George Mason is a lesser known founding father, but should be recognized as one of the central contributors to this great nation—regardless of how popular or well-known he is.
He was, after all, one of three members of the Constitutional Convention to never sign the new Constitution. He was vehemently opposed to it and is even quoted saying: “ I would sooner chop off my right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands.”
Despite his concerns with the Constitution, he was a central figure in the drafting of the Bill of Rights. In fact, his adamant demand for a Bill of Rights in the Constitution is one of the reasons it was eventually included. Further, The Bill of Rights was modeled after Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights.
So, here’s a brief historical overview of George Mason.
George Mason: Early Years
George Mason was born in 1725 in Virginia. When he was 10 years old, his father died, leaving him to the care of his uncle. According to most sources I found, his uncle had a vast library of around 1,500 books, a third of which were on law. It was through spending time in this library that Mason developed a penchant for law and politics.
He married at age 23 and become a lawyer and a businessman and eventually (and begrudgingly) a politician. He also fathered nine children while contributing to the country as he did.
George Mason: Virginia Years
In 1759, Mason was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, but it wasn’t until 1776 that he produced his greatest contribution to American politics. In 1776, as a result of America’s choice to declare her independence from Great Britain, Mason penned the Virginia Declaration of Rights. He detailed the importance of religious freedom, the freedom of the press, a trial by jury, protection from self-incrimination and many of the other rights we now see in the Bill of Rights.
Many states ended up modeling their state bill of rights after Mason’s. This document has served as the model for almost all proceeding major American political documents. Jefferson used this document as a spring board for the Declaration of Independence and Madison based most of the Bill of Rights off of this document as well.
The document starts out with the following (and likely familiar) statement: “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
Read all sixteen declared rights for yourself. They are the backbone of every right we now hold dear in American politics.
George Mason: Constitutional Convention
During the Constitutional Convention in 1787, George Mason was one of the most outspoken and verbal members present. He expressed extreme concern that the Constitution did not include a declaration of the specific rights the government cannot infringe upon. Despite his intense involvement in the Constitutional Convention, and the eventual inclusion of a Bill of Rights, he ended up refusing to sign the document in then end. He felt that there were far too many flaw in the document. One source explains:
“He explained his reasons at length, citing the absence of a declaration of rights as his primary concern. He then discussed the provisions of the Constitution point by point, beginning with the House of Representatives. The House he criticized as not truly representative of the nation, the Senate as too powerful. He also claimed that the power of the federal judiciary would destroy the state judiciaries, render justice unattainable, and enable the rich to oppress and ruin the poor. These fears led Mason to conclude that the new government was destined to either become a monarchy or fall into the hands of a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy.”
Some of his concerns were addressed by the addition of the Bill of Rights, but not enough to make him satisfied or willing to put his stamp of approval on it. And, as it turns out, many of his concerns were well-founded.
George Mason’s Declaration of Rights was a critical piece in the Constitution puzzle. It laid the groundwork for the Bill of Rights and many other state constitutions.
Mason was incredibly cautious when it came to federal power. It’s important to realize that the founding of this country did not happen easily or without turmoil and disagreement. In fact, it was the disagreements and arguments that led to the Constitution and Bill of Rights. This means that this country was built upon the freedom to agree to disagree, a principle many today could learn from.
George Mason was concerned about federal power. He had to every right to be, just as we are seeing today. And yet, Madison and Hamilton were concerned about state power, as they had every right to be, just as we are seeing today.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Mason explaining why power is always abused, whether at the federal or state level.
“Considering the natural lust for power so inherent in man, I fear the thirst of power will prevail to oppress the people”.
Do you not see that thirst for power raging today?
The Liberty Belle