George Mason, Forgotten Founder

George Mason, Forgotten Founder

George Mason, Forgotten Founder

George Mason, Forgotten Founder


George Mason (1725-92) is often omitted from the small circle of founding fathers celebrated today, but in his service to America he was, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, "of the first order of greatness." Jeff Broadwater provides a comprehensive account of Mason's life at the center of the momentous events of eighteenth-century America.

Mason played a key role in the Stamp Act Crisis, the American Revolution, and the drafting of Virginia's first state constitution. He is perhaps best known as author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, a document often hailed as the model for the Bill of Rights.

As a Virginia delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Mason influenced the emerging Constitution on point after point. Yet when he was rebuffed in his efforts to add a bill of rights and concluded the document did too little to protect the interests of the South, he refused to sign the final draft. Broadwater argues that Mason's recalcitrance was not the act of an isolated dissenter; rather, it emerged from the ideology of the American Revolution. Mason's concerns about the abuse of political power, Broadwater shows, went to the essence of the American experience.


Who was george MASON? He has been called “an almost forgotten man in the pantheon of revolutionary heroes.” Almost forgotten, but not quite. a large state university bears his name; a postage stamp once bore his likeness. the Colonial Dames of America maintain his home, and Gunston Hall is open every day for inspection by schoolchildren and curious tourists seeking a glimpse of something presumably important—something virtually sacred—in America’s past. Mason’s statue has long stood on the statehouse grounds in Richmond. in the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., his likeness hangs alongside those of history’s other great lawgivers, among them Hammurabi, Moses, and Blackstone. in the spring of 2002 Mason attracted a flurry of attention when the Wendy Ross statue of a seated, accessible, avuncular Mason, with book in hand, was unveiled near the National Mall.

Biographical sketches appear occasionally in the popular media, and in 2001 a small press reprinted Helen Hill Miller’s George Mason: Constitutionalist, which had first appeared in 1938. Mason usually merits a passing reference in the standard textbooks. They may mention his influence on Thomas Jefferson, who adopted the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence from the Declaration of Rights that Mason had written as a preamble to the Virginia Constitution of 1776. Mason’s insistence at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787 that a bill of rights be appended to the federal Constitution is routinely credited with initiating the movement that culminated in the first ten amendments. If he typically receives a respectful hearing, his Anti-Federalist views have drawn scorn. One venerable text, first published in 1930 when few writers questioned the wisdom of the Framers, attributed Mason’s refusal to sign the Constitution to “wounded vanity” because some of his “pet projects were not adopted.”

But what do we really know about him? Probably not much, and some of what we think we know is probably wrong. a National Park Service website explains that Mason refused to sign the Constitution because it failed to abolish the foreign slave trade or to adequately protect individual . . .

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