion has been making, and still is made, to fasten such absurd and wicked charges upon this respectable, and, we add, respected portion of the community.
Under these circumstances, the question may be asked, with a lively interest, What course is it our duty, as individuals, and as a body, to pursue? I would answer in the first place, that it is our incumbent duty to live down calumny and reproach, by a strict adherence to our avowed principles, by a uniform and steady maintenance of those cardinal virtues, which constitute the main pillars that, support our, edifice, that we may not "have a name to live, while we are dead." Otherwise we shall deserve reproach; and if we receive it we shall have no just cause of complaint. You, my brethren, need not that I should enumerate these virtues, as they are presented to your view by the very emblems with which you are clothed, and which have been presented and illustrated in your masonic course. It is no evidence, that we are engaged in a course that is not intrinsically good, because the spirit of persecuting power may be lifted up against us. We have seen, in ages that have gone by, the powerful arm of persecution extended to crush a higher and a holier cause, the influence of which has induced many to renounce their allegiance to the King of heaven; but which cause has influenced many more, with daring and virtuous courage, to withstand all opposition, and to meet the terrors of the stake, rather than relinquish their plighted vows, and sacrifice the honest convictions of an enlightened conscience. In the second place, although we may lawfully resist opposition, by a full and public denial of the charges alleged against us and our principles, it is, in my humble apprehension, our especial duty to counteract their influence among ourselves, and invite an investigation of our principles, by a full exhibition of their effects upon our lives and conduct. Silence, opposed to the darts of calumny, will often cause these weapons to injure those who wield them, and prove harmless to those against whom they are directed ; while a resistance of force to force would tend to weaken, if not to destroy, those feelings of charity which constitute one of the most prominent traits in the character of an upright mason.
Let us therefore, as individuals, and as a body, continue to cultivate a strong attachment to the principles of genuine liberty, order, and good government. Let it never be said of us, with truth, that we subvert these princi ples of liberty, by disregarding the claims of the virtuous, the great, and the good, for the purpose of upholding the weak and1 the wicked, merely because they are members of our fraternity;' Let it never be said, with truth, that we screen from the arm of public justice the abandoned, the unprincipled, and the profligate who would attempt to hide themselves within the sacred abode of the masonic temple, and claim as a matter of rights our protection and support. No, if the principles of allegiance to our God, to our country, and to truth and justice, were not paramount with us as masons, then it might indeed be said, that the tendency of masonry was to unhinge society, to introduce corruption into the fountains of public justice and to subvert the foundation of our republic. The obligations we take have no hostility, directly or indirectly, to 'the. duties we owe to our God, to our country or to ourselves. Let us, therefore, pass by, unheeded, the excitement of the day, as they will be but for a day. The violence of the storm is still at a distance. We hear the distant thunder, and see the coruscations of the light ning, and if ft approaches nearer, and hangs over our heads, we will be clothed with the non-conductors of Faith, Hope, and Charity; and although the foundations may be shaken, yet the building will stand secure.