Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776)
George Mason wrote this document in 1776, declaring that all people are born with an equality of natural rights and that government power is derived from the people. It is still part of the state’s constitution. It guarantees the rights of a free press, property rights, speedy jury trials, and religious liberty. It includes protections against self-incrimination, excessive fines and cruel and unusual punishments, and unreasonable search and seizure. It calls for civilian control of the military, free elections, and separation of powers in government. Finally, it states that it is the duty of all citizens to practice justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue.
The Virginia Declaration appeared three weeks before the Declaration of Independence. Mason drew upon John Locke’s philosophy and foreshadowed the Declaration of Independence when he wrote, “whenever any Government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes [protecting the rights of the people], a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it.” James Madison used the Virginia Declaration of Rights as a model for drafting the United States Bill of Rights.