George Mason: In His Own Words
Although your school year might be winding down, at this time in 1787 the Founders were just getting started at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Learn more about Founder George Mason in this week’s eLesson.
George Mason’s ideas helped to shape the Founding documents of the United States, but few Americans remember him today. The words he used when writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution of 1776 inspired the nation’s Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights. Mason was an associate of fellow Virginians George Washington, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson, the last of whom called Mason “a man of the first order of greatness.”
Though he detested politics, Mason believed that it was his duty to protect the rights of his fellow citizens. He therefore entered public life and took an active role in shaping the governments of his state and nation. He was an eloquent advocate for individual freedom and states’ rights. He also spoke out against the institution of slavery, though he owned hundreds of slaves who toiled on his Gunston Hall plantation. Mason spent the last years of his life fighting to ensure that the newly minted Constitution would guarantee the rights of the people. Though the Bill of Rights was eventually approved, Mason was unsatisfied, believing that it failed to protect the people’s rights adequately. Faithful to his principles, he retired to his plantation a defeated man, choosing not to serve as Virginia’s first senator to avoid joining a government he feared could be the beginning of the end of liberty in the United States.