George Mason (sometimes referred to as 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. 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 (1787) 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.
- There is a Passion natural to the Mind of man, especially a free Man, which renders him impatient of Restraint.
- Our All is at Stake, and the little Conveniencys and Comforts of Life, when set in Competition with our Liberty, ought to be rejected not with Reluctance but with Pleasure.
- Letter to George Washington (5 April 1769)
- We owe to our Mother-Country the Duty of Subjects but will not pay her the Submission of Slaves.
- Letter to a member of the Brent family (6 December 1770)
- I determined to spend the Remainder of my Days in privacy and Retirement with my Children, from whose Society alone I cou'd expect Comfort.
- This cold weather has set all the young Folks to providing Bedfellows. I have signed two or three Licences every Day [as a Fairfax Justice of the Peace] since I have been at Home. I wish I knew where to get a good one myself; for I find cold Sheets extreamly disagreeable.
- Letter to his cousin, James Mercer (5 February 2780)
- I quitted my Seat in the House of Delegates, from a Conviction that I was no longer able to do any essential Service.
- Letter to Edmund Randolph (19 October 1782)
- I have been for some time in Retirement, and shall not probably return again to public Life; yet my Anxiety for my Country, in these Times of Danger, makes me sometimes dabble a little in Politicks, and keep up a Correspondence with some Men upon the public Stage.
- Letter to his son, George Mason V. (8 January 1783)
- I am now pretty far advanced in life, and all my views are center'd in the Happiness and well-fare of my children; you will therefore find from me every Indulgence which you have a right to expect from an affectionate Parent.
- Letter to his son, George Mason V. (8 January 1783)
- I thank God, I have been able, by adopting Principles of strict Economy and Frugality, to keep my principal, I mean my Country-Estate, unimpaired.
- Letter to his son, George Mason V. (8 January 1783)
- Happiness and Prosperity are now within our Reach; but to attain and preserve them must depend upon our own Wisdom and Virtue.
- Letter to William Cabell (6 May 1783)
- I retired from public Business from a thorough Conviction that it was not in my Power to do any Good, and very much disgusted with Measures, which appeared to me inconsistent with common Policy and Justice.
- Letter to Arthur Campbell (7 May 1783)
- I most sincerely console with you for the loss of your dear little girl, but it is our duty to submit with all the resignation human nature is capable of to the dispensation of Divine Providence which bestows upon us our blessings, and consequently has a right to take them away.
- Letter to his daughter Sarah Mason McCarty after the death of an infant daughter (10 February 1785), published in The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792 Vol. 2 (1892) by Kate Mason Rowland, p. 74
- 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.
- 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
- I begin to grow heartily tired of the etiquette and nonsense so fashionable in this city.
- Letter to his son, George Mason, V (27 May 1787)
- Attend with Diligence and strict Integrity to the Interest of your Correspondents and enter into no Engagements which you have not the almost certain Means of performing.
- Letter to his son, John Mason (12 June 1788)
- That the people have a Right to mass and to bear arms; that a well regulated militia composed of the Body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper natural and safe defense of a free state, that standing armies, in time of peace, are dangerous to liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided.
- Draft proposal, 3 Elliot, Debates at 659
Virginia Charters (1773)
- Extracts from the Virginia Charters written by Mason (July 1773)
- Taught to regard a part of our own Species in the most abject and contemptible Degree below us, we lose that Idea of the dignity of Man which the Hand of Nature had implanted in us, for great and useful purposes.
- Habituated from our Infancy to trample upon the Rights of Human Nature, every generous, every liberal Sentiment, if not extinguished, is enfeebled in our Minds.
Remarks on Annual Elections (1775)
- Every society, all government, and every kind of civil compact therefore, is or ought to be, calculated for the general good and safety of the community.
- In all our associations; in all our agreements let us never lose sight of this fundamental maxim — that all power was originally lodged in, and consequently is derived from, the people.
- We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it.
- All men are by nature born equally free and independent.
Virginia Declaration of Rights (1776)
- "A declaration of rights made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention; which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government." (12 June 1776)
- That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
- Article 1
- All power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; [...] magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.
- Article 2
- Government is, or ought to be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community; of all the various modes and forms of government, that is best which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of maladministration and [...] when any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, inalienable, and indefeasible right to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
- Article 3
- That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge to be hereditary.
- Article 4
- That the legislative and executive powers of the State should be separate and distinct from the judiciary; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burdens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections, in which all, or any part of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws shall direct.
- Article 5
- That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses, without their own consent, or that of their representives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assembled, for the public good.
- Article 6
- That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority, without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.
- Article 7
- That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man bath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of twelve men of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty, except by the law of the land or the judgment of his peers.
- Article 8
- That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
- Article 9
- That general warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offence is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive, and ought not to be granted.
- Article 10
- That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other, and ought to be held sacred.
- Article 11
- The freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
- Article 12
- That a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free State; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that in all cases the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.
- Article 13
- That the people have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of the government of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.
- Article 14
- That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.
- Article 15
- That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
- Article 16
Debates in the Federal Convention (1787)
- The Journal of the Debates in the Convention which framed the Constitution of the United States, May-September, 1787, Vol. 2 (1908) as recorded by James Madison
- Every selfish motive therefore, every family attachment, ought to recommend such a system of policy as would provide no less carefully for the rights and happiness of the lowest than of the highest orders of Citizens.
- May 31
- Whatever power may be necessary for the National Government a certain portion must necessarily be left in the States. It is impossible for one power to pervade the extreme parts of the U.S. so as to carry equal justice to them.
- June 7
- Slavery discourages arts and manufactures.
- August 22
- The poor despise labor when performed by slaves.
- August 22
- 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.
- August 22
Addresses to the Virginia Ratifying Convention (1788)
- 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…
- 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?
- June 14
- 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.
- June 16
- The augmentation of slaves weakens the states; and such a trade is diabolical in itself, and disgraceful to mankind.
- June 17
- As much as I value an union of all the states, I would not admit the southern states into the union, unless they agreed to the discontinuance of this disgraceful trade, because it would bring weakness and not strength to the union.
- June 17
Discussion with Jefferson (1792)
- The constitution as agreed to till fortnight before the convention rose was such a one as he could have set his hand and heart to.
- 1. The president was to be elected for 7 years, then ineligible for 7 more.
- 2. Rotation in the senate.
- 3. A vote of 2/3 in the legislature on particular subjects and expressly on that of navigation. The 3 New England states were constantly with us in all questions (Rhode Island not there, and New York seldom) so that it was these 3 states with the 5 Southern ones against Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
- With respect to the importation of slaves it was left to Congress. This disturbed the 2 Southernmost states who knew that Congress would immediately suppress the importation of slaves. Those 2 states therefore struck up a bargain with the 3 New England states. If they would join to admit slaves for some years, the 2 Southernmost states would join in changing the clause which required 2/3 of the legislature in any vote. It was done. These articles were changed accordingly, and from that moment the 2 Southern states and the 3 Northern ones joined Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and made the majority 8 to 3 against us instead of 8 to 3 for us as it had been through the whole Convention. Under this coalition the great principles of the Constitution were changed in the last days of the Convention.