The first Grandmaster to be re-elected…
Few are the men who have had a greater influence on the course of Philippine Masonry than the fourth Grand Master of the Grand Lodge, William Hendrickson Taylor, who, together with Manuel L. Quezon, were more responsible than any other men for the successful unification of Spanish and American Masonry in the Philippines in 1917. It was also because of his verbal understanding with Manuel L. Quezon that, for a period of 57 years, Americans and Filipinos alternated as Grand Masters of the Grand Lodge. In 1961, Taylor wrote a short missive explaining his role in these two important Masonic events. His letter, quoted below, may well serve as an introduction to this biographical sketch.
Before Quezon was acknowledged as the head of the Filipino Masons and before I had been elected Grand Master, Quezon as head of the Senate and I as Bank Manager of the American Bank, had a close working arrangement with General Wood, who was the Commanding General residing in the Military Plaza. So we three had a very clear idea of what was taking place anywhere throughout the Islands and, as you will see later on, it was because of this working agreement among the three of us that Quezon felt between himself and myself, when the Masonic agreement met its impasse, we could find the source of the opposition.
As a bank manager it was necessary for me to know what the conditions were throughout the Islands since I was making contracts extending for over a year for the purchase and sale of exchange. General Wood, of course, had his source of information from the various Army installations throughout the Islands; and my friend Quezon, of course, had his sources of information. It was the custom of Quezon and myself to keep in close touch as to what was going on industrially and politically, so every Saturday morning I would meet with General Wood and we would consolidate our sources of information, so we all kept each other pretty well informed.
As an illustration of how closely we worked together, there arose a situation whereby the Military wanted more precise information as to what the situation was militarily in Vladivostok. I arranged with an American firm in Manila to open a branch office in Vladivostok. Two officers from the Army manned this office. Of course, the branch never made any money and was not expected to. Each month the Army would cover the loss and we continued that operation so long as the Army felt it was advantageous to them. All this as a background to the complex Masonic situation in the Philippines.
The only meeting place for all the Masons in Manila was Perla del Oriente Lodge, where we could all meet as Masons, but we as members of the Grand Lodge were forbidden to accept them in our Lodges since, according to Masonic law and jurisprudence, they were clandestine and illegitimate Masons. To me and several other members of the Grand Lodge, this situation seemed intolerable, and we felt the situation must be resolved. The Grand Lodge at that time was practically universally recognised as the governing body of Masons in the Islands. Through the help of William F. Filmer, Grand Master of Masons of California, I visited many lodges and pleaded for acceptance of our Grand Lodge, and I was happy to be able to report back that no request for recognition had been denied.
The American Masons were very proud of their standing in the Masonic world and could see no reason why we should let the Filipinos enjoy what we had worked so hard to successfully accomplish. The Filipino Masons, having been long established with a long list of martyrs for the cause, wanted their own Grand Lodge. They applied for recognition but invariably were denied recognition since the Grand Lodge of the Philippines was universally acknowledged as the sole governing body for the Philippines.
Quezon and I had often talked about the situation and determined something should be done but nothing happened until on a visit to Washington Quezon tried to visit a Masonic Lodge but was denied admission on the ground that he was a clandestine and illegitimate Mason. On his return at the time of the regular meeting of our Grand Lodge, a meeting of Filipino Masons was held to decide whether or not to apply for admission to the Grand Lodge of the Philippines. Quezon had even more trouble in getting his Filipino Masons to make applications than I had to bring the American Masons into line to accept the applications. Each body appointed a committee of three members to work out the problem. The Filipinos were Quezon, Kalaw and Tommy Earnshaw, the Americans, myself, Past Grand Master Newton Comfort and Charley Cohn, both Past Masters of Corregidor Lodge.
On a Friday of the Session I had a call from Quezon who said a Filipino was back of the opposition and would we put my men at work as he was absolutely stymied; so I got to work. On my staff at the bank I had some men who were former soldiers of Aguinaldo’s Army, as naturally was Quezon. I had a hunch the opposition was being led by an officer of the said Aguinaldo group. You know how adroitly these matters have to be handled. I had my man on my staff spotted but I could not get to him direct as he would have closed up like a clam. So I had to inspect virtually every department of the bank and, sure enough, my men came through with the information which was relayed to Quezon and when the vote was taken by the Filipinos it was passed unanimously after Charley Cohn had explained Masonic law and jurisprudence and why all moves, in order to preserve our standing, must be strictly m accordance with old established landmarks. And then I made a speech in which I pointed out the wonderful Masonic records they had established, the martyrs they had given, and that we now wanted them with their wonderful background to be able to take their stand in world-wide Masonry. Afterwards, Kalaw was kind enough to say it was my speech or talk, which won the day.
Now in all these discussions no deal was made, no promise given. The Americans knew they were surrendering the control to the Filipinos, but the Filipinos did not recognise that situation until the voting started. But to revert to the steps that had to be taken in order for the petitions to be received, the various lodges must be healed and, after that, the lodges were elected to membership. After the die-hard American Masons found I had won out and that the Filipino lodges would be admitted, in order to control the Grand Lodge for a year after the admission of the Filipinos, they tried to hold the annual election before the Filipino Lodges were admitted, but I was not standing for any such shenanigans and the proceedings went on as I had originally planned.
There was never any question of union, because you can have no union between a legitimate and an illegitimate body. But now to return to the balloting: It had been agreed that Quezon would be the first Grand Master and the American Lodges, coming first on the list, declared their ballots for Quezon. It was only when the Filipinos came to vote did they recognise we were surrendering the American Grand Lodge to them, then they began casting their ballots for me and they finally voted to make the election unanimous. As the voting progressed, Past Grand Master Judge Harvey, who sat in the East on my right, when I asked him what I should do, said I could do nothing but accept. When I asked Quezon about it, he said, “The Filipinos wanted you and that’s that, but I will take it over next year and from then on we will alternate; and so long as you and I live, this ‘Our Gentlemen’s Agreement’ will be kept by the Filipinos.” I then asked, “How did you bring so-and-so into line?” He laughed and said, ‘That night I sent two secretos in a caretela to go to his house and bring him to me. They took him from the floor of his bahay in his underclothes and brought him to me. I said to him, ‘I know you are in this move to block what Bill and I want done. Now let me tell you, if you don’t vote the way we want you to, tomorrow night they will find your body floating down the Pasig River, having suffered the penalty of the first degree, which you so richly deserved.’ And then I sent him away, still in his underclothes, and I have no idea how he got home nor do I care.”
Bill Taylor was born on April 5, 1878 in Burlington, New Jersey, U.S.A. He first came to the Philippines in 1910 to head the branch office of the International Banking Corporation in Manila, a subsidiary at that time of the National City Bank of New York. From then on, he became closely and very actively associated with Masonry in the Philippines.
Bill first saw Masonic Light on October 15, 1909 when he was initiated in Matthias H. Henderson Lodge No.661, Philadelphia, Pa., where he was also passed and raised. Upon arriving in the Philippines, he affiliated with Corregidor Lodge No.386 (now No.3) on December 14,1911. In 1914, he was elected Worshipful Master.
He became a Royal Arch Mason in 1913; in December 1919, he was elected High Priest of Luzon Chapter No.1. He was received and anointed into the Order of High Priesthood of the State of New Jersey in May 1918. He became Illustrious Master of Oriental Council No.1, Royal and Select Masters, in December 1915 and, in December 1916, Generalissimo of Far East Commandery No.1, Knights Templar.
As a Shriner, he came to be member of Lulu Temple, A.A.O.N.M.S. of Philadelphia on October 1,1913. He also became a Knight of Asoka Conclave No.30 in 1914 and served as its M.P.. Sovereign from August 1914 to December 1915.
Most Worshipful Taylor, the fourth Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of the Philippines, had the distinction of holding that office for two consecutive years: 1916-17 and 1917-18. It was during his term as Grand Master that the “gentlemen’s agreement” of Americans and Filipinos serving alternately as Grand Masters was initiated. Additionally, he served as Grand Representative before the Grand Lodges of Cuscatlan, El Salvador , Egypt, Idaho, Indiana, and Kansas.
He became a Scottish Rite Mason on December 9,1910 when he received the 4th to the 14th degrees in Mt. Arayat Lodge of Perfection of the Manila Bodies, and advanced to the 32nd degree in those same Bodies in 1911. He was elected Presiding Officer of all four Bodies in the succeeding years due to his devotion and true interest in his Masonic duties. The Mother Council of the Southern Jurisdiction honored him by electing him Knight Commander of the Court of Honor in October 1913. He was, in 1917, coroneted Inspector General Honorary of the 33°.
When the Supreme Council 33° of the Republic of the Philippines came into being in 1950, the members of the Council saw it fit to honor him for his past services in behalf of Masonry by unanimously electing him to Active Membership and crowning him Sovereign Grand Inspector General on June 27, 1950. At that time, he was a resident of California, having set up his own business in San Francisco after his business stint in the Philippines in the late 1920s.
His last visit to the Philippines was in 1952 when he, together with his wife Margaret, was a visitor of the Supreme Council during its annual session that year. He gave the Scottish Rite Library and Museum a big boost with a donation of a big shipment of books both from the Grand Lodge of California and from his personal library .
Bill lived a long and fruitful life, during which he made great and enduring contributions to Freemasonry in our country. To be forever scrolled with our country’s great Masonic names – Stafford, Comfort, Quezon, Harvey, Springer, Kalaw, and Stevens – is the name William Hendrickson Taylor.