Thursday, November 3, 2011

Butterfield on "The Right to Be a Freemason"

Kevin Butterfield. Credit.
The October 2011 issue of Commonplace includes an article by Kevin Butterfield (University of Oklahoma) on "The Right to Be a Freemason: Secret Societies and the Power of the Law in the Early Republic." Here's a taste:
Increasingly, the first generations of American citizens thought in legalistic (or, to use John Philip Reid's softer term, "law-minded") ways about efforts to function in groups, be it in the state, the church, or the small, self-created society. And that tendency among American men and women (particularly in urban areas, but also in smaller and smaller communities in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and even the South) to act within their own voluntary associations in ways that emphasized procedural fairness, legalistic formalities, and compliance with their own originating documents, which they almost always called constitutions, had a number of consequences. Some of them we understand pretty well by now. We know a great deal, for example, about how civic associational life could be a training ground for democratic citizenship. 
But the kinds of knowledge gained in associations—emphases on fair procedure, distinctions between ordinary versus supreme law, the gravity of amendment, for example—also helped to nourish the belief among the joiners and organizers of a wide array of associations that members had a right to expect legal protections and judicial interventions when things went wrong.
Read more here.

Hat tip: bookforum