Swimming Alongside the Titanic

by Midnight Freemason Contributor
By Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

"I would not denounce or renounce Freemasonry even in order to become President of the United States." ~Brother Henry Clay

Practically every Freemason has heard that iconic statement from Henry Clay, who served as Grand Master of Kentucky in 1820.  Most, however, do not know the circumstances behind it, and what else Clay said along with it.  Clay said it because, at the time, he was being courted to run for US President as the candidate of the Anti-Masonic Party!

Clay, who conducted the only Masonic meeting ever held in the United States Senate chambers, had become disgruntled with the fraternity.  He was fed up with the bickering, politics and hypocrisy he saw in some members.  Anti-Masonic Party members knew about his views and went after him to join them.  When he told them he would not renounce Freemasonry for the Presidency, he also said, "[Freemasonry] does more good than harm, although it does not practically effect all that it theoretically promises."

I've never really liked that view.  More good than harm?  It almost seems he's putting the good and harm on equal footing, with the balance barely tipping in favor of the good.  In my book, the ratio has always been something more like a million to one; up until recently, that is.

These past few months have, by a long-shot, been my worst in the Fraternity.  It started with a racist incident in one of my Lodges that turned ugly.  As things escalated and got out of hand, I resigned from that Lodge.  One Brother suggested I should "stay and fight."  Oh, I'm fighting all right, but being a member of that Lodge is out of the question until the offending "Brother" is thrown out of the fraternity.  The Master of the Lodge, who started the whole thing with what he thought was an innocuous joke, did, in fact, resign his position.

Fast forward a few weeks and I witnessed an anti-Semitic incident in another Lodge.  This came from a member of a youth group but, when I protested, her father — a Freemason — backed her up.

Right on the heels of that came a reprehensible situation, fueled by that deadly duo of greed and power.  To say any more about that would only serve to throw gasoline on the fire.

Well, Brother Clay, you've made me a believer.  We all have human frailties and, predominately for that reason, Freemasonry does not deliver all it claims.  That Perfect Ashlar is a goal, never a reality.

Searching for solutions to problems like these is frustrating.  An individual trying to change the direction of the juggernaut of Freemasonry  is like swimming alongside the Titanic in an attempt to push it away from the iceberg.  

These, however, are problems that will take years, perhaps decades, to fix; and no single person will make those changes — it will take a concerted effort.   

As individuals, meanwhile, we're left swimming alongside the Titanic wondering if there is anything at all we can do.  There is.  

On one rather discouraging day all of these things were seemingly coming down on me at once.  As I sat brooding, staring at my PC, a message popped up: "Coffee klatch, today, 9:30AM."  A coffee klatch?  It sounds like something my wife, Carolyn, would go to at one of her DAR meetings; but this was something the Scottish Rite had set up — just a simple get-together for no reason in particular.

I went.  It was even less formal than I expected.  We didn't even gather as a group.  We just milled around shooting the breeze — sometimes two or three of us, sometimes a larger group.  That was it.  We just shared bad coffee and good brotherhood — none of the bickering, politics or hypocrisy that bothered Henry Clay.

Many of the problems I'm facing... we all sometimes face... come from a few bad apples. But the majority of our members are friends and Brothers who can offer support.  I walked away feeling a thousand times better.  That's when it hit me.  

The big issues will always be there and we should never stop working on them.  As for dealing with the frustrations on a personal level, the answer has been there since the beginning of our Masonic journey; and every Freemason knows what it is when he answers the question:

"What come you here to do?"


Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°

, is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is the editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine, author of the book Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, a Fellow of the Missouri Lodge of Research and also its Worshipful Master. He is a dual member of Kearney Lodge #311, St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite, Moila Shrine and a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. His latest book, Freemasons: Tales From the Craft, is available on amazon.com.


  1. Enough individuals swimming alongside *could* turn a Titanic. If everyone says "What can one man do?" and does nothing, nothing is exactly what will happen.

    I'll keep swimming along, pushing, and trust that I have brothers before, beside, and behind me to help get the ship headed in the right direction.

  2. "What come you here to do?" is the correct question in my opinion.

  3. I really like your post Brother, it comes at a good time for me. I have my own Titanic :-)


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