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George Mason

Birthdate: 11. December 1725
Date of death: 7. October 1792

George Mason IV was an American planter, politician and delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention of 1787, one of three delegates who refused to sign the Constitution. 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 opposing ratification, have exercised a significant influence on American political thought and events. The Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason principally authored, 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 what is now Fairfax County, Virginia. His father died when he was young and his mother managed the family estates until he came of age. He married in 1750, built Gunston Hall and lived the life of a country squire, supervising his lands, family and slaves. He briefly served in the House of Burgesses and involved himself in community affairs, sometimes serving with his neighbor George Washington. As tensions grew between Britain and the American colonies, Mason came to support the colonial side, using his knowledge and experience to help the revolutionary cause, finding ways to work around the Stamp Act of 1765 and serving in the pro-independence Fourth Virginia Convention in 1775 and the Fifth Virginia Convention in 1776.

Mason prepared the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, and his words formed much of the text adopted by the final Revolutionary Virginia Convention. He also wrote a constitution for the state; Thomas Jefferson and others sought to have the convention adopt their ideas, but they found that Mason's version could not be stopped. During the American Revolutionary War, Mason was a member of the powerful House of Delegates of the Virginia General Assembly but, to the irritation of Washington and others, he refused to serve in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, citing health and family commitments.

In 1787, Mason was named one of his state's delegates to the Constitutional Convention and traveled to Philadelphia, his only lengthy trip outside Virginia. Many clauses in the Constitution bear his stamp, as he was active in the convention for months before deciding that he could not sign it. He cited the lack of a bill of rights most prominently in his Objections, but also wanted an immediate end to the slave trade and a supermajority for navigation acts, which might force exporters of tobacco to use more expensive American ships. He failed to attain these objectives, and again at the Virginia Ratifying Convention of 1788, but his prominent fight for a bill of rights led fellow Virginian James Madison to introduce same during the First Congress in 1789; these amendments were ratified in 1791, a year before Mason died. Obscure after his death, Mason has come to be recognized, in the 20th and 21st centuries, for his contributions to the early United States and to Virginia.

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„Does any man suppose that one general national government can exist in so extensive a country as this?“

—  George Mason

Address to the Convention (4 June 1788) http://www.wwnorton.com/college/history/archive/resources/documents/ch07_04.htm
Addresses to the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788)
Context: Does any man suppose that one general national government can exist in so extensive a country as this? I hope that a government may be framed which may suit us, by drawing a line between the general and state governments, and prevent that dangerous clashing of interest and power, which must, as it now stands, terminate in the destruction of one or the other. When we come to the judiciary, we shall be more convinced that this government will terminate in the annihilation of the state governments: the question then will be, whether a consolidated government can preserve the freedom and secure the rights of the people.
If such amendments be introduced as shall exclude danger, I shall most gladly put my hand to it. When such amendments as shall, from the best information, secure the great essential rights of the people, shall be agreed to by gentlemen, I shall most heartily make the greatest concessions, and concur in any reasonable measure to obtain the desirable end of conciliation and unanimity…

„Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed?“

—  George Mason

June 14
Addresses to the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788)
Context: No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valour. But when once a standing army is established, in any country, the people lose their liberty. When against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence — yeomanry, unskillful & unarmed, what chance is there for preserving freedom? Give me leave to recur to the page of history, to warn you of your present danger. Recollect the history of most nations of the world. What havock, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies? An instance within the memory of some of this house, — will shew us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British parliament was advised by an artful man, [Sir William Keith] who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people. That it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them. But that they should not do it openly; but to weaken them and let them sink gradually, by totally difusing and neglecting the militia. [Here MR. MASON quoted sundry passages to this effect. ] This was a most iniquitous project. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed?

„Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant.“

—  George Mason

August 22
Debates in the Federal Convention (1787)
Context: Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities.

„I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day.“

—  George Mason

June 16
Addresses to the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788)
Context: Mr. Chairman — A worthy member has asked, who are the militia, if they be not the people, of this country, and if we are not to be protected from the fate of the Germans, Prussians, &c. by our representation? I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor; but may be confined to the lower and middle classes of the people, granting exclusion to the higher classes of the people. If we should ever see that day, the most ignominious punishments and heavy fines may be expected. Under the present government all ranks of people are subject to militia duty.

„As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this.“

—  George Mason

August 22
Debates in the Federal Convention (1787)
Context: Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As nations can not be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this. By an inevitable chain of causes & effects providence punishes national sins, by national calamities.

„No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valour. But when once a standing army is established, in any country, the people lose their liberty.“

—  George Mason

June 14
Addresses to the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788)
Context: No man has a greater regard for the military gentlemen than I have. I admire their intrepidity, perseverance, and valour. But when once a standing army is established, in any country, the people lose their liberty. When against a regular and disciplined army, yeomanry are the only defence — yeomanry, unskillful & unarmed, what chance is there for preserving freedom? Give me leave to recur to the page of history, to warn you of your present danger. Recollect the history of most nations of the world. What havock, desolation, and destruction, have been perpetrated by standing armies? An instance within the memory of some of this house, — will shew us how our militia may be destroyed. Forty years ago, when the resolution of enslaving America was formed in Great Britain, the British parliament was advised by an artful man, [Sir William Keith] who was governor of Pennsylvania, to disarm the people. That it was the best and most effectual way to enslave them. But that they should not do it openly; but to weaken them and let them sink gradually, by totally difusing and neglecting the militia. [Here MR. MASON quoted sundry passages to this effect. ] This was a most iniquitous project. Why should we not provide against the danger of having our militia, our real and natural strength, destroyed?

„A few years' experience will convince us that those things which at the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have proved our greatest blessings. Of this awful truth no person has lived to my age without seeing abundant proof.“

—  George Mason

Letter to his daughter Sarah Mason McCarty after the death of an infand daughter (10 February 1785), published in The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792 Vol. 2 (1892) by Kate Mason Rowland, p. 74
Context: A few years' experience will convince us that those things which at the time they happened we regarded as our greatest misfortunes have proved our greatest blessings. Of this awful truth no person has lived to my age without seeing abundant proof. Your dear baby has died innocent and blameless, and has been called away by an all wise and merciful Creator, most probably from a life of misery and misfortune, and most certainly to one of happiness and bliss.

„Under the present government all ranks of people are subject to militia duty.“

—  George Mason

June 16
Addresses to the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788)
Context: Mr. Chairman — A worthy member has asked, who are the militia, if they be not the people, of this country, and if we are not to be protected from the fate of the Germans, Prussians, &c. by our representation? I ask who are the militia? They consist now of the whole people, except a few public officers. But I cannot say who will be the militia of the future day. If that paper on the table gets no alteration, the militia of the future day may not consist of all classes, high and low, and rich and poor; but may be confined to the lower and middle classes of the people, granting exclusion to the higher classes of the people. If we should ever see that day, the most ignominious punishments and heavy fines may be expected. Under the present government all ranks of people are subject to militia duty.

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„The poor despise labor when performed by slaves.“

—  George Mason

August 22
Debates in the Federal Convention (1787)

„Slavery discourages arts and manufactures.“

—  George Mason

August 22
Debates in the Federal Convention (1787)

„Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam egestas wisi a erat. Morbi imperdiet, mauris ac auctor dictum.“

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