World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

George Mason

Article Id: WHEBN0000224314
Reproduction Date:

Title: George Mason  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

George Mason

George Mason
Born (1725-12-11)December 11, 1725
likely present-day Fairfax County, Colony of Virginia, British America
Died October 7, 1792(1792-10-07) (aged 66)
Gunston Hall, Fairfax County, Virginia, U.S.
Resting place Mason Family Cemetery
Lorton, Virginia[1]
Residence Gunston Hall, Fairfax County, Virginia, U.S.
Nationality American
Occupation Landowner
Religion Anglican, Episcopalian
Spouse(s) Ann Eilbeck
Sarah Brent
Children George Mason V
Ann Eilbeck Mason Johnson
William Mason
William Mason
Thomson Mason
Sarah Eilbeck Mason McCarty
Mary Thomson Mason Cooke
John Mason
Elizabeth Mason Thornton
Thomas Mason
James Mason
Richard Mason
Parent(s) George Mason III
Ann Stevens Thomson
G Mason

George Mason IV (December 11, 1725 – October 7, 1792) was a Virginia planter, politician, and a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of three men who refused to sign the document. His writings, including substantial portions of the Fairfax Resolves of 1774, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, and his Objections to this Constitution of Government in opposition to ratification of the constitution, have been a significant influence on political thought and events. The Virginia Declaration of Rights served as a basis for the United States Bill of Rights, of which he has been deemed the father.

Mason was born in 1725, most likely in present-day Stamp Act of 1765 and serving in the Virginia Conventions in 1775 and 1776, which served in place of the dying royal government there.

Mason prepared the first draft of the Declaration of Rights in 1776, and his words formed much of the text adopted by the final Virginia Convention. He also penned a constitution for the state; others who sought to have the convention adopt their ideas, like Thomas Jefferson (who wrote from Philadelphia), found Mason's plan could not be stopped. During the war, he served in the powerful lower house of the Virginia General Assembly, the House of Delegates, but to the irritation of Washington and others, refused to serve in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, citing health and family commitments.

Named one of the Virginia delegates to the Constitutional Convention, Mason traveled to Philadelphia, his only lengthy trip outside Virginia. Many clauses in the document bear his stamp, as he was active in the convention for months before deciding he could not sign it. He cited the lack of a bill of rights most prominently in his objections, but also wished an immediate end to the slave trade, which he opposed, and wanted a supermajority for navigation acts, which might force exporters of tobacco to use more expensive American ships. Although he lost there, and again at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788, his prominent fight for a bill of rights led his fellow Virginian, James Madison to introduce one during the First Congress, and it was ratified in 1791, a year before Mason died. Long obscure, Mason is today recognized for his contributions to the United States, and to Virginia.


  • Ancestry and early life 1
  • Virginia landed gentleman 2
    • Public figure 2.1
    • Squire of Gunston Hall 2.2
  • Political thinker (1758–1775) 3
    • From burgess to rebel 3.1
    • Declaration of Rights 3.2
    • Virginia constitution 3.3
  • Wartime legislator 4
  • Peace (1781–1786) 5
  • Constitutional convention (1787) 6
    • Building a constitution 6.1
    • Road to dissent 6.2
    • Ratification battle 6.3
  • Final years 7
  • Views on slavery 8
  • Sites and remembrance 9
  • Legacy and historical view 10
  • See also 11
  • Notes 12
  • References 13
  • Bibliography 14
  • External links 15

Ancestry and early life

George Mason, sometimes referred to as George Mason IV, was the fourth of that name in his paternal lineage to live in Virginia.[2] His great-grandfather, Attorney General of Virginia who had immigrated from London, and was of a Yorkshire family.[6]

They lived in a colonial Virginia that had few roads, as most commerce was carried on Chesapeake Bay or through the waters of the Potomac, Rappahannock or other rivers. Most settlement took place near the rivers, through which planters could trade with the world. Thus, colonial Virginia initially developed few towns, since estates were largely self-sufficient, and could get what they needed without the need to purchase locally. Even the capital, Williamsburg saw little activity when the legislature was not in session. Local politics was dominated by large landowners like the Masons.[7] The Virginia economy rose and fell with tobacco, the main crop, which was mostly for export to Britain.[8]

Into this world was born George Mason, fourth of that name, on December 11, 1725.[9] He may have been born at his father's plantation on Dogue's Neck (later Mason Neck),[10] but this is uncertain as his parents also lived on their lands across the Potomac in Maryland.[11]

On March 5, 1735, George Mason III died when his boat capsized while crossing the Potomac River. His widow remained to raise their son George (then 9) and two younger siblings. She selected property at Chopawansic Creek (today in Charles Bridges, who helped develop the schools run in Britain by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, and who came to America in 1731. In addition, Mason and his brother Thomson doubtlessly had the run of Mercer's library, one of the largest in Virginia, and the conversations of Mercer and the book-lovers who gathered around him were likely an education in themselves.[12]

Mercer was a brilliant man of strong opinions, who expressed his views in ways that sometimes gave offense; the guardian's characteristics would appear in his ward.[10] Mason family account books show that Ann Mason made purchases on her son's behalf appropriate to his age, for example razors and a beaver hat in 1742, in addition to schoolbooks. George Mason attained his majority in 1746, and continued to reside at Chopawansic with his siblings and mother.[13]

Virginia landed gentleman

Public figure

The obligations and offices that came with being one of the largest local landowners descended on Mason as they had on his father and grandfather. In 1747, he was named to the Fairfax County Court; election as a vestryman for Truro Parish and a place among the officers of the county militia soon followed; he would become a colonel in the militia. In 1748, he sought a seat in the House of Burgesses; the process was controlled by more senior members of the court and he was not then successful; he would win in 1758.[14]

The county court not only heard civil and criminal cases, but decided matters such as local taxes. Membership fell to most major landowners. Mason was a justice for much of the rest of his life, though he was excluded because of nonattendance from 1752 to 1764, and resigned in 1789 when continued service meant swearing to uphold a constitution he could not support.[15] Even while a member, he often did not attend. Joseph Horrell, in a journal article on Mason's court service, noted that he was often in poor health, and lived the furthest of any of the major estateholders from the Fairfax County courthouse, whether at its original site near today's Tyson's Corner or later on in newly founded Alexandria. Robert Rutland, editor of Mason's papers, considered that court service a major influence on Mason's later thinking and writing, but Horrell denied it, "if the Fairfax court provided a course for Mason's early training, he chiefly distinguished himself by skipping classes."[16]

Alexandria was one of the towns founded or given corporate status in the mid-18th century that Mason had interests in; he purchased three of the original lots along King and Royal Streets and became a municipal trustee in 1754. He also served as a trustee of District of Columbia).[17]

Squire of Gunston Hall

Gunston Hall postage stamp, 1958 issue

On April 4, 1750, Mason married Ann Eibeck, only child of William and Sarah Eibeck of [94]

Mr. Mason is a gentleman of remarkably strong powers, and possesses a clear and copious understanding. He is able and convincing in debate, steady and firm in his principles, and undoubtedly one of the best politicians in America. Mr. Mason is close to 60 years old, with a fine strong constitution.


Mason knew few of the delegates who were not from Virginia or Maryland, but his reputation preceded him. Once delegates representing sufficient states had arrived in Philadelphia by late May, the convention held sessions at the Pennsylvania State House (today, Independence Hall). Washington was elected the convention's president by unanimous vote, and his tremendous personal prestige as the victorious war general helped legitimize the convention, but also caused him to abstain from debate. Mason had no such need to remain silent, and only four or five delegates spoke as frequently as he did. Though he ended up not signing the constitution, he won as many convention debates as he lost. Mason supported the convention decision to keep deliberations secret, lest out-of-context provisions upset the public, and successfully argued that individual delegates should not be able to call for a recorded vote, lest past positions make delegates reluctant to change them.[96]

In the early days of the convention, Mason supported much of the Virginia Plan, which was introduced by Randolph on May 29. This plan would have a popularly-elected lower house which would choose the members of the upper house from lists provided by the states. Most of the delegates had found the weak government under the Articles insufficient, and Randolph proposed that the new federal government should be supreme over the states.[97] Mason agreed with this, even to the point of allowing federal troops to enter states without permission; since internal rebellion would necessarily be in one of the states, it would be impossible for the federal government to take no action because of state jurisdiction.[98]

The Virginia Plan, if implemented, would cause representation in both houses of the federal legislature to be based on population. This was unsatisfactory to the smaller states. Delaware's delegates had been instructed to seek an equal vote for each state, and this became the New Jersey Plan, introduced by that state's governor, William Paterson. The deadlock in the convention became apparent in late June, when by a narrow vote, the convention voted that representation in the lower house be based on population, but the motion of Connecticut's Oliver Ellsworth for each state to have an equal vote in the upper house failed on a tie. With the convention deadlocked, on July 2, 1787, a Grand Committee was formed, with one member from each state, to seek a way out.[99] Mason had not taken as strong a position on the legislature as had Madison, and he was appointed to the committee; Mason and Benjamin Franklin were the most prominent members. The committee met over the convention's July 4 recess, and proposed what became known as the Great Compromise: a House of Representatives based on population, in which money bills must originate, and a Senate with equal representation for each state. Records do not survive of Mason's participation in that committee, but the clause requiring money bills to start in the House most likely came from him or was the price of his support, as he had inserted such a clause in the Virginia Constitution, and he defended that clause once convention debate resumed.[100] According to Madison's notes, Mason urged the convention to adopt the compromise:

However liable the Report [of the Grand Committee] might be to objections, he thought it preferable to an appeal to the world by the different sides, as had been talked of by some Gentlemen. It could not be more inconvenient to any gentleman to remain absent from his private affairs, than it was for him: but he would bury his bones in this city rather than expose his Country to the Consequences of a dissolution of the Convention without any thing being done.[101]

Road to dissent

By mid-July, as delegates began to move past the stalemate to a framework built upon the Great Compromise, Mason had considerable influence in the convention. North Carolina's William Blount was unhappy that those from his state "were in Sentiment with Virginia who seemed to take the lead. Madison at their Head tho Randolph and Mason also great".[102] Although Mason proposals had failed to require senators to own property and not be in debt to the United States, the minimum age for service in the House of Representatives, 25, followed Mason telling the convention that men younger than that were too immature, and, as Madison recorded, "it had been said that Congress [under the Articles of Confederation] had provided a good school for our young men. It might be so for any thing he knew but if it were, he chose that they should bear the expense of their own education".[103] Mason was the first to propose that the national capital not be in a state capital lest the local legislature be too influential, voted against proposals to base representation on a state's wealth or taxes paid, and supported regular reapportionment of the House of Representatives.[104]

On August 6, 1787, the convention received a tentative draft written by a Committee of Detail chaired by South Carolina's John Rutledge; Randolph had represented Virginia. The draft was acceptable to Mason as a basis for discussion, containing such points important to him as the requirement that money bills originate in the House and not be amendable in the Senate. Nevertheless, Mason felt the upper house was too powerful, as it had the powers to make treaties, appoint Supreme Court justices, and adjudicate territorial disputes between the states. The draft lacked provision for a council of revision, something Mason and several others considered a serious lack.[105]

The convention spent several weeks in August in debating the powers of Congress. Although Mason was successful in some of his proposals, such as placing the state militias under federal regulation, and a ban on Congress passing an export tax, he lost on some that he deemed crucial. These losses included the convention deciding to allow importation of slaves to continue to at least 1800 (later amended to 1808) and to allow a simple majority to pass navigation acts that might require Virginians to export their tobacco in American-flagged ships, when it might be cheaper to use foreign-flagged vessels. The convention also weakened the requirement that money bills begin in the House and not be subject to amendment in the Senate, eventually striking the latter clause after debate that stretched fitfully over weeks. Despite these defeats, Mason continued to work constructively to build a constitution, serving on another grand committee that considered customs duties and ports.[106]

On August 31, 1787, Massachusetts'

  • George Mason biography
  • Gunston Hall Home Page
  • Website of George Mason University
  •  Beach, Chandler B., ed. (1914). "Mason, George". The New Student's Reference Work. Chicago: F. E. Compton and Co. 

External links

  • Bailey, Kenneth P. (October 1943). "George Mason, Westerner". The William and Mary Quarterly 23 (4): 409–417.  (subscription required)
  • Broadwater, Jeff (2006). George Mason, Forgotten Founder (Kindle). University of North Carolina Press.  
  • Chester, Edward W. (1989). "George Mason: Influence Beyond the United States". In Senese, Donald J. George Mason and the Legacy of Constitutional Liberty. Fairfax County History Commission. pp. 128–146.  
  • Copeland, Pamela C.; MacMaster, Richard K. (1975). The Five George Masons: Patriots and Planters of Virginia and Maryland. University Press of Virginia.  
  • Henriques, Peter R. (April 1989). An Uneven Friendship: The Relationship between George Washington and George Mason. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 97 (2). pp. 185–204. (subscription required) 
  • Horrell, Joseph (1989). "George Mason and the Fairfax Court". In Senese, Donald J. George Mason and the Legacy of Constitutional Liberty. Fairfax County History Commission. pp. 15–31.  
  • Kukla, Jon (1992). "Yes! No! And If... Federalists, Antifederalists, and Virginia's 'Federalists Who Are For Amendments'". In Senese, Donald J. Antifederalism: The Legacy of George Mason. George Mason University Press. pp. 43–78.  
  • Miller, Helen Hill (1975). George Mason, Gentleman Revolutionary. The University of North Carolina Press.  
  • Pacheco, Josephine T. (1989). "George Mason and the Constitution". In Senese, Donald J. George Mason and the Legacy of Constitutional Liberty. Fairfax County History Commission. pp. 61–74.  
  • Pikcunas, Diane D. (1989). "George Mason: The Preparation for Leadership". In Senese, Donald J. George Mason and the Legacy of Constitutional Liberty. Fairfax County History Commission. pp. 15–31.  
  • Riely, Henry C. (January 1934). "George Mason". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 42 (1): 1–17.  (subscription required)
  • Rutland, Robert Allen (1980) [1961]. George Mason, Reluctant Statesman (Louisiana paperback ed.). The Louisiana State University Press.  
  • Rutland, Robert Allen (1989). "George Mason's Objections and the Bill of Rights". In Senese, Donald J. George Mason and the Legacy of Constitutional Liberty. Fairfax County History Commission. pp. 75–81.  
  • Senese, Donald J. (1989). "George Mason—Why the Forgotten Founding Father". In Senese, Donald J. George Mason and the Legacy of Constitutional Liberty. Fairfax County History Commission. pp. 147–152.  
  • Tarter, Brent (July 1991). "George Mason and the Conservation of Liberty". The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 99 (3): 279–304.  
  • Tompkins, William F. (September 1947). "George Mason and Gunston Hall". The Georgia Historical Quarterly 31 (3): 181–190. (subscription required) 
  • Wallenstein, Peter (April 1994). Flawed Keepers of the Flame: The Interpreters of George Mason. The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 102 (2) (Virginia Historical Society). pp. 229–260.  


  1. ^ Mason Family Cemetery at Find a Grave
  2. ^ a b c d Pikcunas, p. 20.
  3. ^ Miller, p. 3.
  4. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, p. 1.
  5. ^ a b Miller, p. 4.
  6. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 54–55.
  7. ^ Miller, pp. 3–7.
  8. ^ Miller, pp. 11–12.
  9. ^ Broadwater, pp. 1–3.
  10. ^ a b c d Tarter, Brent. "Mason, George". American National Biography. Retrieved September 26, 2015. 
  11. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, p. 65.
  12. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 65–67.
  13. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 84–85.
  14. ^ Horrell, pp. 33–34.
  15. ^ Horrell, pp. 35, 52–53.
  16. ^ Horrell, pp. 33–35.
  17. ^ Miller, pp. 33–34.
  18. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, p. 93.
  19. ^ Broadwater, pp. 4–5.
  20. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 97–98.
  21. ^ "Architecturally Speaking". House Tour. Gunston Hall Plantation. Archived from the original on June 30, 2006. Retrieved August 23, 2006. 
  22. ^ "Parlor". House Tour. Gunston Hall Plantation official website. Archived from the original on July 13, 2006. Retrieved August 23, 2006. 
  23. ^ a b Tompkins, pp. 181–183.
  24. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 106–107.
  25. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, p. 105.
  26. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 103–104.
  27. ^ Riely, p. 8.
  28. ^ Bailey, pp. 409–413, 417.
  29. ^ Henriques, pp. 185–189.
  30. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 162–163.
  31. ^ Broadwater, pp. 36–37.
  32. ^ Miller, pp. 68–69.
  33. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 108–109.
  34. ^ Broadwater, p. 18.
  35. ^ a b Miller, pp. 88–94.
  36. ^ Broadwater, pp. 29–31.
  37. ^ Broadwater, p. 39.
  38. ^ Broadwater, pp. 48–51.
  39. ^ Miller, pp. 99–100.
  40. ^ Broadwater, p. 58.
  41. ^ Miller, pp. 101–102.
  42. ^ Broadwater, p. 65.
  43. ^ Broadwater, pp. 65–67.
  44. ^ Broadwater, pp. 65–69.
  45. ^ Broadwater, p. 68.
  46. ^ Miller, pp. 116–118.
  47. ^ Rutland 1980, pp. 45–46.
  48. ^ Miller, pp. 117–119.
  49. ^ Broadwater, p. 153.
  50. ^ Miller, p. 137.
  51. ^ Broadwater, pp. 81–82.
  52. ^ Miller, p. 138.
  53. ^ Miller, pp. 138–139.
  54. ^ Miller, p. 142.
  55. ^ Broadwater, pp. 80–81.
  56. ^ a b Broadwater, pp. 80–83.
  57. ^ Miller, p. 148.
  58. ^ Rutland 1980, pp. 68–70.
  59. ^ a b Broadwater, pp. 85–87.
  60. ^ Broadwater, pp. 84–86.
  61. ^ Broadwater, pp. 89–91.
  62. ^ Miller, p. 153.
  63. ^ Miller, p. 154.
  64. ^ Miller, pp. 157–158.
  65. ^ Miller, pp. 159–160.
  66. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, p. 191.
  67. ^ Broadwater, pp. 96–99.
  68. ^ Broadwater, p. 99.
  69. ^ Riely, p. 16.
  70. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 191–194.
  71. ^ Miller, p. 163.
  72. ^ Broadwater, pp. 102–104.
  73. ^ a b Miller, pp. 165–166.
  74. ^ a b Broadwater, p. 108.
  75. ^ Broadwater, pp. 102–104, 112.
  76. ^ Broadwater, pp. 111.
  77. ^ Miller, pp. 182–186.
  78. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 210–211.
  79. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, pp. 208–209.
  80. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, p. 217.
  81. ^ a b Rutland 1980, p. 78.
  82. ^ Broadwater, pp. 133–137.
  83. ^ Rutland 1980, pp. 78–79.
  84. ^ Broadwater, pp. 153–156.
  85. ^ Broadwater, pp. 143–144.
  86. ^ Miller, pp. 231–234.
  87. ^ Miller, p. 243.
  88. ^ Pacheco, pp. 61–62.
  89. ^ Broadwater, pp. 175–177.
  90. ^ Miller, pp. 233–235.
  91. ^ Broadwater, pp. 160–162.
  92. ^ Tarter, pp. 286–288.
  93. ^ Rutland 1980, pp. 82–84.
  94. ^ Pacheco, p. 63.
  95. ^ Broadwater, p. 162.
  96. ^ Broadwater, pp. 162–165.
  97. ^ Broadwater, pp. 166–168.
  98. ^ Pacheco, p. 64.
  99. ^ Miller, pp. 245–247.
  100. ^ Broadwater, pp. 173–176.
  101. ^ Miller, p. 247.
  102. ^ Miller, p. 248.
  103. ^ Broadwater, pp. 169–170.
  104. ^ Broadwater, pp. 179–190.
  105. ^ Broadwater, pp. 181–184.
  106. ^ Broadwater, pp. 187–194.
  107. ^ Miller, p. 261.
  108. ^ Miller, pp. 161–162.
  109. ^ Miller, pp. 262–263.
  110. ^ Miller, p. 162.
  111. ^ Miller, pp. 163–164.
  112. ^ Broadwater, p. 158.
  113. ^ Broadwater, pp. 208–210.
  114. ^ Miller, p. 269.
  115. ^ Miller, pp. 269–270.
  116. ^ Henriques, p. 196.
  117. ^ a b Broadwater, pp. 208–212.
  118. ^ Broadwater, pp. 217–218.
  119. ^ Rutland 1980, pp. 93–94.
  120. ^ a b c Miller, pp. 270–272.
  121. ^ Broadwater, pp. 211–212.
  122. ^ Kukla, p. 57.
  123. ^ Broadwater, p. 212.
  124. ^ Broadwater, pp. 224–227.
  125. ^ Rutland 1980, pp. 95–98.
  126. ^ Broadwater, pp. 229–232.
  127. ^ Broadwater, pp. 202–205.
  128. ^ Broadwater, pp. 240–242.
  129. ^ a b Broadwater, pp. 242–244.
  130. ^ Henriques, p. 185.
  131. ^ Henriques, pp. 196, 201.
  132. ^ Rutland 1980, p. 103.
  133. ^ Miller, p. 322.
  134. ^ Rutland 1980, p. 107.
  135. ^ Broadwater, pp. 249–251.
  136. ^ a b Broadwater, p. 251.
  137. ^ Wallenstein, pp. 234–237.
  138. ^ a b c d Broadwater, pp. 193–194.
  139. ^ a b c Wallenstein, p. 253.
  140. ^ Wallenstein, p. 230–231.
  141. ^ Horrell, p. 32.
  142. ^ Wallenstein, p. 247.
  143. ^ Wallenstein, p. 251.
  144. ^ Rutland 1980, pp. 106–107.
  145. ^ Copeland & MacMaster, p. 162.
  146. ^ Wallenstein, p. 238.
  147. ^ Wallenstein, p. 236–238.
  148. ^ {{cite book|last=Kaminski|first=John|url=,M|title=A Necessary Evil?: Slavery and the Debate Over the Constitution|pp=59, 186|publisher=Madison House|isbn=9780945612339|year=1995)
  149. ^ Wallenstein, pp. 246–247.
  150. ^ "Institutional Memory".  
  151. ^ "Naming George Mason".  
  152. ^ "Introduction".  
  153. ^ {{cite web|title=Virtual Tour||url={{cite web|title=Naming George Mason|url=|accessdate=November 3, 2015|publisher=George Mason University}
  154. ^  
  155. ^ "George Mason Memorial".  
  156. ^ "#1858 – 1981 18c George Mason". Mystic Stamp Company. Retrieved November 3, 2015. 
  157. ^ "Relief Portraits of Lawgivers". Architect of the Capitol. Retrieved November 3, 2015. 
  158. ^ Miller, p. 333.
  159. ^ Pikcunas, p. 15.
  160. ^ Tarter, p. 279.
  161. ^ a b O'Connor, p. 120.
  162. ^ Chester, pp. 129–130.
  163. ^ Chester, pp. 130–131.
  164. ^ Senese, pp. 150–151.
  165. ^ Tarter, p. 282.
  166. ^ a b Wallenstein, p. 242.
  167. ^ Miller, p. 254.
  168. ^ Rutland 1989, p. 78.
  169. ^ Wallenstein, p. 259.


  1. ^ Alexandria was temporarily included within the District of Columbia, though later returned to Virginia. Today, the 1801 Fairfax courthouse, which remained a working courthouse until the early 21st century, stands in an enclave of Fairfax County within the independent city of Fairfax, Virginia.


See also

A provincial slaveholding tobacco planter took his turn as a revolutionary. In tune with some of the leading intellectual currents of the Western world, he played a central role in drafting a declaration of rights and the 1776 Virginia state constitution. For his own reasons, he fought against ratifying the handiwork of the 1787 Philadelphia convention ... Two centuries later, perhaps we can come to terms with his legacy—with how far we have come, how much we have gained, whether because of him or despite him, and, too, with how much we may have lost. Surely there is much of Mason that we cherish, wish to keep, and can readily celebrate.[169]

Whatever his motivations, Mason proved a forceful advocate for a bill of rights whose Objections helped accomplish his aims. Rutland noted that "from the opening phrase of his Objections to the Bill of Rights that James Madison offered in Congress two years later, the line is so direct that we can say that Mason forced Madison's hand. Federalist supporters of the Constitution could not overcome the protest caused by Mason's phrase 'There is no declaration of rights'."[168] O'Connor wrote that though "Mason lost his battle against ratification ... his ideals and political activities have significantly influenced our constitutional jurisprudence."[161] Wallenstein felt that there is much yet to be learned about Mason:

The increased scrutiny of Mason which has accompanied his rise from obscurity has meant, according to Tarter, that "his role in the creation of some of the most important texts of American liberty is not as clear as it seems".[165] Rutland suggested that Mason showed only "belated concern over the personal rights of citizens".[166] Focusing on Mason's dissent from the constitution, Miller pointed to the intersectional bargain struck over navigation acts and the slave trade, "Mason lost on both counts, and the double defeat was reflected in his attitude thereafter."[167] Wallenstein concluded, "the personal and economic interests of Mason's home state took precedence over a bill of rights".[166]

Donald J. Senese, in the conclusion to the collection of essays on Mason published in 1989, noted that a number of factors contributed to Mason's obscurity in the century after his death Older than many who served at Philadelphia and came into prominence with the new federal government, Mason died soon after the constitution came into force and displayed no ambition for federal office, declining a seat in the Senate. Mason left no extensive paper trail, no autobiography like Franklin, no diary like Washington or John Adams. Washington left papers collected into 100 volumes; for Mason, with many documents lost to fire, there are only three. Mason fought on the side that failed, both at Philadelphia and Richmond, leaving him a loser in a history written by winners—even his speeches to the Constitutional Convention descend through the pen of Madison, his opponent. After the Richmond convention, he was, according to Senese, "a prophet without honor in his own country".[164]

Mason's legacy has extended overseas, even in his lifetime, and though Mason never visited Europe, his ideals did. [163]

According to Miller, "The succession of New World constitutions of which Virginia's, with Mason as its chief architect, was the first, declared the source of political authority to be the people ... in addition to making clear what a government was entitled to do, most of them were prefaced by a list of individual rights of the citizens ... rights whose maintenance was government's primary reason for being. Mason wrote the first of these lists."[158] Diane D. Pikcunas, in her article prepared for the bicentennial of the U.S. Bill of Rights, wrote that Mason "made the declaration of rights as his personal crusade".[159] Tarter deemed Mason "celebrated as a champion of constitutional order and one of the fathers of the Bill of Rights".[160] Justice [161]

"Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen", written mainly by Lafayette under Jefferson's influence, was based on ideals codified by Mason.

Legacy and historical view

Mason was honored in 1981 by the United States Postal Service with an 18¢ Great Americans series postage stamp.[156] A bas-relief of Mason appears in the Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives as one of 23 honoring great lawmakers. Mason's image is located above and to the right of the Speaker's chair; he and Jefferson are the only Americans recognized.[157]

The West Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., also with a statue by Ross, was dedicated on April 9, 2002.[155]

[153] [150] There are sites remembering George Mason in Fairfax County. Gunston Hall, donated to the Commonwealth of Virginia by its last private owner, is now "dedicated to the study of George Mason, his home and garden, and life in 18th-century Virginia".

Bas-relief of George Mason in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives

Sites and remembrance

Mason stated of slavery, "it is far from being a desirable property. But it will involve us in great difficulties and infelicity to be now deprived of them."[148] The difficulty in reconciling wanting protection for property in slaves, while opposing the slave trade, was recognized at the time. George Nicholas, a supporter of ratification at the Richmond convention, spoke prior to Mason, but after Patrick Henry had made a similar argument. Nicholas saw an "inconsistency": "they object to the Constitiution, because the slave trade is laid open for twenty odd years; and yet they tell you, that by some latent operation of law, the slaves who are so now, will be manumitted! At the same moment it is opposed for being promotive and destructive of slavery!"[149]

According to Wallenstein, both historians and other writers "have had great difficulty coming to grips with Mason in his historical context, and they have jumbled the story in related ways, misleading each other and following each other's errors".[146] Some of this is due to conflation of Mason's views on slavery with that of his desire to ban the slave trade, which he unquestionably opposed and fought against. His record otherwise is mixed: Virginia banned the importation of slaves from abroad in 1778, while Mason was in the House of Delegates. In 1782, after he had returned to Gunston Hall, it enacted legislation that allowed manumission of slaves of an age to support themselves (not older than 45), but a proposal, supported by Mason, to require freed slaves to leave Virginia within a year or be sold at auction, was defeated.[147] Broadwater asserted, "Mason must have shared the fears of Jefferson and countless other whites that whites and free blacks could not live together".[138]

Others took a more nuanced view. Copland and MacMaster deemed Mason's views similar to other Virginians of his class: "Mason's experience with slave labor made him hate slavery but his heavy investment in slave property made it difficult for him to divest himself of a system that he despised".[145] According to Wallenstein, "whatever his occasional rhetoric, George Mason was—if one must choose—proslavery, not antislavery. He acted in behalf of Virginia slaveholders, not Virginia slaves".[139] Broadwater noted, "Mason consistently voiced his disapproval of slavery. His 1787 attack on slavery echoes a similar speech to the Virginia Convention of 1776. His conduct was another matter."[138]

Mason's biographers and interpreters have long differed about how to present his views on slavery-related issues.[140] A two-volume biography by Kate Mason Rowland,[141] "a sympathetic white southerner writing during the heyday of [143] Rutland, writing in 1961, asserted that in Mason's final days, "only the coalition [between New England and the Deep South at the Constitutional Convention] in Philadelphia that had bargained away any hope of eliminating slavery left a residue of disgust."[144] Catherine Drinker Bowen, in her widely read 1966 account of the Constitutional Convention, Miracle at Philadelphia, contended that Mason believed slaves to be citizens and was "a fervent abolitionist before the word was coined".[139]

Gunston Hall in May 2006, seen from the front

Mason owned a large number of slaves. He was second as a slaveowner in Fairfax County only to George Washington, and Mason is not known have freed any, even in his will, in which his slaves were divided among his children. Washington, in his will, ordered his slaves be freed after his wife's death, and Jefferson manumitted a small number of slaves, mostly of the Hemings family.[137] According to Broadwater, "In all likelihood, Mason believed, or convinced himself, that he had no options. Mason would have done nothing that might have compromised the financial futures of his nine children."[138] Peter Wallenstein, in his article about how writers on Mason have interpreted him, argued that Mason could have freed some slaves without harming his children's future, if he had wanted to.[139]

Views on slavery

Although Mason's death attracted little notice, aside from a few mentions in local newspapers, Jefferson mourned "a great loss".[136] Another future president, Monroe, stated that Mason's "patriotic virtues thro[ugh] the revolution will ever be remembered by the citizens of this country".[136]

[135][134] Mason continued to battle against the Alexandria interests, drafting legislation to move the courthouse to the center of the county, though it did not pass in his lifetime; in 1798, the legislature passed an authorizing act, and

Washington, who was in 1789 elected the first president, resented Mason's strong stances against the ratification of the constitution, destroying their friendship. Although some sources accept that Mason dined at Mount Vernon on November 2, 1788, Peter R. Henriques noted that Washington's diary states that Mr. George Mason was the guest, and as Washington invariably referred to his former colleague at Philadelphia as Colonel Mason, the visitor was likely [131] Rutland suggested that the two men were alike in their intolerance of opponents and suspicion of their motives.[132]

You know the friendship which has long existed (indeed from our early youth) between General Washington and myself. I believe there are few men in whom he placed greater confidence; but it is possible my opposition to the new government, both as a member of the national and of the Virginia Convention, may have altered the case.

George Mason to his son John, 1789[130]

Defeated at Richmond, Mason returned to Gunston Hall, where he devoted himself to family and local affairs, though still keeping up a vigorous correspondence with political leaders. He resigned from the Fairfax County Court after an act passed by the new Congress required officeholders to take an oath to support the constitution, and in 1790 declined a seat in the Senate which had been left vacant by William Grayson's death, stating that his health would not permit him to serve, even if he had no other objection. The seat went to James Monroe, who had supported Mason's Anti-Federalist stance, and who had, in 1789, lost to Madison for a seat in the House of Representatives. Judging by his correspondence, Mason softened his stance towards the new federal government, telling Monroe that the constitution "wisely & Properly directs" that ambassadors be confirmed by the Senate.[128] Although Mason predicted that the amendments to be proposed to the states by the First Congress would be "Milk & Water Propositions", he displayed "much Satisfaction" at what became the Bill of Rights (ratified in 1791) and wrote that if his concerns about the federal courts and other matters were addressed, "I could cheerfully put my Hand & Heart to the new Government".[129]

Final years

The elections had given the Federalists a slight advantage, though not a majority, with the balance held by undeclared delegates, mainly from western Virginia (today's Kentucky). The Anti-Federalists suffered repeated blows during the convention due to the defection of Randolph and as news came other states had ratified. Mason led a group of Anti-Federalists which drafted amendments: even the Federalists were open to supporting them, though the constitution's supporters wanted the document drafted in Philadelphia ratified first. Some of the Kentuckians had declared for ratification, and when a test vote came on transmitting the proposed amendments to other states without ratifying, if failed, 88—80. Mason angrily voted in the minority as Virginia ratified the constitution on June 25, 1788 by a vote of 89–79. He then served on a committee chaired by George Wythe, charged with compiling a final list of recommended amendments, and Mason's draft was adopted, but for a few editorial changes. Unreconciled to the result, Mason prepared a fiery written argument, but some felt the tone too harsh and Mason agreed to redact his draft.[127]

By the time the Richmond convention opened, Randolph had abandoned the Anti-Federalist cause, which damaged efforts by Mason and Henry to co-ordinate with their counterparts in New York. Mason moved that the convention consider the document clause by clause, which may have played into the hands of the Federalists, who feared what the outcome of an immediate vote might be,[125] and who had more able leadership in Richmond, including Marshall and Madison. Nevertheless, Broadwater suggested that as most delegates had declared their views before the election, Mason's motion made little difference. Henry, far more a foe of a strong federal government than was Mason, took the lead for his side in the debate. Mason spoke several times in the discussion, on topics ranging from the pardon power (which he predicted the president would use corruptly) to the federal judiciary, which he warned would lead to suits in the federal courts by citizens against states where they did not live. John Marshall, a future Eleventh Amendment.[126]

[124] Mason faced difficulties in being elected to the ratifying convention from Fairfax County, since most freeholders there were Federalist, and he was at odds with many in Alexandria over local politics. The statute governing elections to the convention in Richmond allowed him to seek election elsewhere, and he campaigned for a seat from Stafford County, assuring electors that he did not seek disunion, but rather reform. He spoke against the unamended constitution in strong terms;

Virginians were reluctant to believe that greatly respected figures such as Washington and Franklin would be complicit in setting up a tyrannical system. [122] There were broad attacks on Mason; the New Haven Gazette suggested that he had not done much for his country during the war, in marked contrast to Washington.[120] Oliver Ellsworth blamed the Virgnia opposition on the Lees, who had long had tensions with the Washington family, and on "the madness of Mason".[123] Brent Tarter, in his American National Biography article on Mason, wrote that "The rigidity of his views and his increasingly belligerent personality produced an intolerance and intemperance in his behavior that surprised and angered Madison, with whom he had worked closely at the beginning of the convention, and Washington, who privately condemned Mason's actions during the ratification struggle."[10]

As smaller states ratified the constitution in late 1787 and early 1788, there was an immense quantity of pamphlets and other written matter for and against approval. Most prominent in support were the pamphlets later collected as The Federalist, written by Madison and two New Yorkers, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay; Mason's objections were widely cited by opponents.[120] Mason had begun his Objections to this Constitution of Government in Philadelphia; in October, it was published, though without his permission. Madison complained that Mason had gone beyond the reasons for opposing he had stated in convention, but Broadwater suggested the major difference was one of tone, since the written work admitted no value to the constitution or the proposed federal government. Nevertheless, both Lee and Mason believed that if proper amendments were made, the constitution would be a fine instrument of governance.[117] The Objections were widely cited in opposition to ratification,[120] and Mason was criticized for placing his own name on it, at a time when political tracts were signed, if at all, with pen names such as Junius, so that the author's reputation would not influence the debate. Despite this, Mason's Objections were among the most influential Anti-Federalist works, and its opening line, "There is no Declaration of Rights", likely their most effective slogan.[121]

The constitution was to be ratified by state conventions, with nine approvals necessary for it to come into force. In practice, however, opposition by large states such as New York or Virginia would make it hard for the new government to function.[117] Mason remained a member of the House of Delegates, and in late October 1787, the legislature called a convention for June 1788; in language crafted by John Marshall, it decreed that the Virginia Ratifying Convention would be allowed "free and ample discussion".[118] Mason was less influential in his final session in the House of Delegates because of his strong opposition to ratification, and his age may also have caused him to be less effective.[119]

Broadwater noted, "given the difficulty of the task he had set for himself, his stubborn independence, and his lack, by 1787, of any concern for his own political future, it is not surprising that he left Philadelphia at odds with the great majority of his fellow delegates".[112] Madison recorded that Mason, believing that the convention had given his proposals short shrift in a hurry to complete its work, began his journey back to Virginia "in an exceeding ill humor".[113] Mason biographer Helen Hill Miller noted that before Mason returned to Gunston Hall, he was injured in body as well as spirit, due to an accident on the road.[114] Word of Mason's opposition stance had reached Fairfax County even before the convention ended; most local sentiment was in favor of the document, as was Washington, though the latter for the most part remained silent beyond urging ratification, knowing he would almost certainly be the first president. Mason sent Washington a copy of his objections,[115] though the general believed that the only choice was ratification or disaster.[116]

Ratification battle

On the 17th, members of the twelve delegations then present in Philadelphia signed the constitution, except for the three men who had stated they would not. As the document was sent to the Articles of Confederation's Congress in New York, Mason sent a copy of his objections to Richard Henry Lee, a member of the Congress.[73]

Another moment when Mason did not get his way on a matter he considered important occurred on September 12, when Gerry proposed and Mason seconded that there be a committee appointed to write a bill of rights, to be part of the text of the constitution. Connecticut's Roger Sherman noted that the state bills of rights would remain in force, to which Mason responded, "the Laws of the United States are to be paramount [supreme] to State Bills of Rights."Although Massachusetts abstained in deference to Gerry, the Virginians showed no desire to conciliate Mason in their votes, as the motion failed with no states in favor and ten opposed.[110] Also on September 12, the Committee on Style, charged with making a polished final draft of the document, reported, and Mason began to list objections on his copy. On the 15th, as the convention continued a clause-by-clause consideration of the draft, Mason, Randolph and Gerry stated they would not sign the constitution.[111]

There is no declaration of rights, and the laws of the general government being paramount, the declarations in the separate states are no security ... The president has no constitutional council. From this defect spring the improper powers of the Senate and the unnecessary office of the vice-president, who as president of the Senate dangerously blends executive and legislative powers ...There is no section preserving liberty of the press or trial by jury in civil cases, nor is there one concerning the danger of standing armies in time of peace.

George Mason, Objections to this Constitution of Government[109]

[108] Mason had hope, coming into the convention, that it would yield a result that he felt would strengthen the United States. Impressed by the quality of the delegates, Mason expected sound thinking from them, something he did not think he had often encountered in his political career. Still, he felt that the "hopes of all the Union centre [

Going into the convention, Mason wanted to see a more powerful central government than under the Articles, but not one that would threaten local interests. He feared the more numerous Northern states would dominate the union, and would impose restrictions on trade that would harm Virginia, so he sought a supermajority requirement for navigation acts[91] As was his constant objective, he sought to preserve the liberty he and other free white males enjoyed in Virginia, guarding against the tyranny he and others had decried under British rule. He also sought a balance of powers, seeking thereby to make a durable government, "Mason designed his home [Gunston Hall] so that no misplaced window or missing support might spoil the effect or threaten to bring down the roof; he tried to design institutions of government in the same way, so that wicked or unprincipled men could not knock loose any safeguards of liberty".[92]

The journey to Philadelphia was Mason's first beyond Virginia and Maryland.[87] In attending the convention, Mason involved himself in broader politics than that of Virginia, varying from his usual practice. According to Josephine T. Pacheco in her article about Mason's role at Philadelphia, "since Virginia's leaders regarded [Mason] as a wise, trustworthy man, it is not surprising that they chose him as a member of the Virginia delegation, though they must have been surprised when he accepted the appointment".[88] Broadwater suggested that that Mason went to Philadelphia because he knew the federal congress needed additional power, and because he felt that body could act as a check on the powers of state legislatures.[89] As the Virginians waited for the other delegates to arrive, they met each day and formulated what became known as the Virginia Plan. They also did some sightseeing, and were presented to Pennsylvania's president, Benjamin Franklin. Within a week of arrival, Mason was bored with the social events to which the delegates were invited, "I begin to grow tired of the etiquette and nonsense so fashionable in this city".[90]

Independence Hall's Assembly Room, where the convention, for the most part, was held.

Although the Annapolis Convention saw only about a dozen delegates attend, representing only five states, it called for a meeting to be held in Philadelphia in May 1787, to devise amendments to the Articles of Confederation which would result in a more durable constitutional arrangement. Accordingly, in December 1786, the Virginia General Assembly elected seven men as the commonwealth's delegation: Washington, Mason, Henry, Randolph, Madison, Wythe, and John Blair. Henry declined appointment, and his place was given to Dr. James McClurg. Randolph, who had just been elected governor, sent three notifications of election to Mason, urging him to travel to Philadelphia. Mason accepted without any quibbles, and urged Governor Randolph to stop at Gunston Hall on his way north. The roads were difficult because of spring flooding, and Mason was the last Virginia delegate to arrive, on May 17, three days after the convention's scheduled opening. But it was not until May 25 that the convention formally opened, with the arrival of at least one delegate from ten of the twelve states which sent representatives (Rhode Island sent no one).[86]

Building a constitution

Constitutional convention (1787)

To deter smuggling, Madison proposed a bill to make Norfolk the state's only legal port of entry. Five other ports, including Alexandria, were eventually added, but the act proved unpopular despite the support of Washington. Mason, an opponent of the Port Act, accepted election to the House of Delegates in 1786, and many believed his influence would prove decisive on the repeal effort. Due to illness, Mason did not come to Richmond during the initial session, though he sent a petition, as a private citizen, to the legislature. The Port Act survived, though additional harbors were added as legal entry points.[85]

Mason scuttled efforts to elect him to the House of Delegates in 1784, writing that sending him to Richmond would be "an oppressive and unjust invasion of my personal liberty", and disappointing Jefferson, who had hoped that the pendency of land legislation would attract Mason to come to Richmond.[81] The legislature nevertheless appointed Mason a commissioner to negotiate with Maryland over navigation of the Potomac. Mason spent much time on this issue, and reached agreement with Maryland delegates at the meeting in March 1785 known as the Mount Vernon Conference. Although the Mount Vernon Conference came later to be seen as a first step towards the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Mason saw it simply as efforts by two states to resolve differences between them. Mason was appointed to the Annapolis Convention of 1786, at which representatives of all the states were welcome, but like most delegates did not attend. The sparsely-attended Annapolis meeting called for a conference to consider amendments to the Articles of Confederation.[83][84]

With the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, life along the Potomac returned to normalcy. Among the visiting between the elite that returned with peace was one by Madison to Gunston Hall, returning from Congress in Philadelphia in December. The 1781 Articles of Confederation had tied the states in a loose bond, and Madison sought a sounder federal structure, seeking the proper balance between federal and state rights. He found Mason willing to consider a federal tax; Madison had feared the subject might offend Mason, and wrote to Jefferson of the evening's conversation. The same month, Mason spent Christmas at Mount Vernon (the only larger estate than his in Fairfax County). A fellow houseguest described Mason as "slight in figure, but not tall, and has a grand head and clear gray eyes".[80][81] Mason retained his political influence in Virginia, writing Patrick Henry, who had been elected to the House of Delegates, a letter filled with advice as that body's session opened in 1783.[82]

Peace (1781–1786)

[79] Also in 1780, Mason remarried, to Sarah Brent, a spinster about 52 years old—it was a marriage of convenience.[78] Mason retained his interest in western affairs, hoping in vain to salvage the Ohio Company's land grant. He, with Jefferson, were among the few delegates to be told of

In spite of Washington's pleas, Mason remained in Virginia, plagued by illness and heavily occupied, both on the Committee of Safety and elsewhere in defending the Fairfax County area. Most of the legislation Mason introduced in the House of Delegates was war related, often aimed at raising the men or money needed by Congress and Washington's Continental Army.[75] Short on cash, states and the Congress issued paper money. By 1777, the value of Virginia's paper money had dropped precipitously, and Mason developed a plan to redeem the notes with a tax on real estate. Due to illness, Mason was three weeks late in arriving, to the frustration of Washington, who had faith in Mason's knowledge of financial affairs; the general wrote to Custis, "It is much to be wished that a remedy could be applied to the depreciation of our Currency ... I know of no person better qualified to do this than Colonel Mason".[76]

Where are our men of abilities? Why do they not come forth to serve their Country? Let this voice my dear Sir call upon you—Jefferson & others—do not from a mistaken opinion that we are about to set down under our own Vine and our own fig tree let our heretofore noble struggle end in ignomy.[74]

This did not end the desire of Virginians to send Mason to the Continental Congress. In 1779, Lee resigned from Congess, expressing the hope that Mason, Wythe, or Jefferson would replace him in Philadelphia. General Washington was frustrated at the reluctance of many talented men to serve in Congress, writing to Benjamin Harrison that the states "should compel their ablest men to attend Congress ... Where is Mason, Wythe, Jefferson, Nicholas, Pendleton, Nelson?"[74] The general wrote to Mason directly,

Mason served as a member of the House of Delegates from 1776 to 1781, his longest continuous political service outside Fairfax County, which he represented in Richmond.[71] The other Fairfax County seat turned over several times—Washington's stepson Jackie Custis was elected late in the war—but Mason remained the county's choice throughout. Nevertheless, Mason's health often caused him to miss meetings of the legislature, or to arrive days or weeks late.[72] Mason in 1777 was assigned to a committee to revise Virginia's laws, with the expectation that he would take on the criminal code and land law. Although he served for several months on the committee, most of the work fell to Jefferson (returned from Philadelphia), Pendleton, and Wythe, with Mason eventually resigning on the ground he was not a lawyer. Due to illness caused by a botched smallpox inoculation, Mason was forced to miss part of the legislature's spring 1777 session, and delegates on May 22 elected him to the Continental Congress. Mason, who may have been angry that Lee had not been chosen, refused on the ground that he was needed at home, and did not feel he could resign from the General Assembly without permission from his constituents. Lee was elected in his place.[73]

Mason devoted much effort, during the war, to safeguarding Fairfax County and the rivers of Virginia, since the British several times raided areas along the Potomac. Control of the rivers and of Chesapeake Bay was urgent as Virginians tried to obtain hard currency by trading tobacco to the French and other European nations.The export of tobacco, generally via the West Indies, allowed Mason and others to obtain, via France and Holland, British-made items such as cloth, clothing patterns, medicines, and hardware.[70]

Wartime legislator

When the convention chose Patrick Henry as Virginia's first post-independence governor, Mason led the committee of notables sent to inform Henry of his election.[66] There was criticism of the constitution—Edmund Randolph later wrote that the document's faults indicated that even such a great mind as Mason's was not immune from "oversights and negligences": it did not have an amending process, and granted two delegates to each county regardless of population.[67] The 1776 constitution remained in force until 1830, when another convention drafted a new one for Virginia.[68] According to Henry C. Riely in his journal article on Mason, "The Virginia Constitution of 1776, whatever may have been the question raised long afterwards as to the contribution of other great leaders, stands, on the authority of Jefferson, Madison, and Randolph—to mention only the highest authority—as his creation."[69]

Mason had submitted his plan sometime between June 8 and 10, 1776. It named the new state the "Commonwealth of Virginia", a name chosen pointedly by Mason to indicate that power stemmed from the people. The constitution provided for a popularly-elected [65]

Even before the convention approved the Declaration of Rights, Mason was busy at work on a constitution for Virginia.[56] He was not the only one occupying himself so; Jefferson sent several versions from Philadelphia, one of which supplied the eventual constitution's preamble. Essex County's Meriwether Smith may have prepared a draft, but the text is unknown. As an original draft in Mason's hand is not known, the extent to which the final draft was written by him is uncertain. Nevertheless, William Fleming on June 22, 1776, sent Jefferson a copy of the draft before the Cary Committee, telling him "the inclosed [sic] printed plan was drawn by Colo. G. Mason and by him laid before the committee".[64]

Virginia constitution

The committee draft, likely for the most part written by Mason, received wide publicity (the final version much less so) and Mason's words "all men are born equally free and independent" was later reproduced in state constitutions from Pennsylvania to Montana; Jefferson tweaked the prose and included the sentiments in the Declaration of Independence.[61] In 1778, Mason wrote that the Declaration of Rights "was closely imitated by the other United States".[62] This was true, as seven of the original states, and Vermont, joined Virginia in promulgating a bill of rights. Four in addition specified rights that were protected, within the body of their constitutions. Feelings were so strong in Massachusetts that voters there in 1778 rejected a constitution drafted by a convention, insisting that a bill of rights had to come first.[63]

In later years, there were a flurry of contradictory statements from convention members (including Mason) about who composed which articles. Randolph credited Henry with Articles 15 and 16, but the latter (dealing with religious freedom), was written by Madison.[60] Mason had imitated English law in drafting language requiring toleration of those of minority religions, but Madison insisted on full religious liberty, and Mason supported Madison's amendment once made.[59]

Young Thomas Jefferson
Mason's plan for the Virginia's constitution was adopted over proposals by Thomas Jefferson and others.

When the convention began to debate the declaration, it quickly bogged down on the first sentence of Article 1, which conservatives feared would imply that slaves were their masters' equals. This was resolved by convention adding the words "when they enter into a state of society", thus excluding slaves. Mason spoke repeatedly in the five days of debate, using oratory one hearer described as "neither flowing nor smooth, but his language was strong, his manner most impressive, and strengthened by a bit of biting cynicism when provocation made it seasonable".[58] The Declaration of Rights was passed by the convention on June 12, 1776.[59]

From the first article, cataloguing the rights of man, Mason derived the following articles, which makes clear that the role of government is to secure and protect those rights, and if it fails to do so, the people have a right to amend or abolish it. Property could not be taken for public use without the owner's consent, and a citizen could not be not bound by a law not accepted by that person or by elected representatives. If accused, a person had the right to a speedy and local trial, based on an accusation made known to him, with the right to call for evidence and witnesses in his favor.[57]

Mason, working in a room at the Raleigh Tavern, drafted a declaration of rights and plan of government, likely to prevent frivolous plans with no chance of adoption from being put forward. Edmund Randolph later recalled that Mason's draft "swallowed up all the rest".[55] The Virginia Declaration of Rights and the 1776 Constitution of Virginia were joint works, but Mason was the main author. Mason likely worked closely with Thomas Ludwell Lee; the earliest surviving draft shows the first ten articles in Mason's handwriting, with the other two written by Lee. The draft for the Declaration of Rights drew on Magna Carta, the English Petition of Right of 1628, and that nation's 1689 Bill of Rights. Mason's first article would be paraphrased by Jefferson soon after in drafting the American Declaration of Independence.[56]

That convention, in May 1776, unanimously instructed Jefferson and other Virginia delegates to Congress to seek "a clear and full Declaration of Independency".[52] At the same time, the convention resolved to pass a declaration of rights,[53] Due to ill-health, Mason did not arrive until May 18, 1776, after the vote, but was appointed to the committee, led by Archibald Cary, which was to compose a declaration of rights and constitution. Mason was skeptical that the thirty-person Cary Committee could collectively compose anything worthwhile, but was surprised at how quickly it moved—though his membership had a role in that speed. On May 24, convention president Edmund Pendleton wrote to Jefferson about the committee's deliberations, "as Colo.[nel] Mason seems to have the ascendancy in the great work, I have Sanguine hopes it will be framed so as to Answer it's [sic] end, Prosperity to the Community and Security to Individuals".[54]

That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights, of which they cannot by any Compact, deprive or divest their Posterity; among with are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety

George Mason, draft of Article I of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776.[51]

Illness forced Mason to absent himself from the Committee of Safety for several weeks in 1775, and he did not attend the fourth convention, held in December 1775 and January 1776. With independence from Britain widely accepted as necessary among prominent Virginians,[10] the fifth convention, to meet in May 1776 at Williamsburg, would need to decide how Virginia would be administered henceforth, as the royal government was dead in all but name. Accordingly, the convention was seen as so important that Richard Henry Lee arranged for his temporary recall from Congress to be a part of the convention, and Jefferson tried but failed to arrange to leave Congress as well. Other notables elected to the convention were Henry, Orange County, James Madison.[49] Mason was elected for Fairfax County, though with great difficulty.[50]

Declaration of Rights

When the Richmond convention began in July 1775, Mason was assigned to crucial committees, including one attempting to raise an army to protect the colony. According to Robert A. Rutland, "Sick or healthy, Mason was needed for his ability."[47] Mason sponsored a non-exportation measure; it was passed by a large majority, though it had to be repealed later in the session to coordinate with one passed by Maryland. Despite the importuning of many delegates, Mason refused to consider election as a delegate to the Continental Congress in place of Washington when he became commanding general of the Continental Army, but could not avoid election to the Committee of Safety, a powerful group that took over many functions in the governmental vacuum. When Mason proferred his resignation from this committee, it was refused.[48]

Washington's election as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress created a vacancy in Fairfax County's delegation to the third Virginia Convention, and he wrote from Philadelphia in May 1775, urging that it be filled. By this time, blood had been shed between colonial and Briton at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Mason attempted to avoid election on the grounds of poor health and that he was needed to parent his motherless children. Nevertheless, he was elected and duly journeyed to Richmond, which, being further inland than Williamsburg, was deemed better protected from possible British attack.[46]

Much of Mason's efforts in 1774 and 1775 was in organizing a militia independent of the royal government. Washington by January 1775 was drilling a small force, and he and Mason purchased gunpowder for the company. Mason wrote in favor of annual election of militia officers in words that would later echo in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, "We came equal into this world, and equals shall we go out of it. All men are by nature born equally free and independent."[45]

Washington took the Resolves to the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, and although delegates made some changes, the adopted resolution closely track both the Fairfax Resolves, and the scheme for non-exportation of tobacco Mason had proposed some years earlier. The convention elected delegates to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, including Lee, Washington, and Henry, and in October 1774, Congress adopted a similar embargo.[44]

New elections had to be held for burgess and for delegate to the convention which had been called by the rump of the dissolved House of Burgesses, and Fairfax County's were set for July 5, 1774. Washington planned to run for one seat, and tried to get Mason or Bryan Fairfax to seek the other, but both men declined. Although the poll was postponed to the 14th due to poor weather, Washington met that day with other local leaders (including, likely, Mason) in Alexandria and selected a committee to draft a set of resolutions, which Washington hoped would "define our Constitutional Rights".[42] The resulting Fairfax Resolves were largely drafted by Mason. He met with the newly elected Washington on July 17 at Mount Vernon, and stayed the night; the two men rode together to Alexandria the following day. The 24 propositions that made up the Resolves protested loyalty to the British Crown, but denied the right of Parliament to legislate for colonies that had been settled at private expense and which had received charters from the monarch. The Resolves called for a continental congress. If Americans did not receive redress by November 1, exports, including that of tobacco, would be cut off. The freeholders of Fairfax County approved the Resolves, appointing Mason and Washington to a special committee in the emergency. According to early Virginia historian Hugh Grigsby, at Alexandria, Mason "made his first great movement on the theatre of the Revolution".[43]

In May 1774, Mason was in Williamsburg on real estate business. Word had just arrived of the passage of the Intolerable Acts, as Americans dubbed the legislative response to the Boston Tea Party, and a group of lawmakers including Lee, Henry, and Thomas Jefferson asked Mason to join them in formulating a course of action. The Burgesses passed a resolution for a day of fasting and prayer to obtain divine intervention against "destruction of our Civil Rights", but the governor, Lord Dunmore, dissolved the legislature rather than accept it. Mason may have helped write the resolution, and likely joined the members after the dissolution when they met at the Raleigh Tavern.[40][41]

Although the resolution was not as strong as Mason had liked—he wanted Virginia to threaten to cut off tobacco—Mason worked in the following years for non-importation. The repeal of most of the Townshend duties (excepting that on tea) made his task even more difficult. In March 1773, his wife Ann died of illness contracted after another pregnancy. Mason was the sole parent to nine children, and his commitments made him even more reluctant to accept political office that would take him from Gunston Hall.[39]

Following the repeal, a committee of London merchants issued a public letter to Americans, warning them not to declare victory. Mason published a response in June 1766, satirizing the British position, "We have, with infinite Difficulty & Fatigue got you excused this one Time; do what your Papa and Mamma bid, & hasten to return your most grateful Acknowledgements for condescending to let you keep what is your own."[37] The Townshend Acts of 1767 were Britain's next attempt to tax the colonies, placing duties on substances including lead and glass, and provoking calls from the northern coloniesfor a boycott of British goods. Virginia, more dependent on goods imported from Britain, was less enthusiastic, and, as local planters tended to receive goods at their river landings, a boycott would be difficult to enforce. In April 1769, Washington sent a copy of a Philadelphia resolution to Mason, asking his advice on what action Virginia should take. It is unknown who adapted that text for use in Virginia (Broadwater concluded it was Mason) but Mason sent Washington a corrected draft on April 23, 1769. Washington took it to Williamsburg, but the governor, Lord Botetourt, dissolved the legislature because of the radical resolutions that were passing it. The Burgesses adjourned to a nearby tavern, and there passed a non-importation agreement based on Mason's.[38]

Mason slowly moved from being a peripheral figure towards the center of Virginia politics, but his published response to the Stamp Act, which he opposed, is most notable for his inclusion of his anti-slavery views. George Washington or George William Fairfax, the burgesses for Fairfax County, may have asked Mason's advice as to what steps to take in the crisis.[36] Mason drafted an act to allow for one of the most common court action, British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, but continued to assert the right to tax the colonies.[35]

Although the British were victorious over the French in the war, Sugar Act of 1764 had its greatest effect in New England and did not cause widespread objection. The Stamp Act the following year affected all 13 colonies, as it required revenue stamps to be used on papers required in trade and in the law. When word of passage of the Stamp Act reached Williamsburg, the House of Burgesses passed the Virginia Resolves, asserting that Virginians had the same rights as if they resided in Britain, and that they could only be taxed by themselves or their elected representatives. The Resolves were mostly written by a fiery-spoken new member for Louisa County, Patrick Henry.[35]

When the house assembled, George Mason was initially appointed to a committee concerned with raising additional militia during that time of war. In 1759, he was appointed to the powerful Committee on Privileges and Elections. He was also placed during the latter year on the Committee of Propositions and Grievances, which mostly considered local matters. Mason dealt with a number of local concerns, presenting a petition of Fairfax County planters against being assessed for a tobacco wharf at Alexandria, funds they felt should be raised through wharfage fees. He also played a major role as the Burgesses deliberated how to divide Prince William County as settlement expanded; in March 1759, Fauquier County was created by legislative act. In this, Mason opposed the interest of the family of Thomas, Lord Fairfax, who wanted existing counties expanded instead, including Fairfax. This difference may have contributed to Mason's decision not to seek re-election in 1761.[33] Mason biographer Jeff Broadwater noted that Mason's committee assignments reflected the esteem his colleagues held him in, or at least the potential they saw. Broadwater did not find it surprising that Mason did not seek re-election, as he did not attend the sessions between 1759 and 1761.[34]

Chamber of House of Burgesses
House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, VA where Mason served

Little is known of Mason's political views prior to the 1760s, when he came to oppose British colonial policies.[31] In 1758, Mason successfully ran for the House of Burgesses when Frederick County where he was stationed as commander of Virginia's militia as the French and Indian War continued) and Richard Henry Lee, who would work closely with Mason through their careers.[32]

From burgess to rebel

Political thinker (1758–1775)

Despite his involvement in western real estate schemes, Mason saw that land was being cleared and planted with tobacco faster than the market for it could expand, meaning that prices for it would drop even as more and more capital was tied up in land and slaves. Thus, although a major slaveholder, he opposed the slave system in Virginia. He believed that slave importation, together with the natural population increase, would result in a huge future slave population in Virginia; a system of leased lands, though not as profitable as slave labor, would have "little Trouble & Risque [risk]".[30]

Mason and Washington were neighbors, and friends for many years until they finally broke over their differences regarding the federal Constitution. Peter R. Henriques, in his journal article on their relationship, suggested that Mason cultivated the friendship more than Washington did, as Mason sent many more letters and gifts, and stayed more often at Washington's plantation, though the last can be explained in part as Mount Vernon lay on the road from Gunston Hall to Alexandria. Henriques suggested that as Mason was older, intellectually superior, and the owner of a flourishing plantation as Washington struggled to establish Mount Vernon, it would not have been in the future president's character to be close to Mason. Washington had a deep respect for Mason's intellectual abilities, several times asking for his advice, and writing in 1777 when learning that Mason had taken charge of an issue before the General Assembly, "I know of no person better qualified ... than Colonel Mason, and shall be very happy to hear he has taken it in hand".[29]

[28] One project that Mason was involved in for most of his adult life was the [27] As his forebears had, Mason sought to expand his land and wealth. He greatly expanded the boundaries of Gunston Hall estate, so that it occupied all of Dogue's Neck, which became known as Mason's Neck.

[26]'s scheme for growing wine grapes in America.Philip Mazzei to Thomas Jefferson Mason was a pioneer in the Virginia wine industry, subscribing along with other Virginians such as [25].British West Indies and diversified his crops to grow wheat as Virginia's economy sank because of tobacco overproduction in the 1760s and 1770s; the colony became a major exporter to the [24] Mason avoided overdependence on tobacco as a source of income by leasing much of his land holdings,[23] The brick exterior is in [23] Although Mason set the general plan of interior construction, Buckland apparently had full discretion as to the details. The first floor of Gunston Hall contains a main hall and four other rooms, all elaborately carved by Buckland.

Buckland and William Bernard Sears, another indentured servant, are believed to have created the ornate woodwork and interior carving. Gunston's interior design combines elements of rococo, chinoiserie, and Gothic styles, an unusual contrast to the tendency for simple decoration in Virginia at this time.[21] Although chinoiserie was popular in Britain, Gunston Hall is the only house known to have had this decoration in colonial America.[22]

George Mason began to build his home, barrister; Thomson in 1755 signed journeyman carpenter William Buckland as an indentured servant to design the interior of the new house. Buckland sought opportunities not available to him in Britain, where he would have to work for years before guild rules allowed him to set up his own business.[20]


This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.