Imagine my good fortune after spending nearly a full working day at the Missouri Historical Society to stumble upon a new document written by my Great, Great, Great Grandfather J.R. Boyce (1817-1898).
As close followers probably remember, we previously had the good fortune to conduct a graveside interview with J.R., who fled to Montana to avoid proscription after the Civil War. We asked him questions about his early years as a “bound boy” and his experience as a quartermaster in General Pierce’s Missouri regimen. We even probed a little about his experience as a Grand Mason.
But as we all know, some Masonic beliefs and rituals are better left unsaid. We couldn’t ask some hard questions about his experience as a Mason. Besides, Boyce was circumspect, even a little terse, in our interview. After all, he had to get back to his beloved Maria in the Great Hereafter.
So, to stumble across this newspaper article from November 22, 1878 laying out, in effect, his Masonic beliefs was quite an eye opener. Without further adieux, or regard to copyright law, here’s the full un-edited text of his article in the Missouri Statesman, which was published in Columbia (Boone County) Missouri, where Boyce lived until the Civil War ended.
A TEST OF THE POWER OF MASONRY
By J.R. Boyce, P.G.M., of Montana, Formerly of Columbia, Missouri.
(Voice of Masonry)
I read to-night in the October number of the Voice, from the pen of that “old man eloquent,” Cornelius Moore, an article headed “Masonic Reminiscences.” I, too, have Reminiscences of the past in Masonry; and although I cannot so graphically describe the scenes, nor so forcibly tell of these past reminiscences, with your permission I will relate one which, at the time, made a deep and lasting impression.
The scene is laid in one of the then quiet villiages of Missouri, [Columbia], now a thriving and flourishing town, boasting of being the seat of the State University. I was then a young man, but was the Worshipful Master of the Lodge. A gentleman and myself were standing in front of a store on the street, and two old Masons, both members of the same Lodge, passed, not together, but in full view. These brethren were both members of the same church, and both keeping hotels, as rivals, and under some circumstances they had fallen out, and were bitter in their denunciations of each other. The church of which they were members, through their pastor, also a Mason, had tried to heal the breach between them; but, in lieu thereof, they were more bitter than before. The one could say nothing more bitter and malignant than the other. The case was a desperate one, and nothing but their obligations kept them from personal violence. As Master, I felt my position keenly; knew it my duty to do something, and yet, being the junior of both of them in years as well as in Masonry, I felt the delicacy of my position, and timidly cowered under it. But as these two brothers passed in view, the gentleman with whom I was conversing, not then being a Mason, remarked to me, in substance:
“I once had a very high opinion of Masonry, but my mind has undergone a change.”
I said to him: “What has produced this result?”
He responded: “Look at those two old Masons, how they vilify and traduce each other. I once through Masonry had power or its votaries, and that the tie between them was so strong that all breaches could be healed; but I see it is weak like other institutions, and has no vitality.”
I said nothing, but determined to test its strength, and, if it was powerless to accomplish its great mission of “peace and harmony,” that I should feel my idol had fallen. With this purpose fully matured, I ordered the secretary to issue summons for all the members of the Lodge, giving no reason therefor, nor did I state to any the purpose of that summons. The appointed time came on. The Lodge was fully represented, and all looked anxiously to the East for an explanation. All knew there was no work to do, and regular business would not come up. Both of these belligerent brethren were present.
I arose and said I had called the Lodge to test the strength and power or Masonry over its members, and dwelt some time on the importance of unity and brotherly love, and closed by a personal address to these two brothers, reminding them of their mutual vows and duties, and said that I demanded of them both, in the presence of God, the Lodge, and with their obligations before them, to advance to the alter, one at a time, and, as they both professed to be christian men as well as Masons, to kneel at the alter and there ask their God to enable them to state candidly and carefully the cause of their difficulty, and to bear in mind that no language unbecoming them and the place they were in would be tolerated; that I held in my hand the emblem of power and that I should use it promptly if they deviated.
Silence, deep and profound, prevailed. One of them approached the alter, knelt, remained for a few moments in the silent devotion, and rose with tears in his eyes. I asked him to proceed, but he was so softened that he had but little to say in the accusation of the other, and sat down. I called the other to the alter, addressed him softly, kindly, but firmly, asked him to kneel and offer his prayer before he proceeded. He did so, arose in tears, and had nothing to say criminating the other, spoke kindly and softly, and sat down. I arose and asked them if they could not advance to the alter, and there extend the hand of friendship and brotherly love to each other, and bury their animosity so deep that the hand of resurrection could not resuscitate it? They simultaneously arose, met at the alter, and instead of extending hands, fell upon each other’s necks and wept.
While they were thus standing, I sounded the gavel and called the brethren around the alter and asked them to kneel in a circle, with these brothers in the center. Among the brethren present was a minister particularly gifted in extemporaneous prayer. I called upon him to pray, and such a prayer I scarcely ever heard from the lips of a mortal man. When he said “Amen,” I looked through my tears around, and nearly half the brethren were bowed with their faces to the floor, and all in tears. I stepped back to the East, unceremoniously declared the Lodge closed, and the members commenced grasping hands, and some the necks, and such a scene of rejoicing you seldom see, except at an old-fashioned Methodist camp meeting, and all thanked God for the “Power of Masonry.”
The brethren thus restored to each other’s affections ever afterward lived in love, peach and harmony. The gentlemen aforementioned afterward changed his opinion of Masonry, sent in his petition, and became an honored member of the Order.