George Mason

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George Mason
George Mason portrait.jpg
BornGeorge Mason
(1725-12-11)December 11, 1725
Fairfax County, Colony of Virginia
DiedOctober 7, 1792(1792-10-07) (aged 66)
Gunston Hall, Fairfax County, Virginia
Cause of death
natural causes
ResidenceGunston Hall, Fairfax County, Virginia
NationalityAmerican
EthnicityEnglish American
CitizenshipUnited States
OccupationPatriot, statesman and delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention
ReligionAnglican, Episcopalian
Spouse(s)Ann Eilbeck
Sarah Brent
ChildrenGeorge Mason V
Ann Eilbeck Mason Johnson
William Mason
William Mason
Thomson Mason
Sarah Eilbeck Mason McCarty
Mary Thomson Mason Cooke
John Mason
Elizabeth Mason Thornton
Thomas Mason
James Mason
Richard Mason
ParentsGeorge Mason III
Ann Stevens Thomson
 
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George Mason
George Mason portrait.jpg
BornGeorge Mason
(1725-12-11)December 11, 1725
Fairfax County, Colony of Virginia
DiedOctober 7, 1792(1792-10-07) (aged 66)
Gunston Hall, Fairfax County, Virginia
Cause of death
natural causes
ResidenceGunston Hall, Fairfax County, Virginia
NationalityAmerican
EthnicityEnglish American
CitizenshipUnited States
OccupationPatriot, statesman and delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention
ReligionAnglican, Episcopalian
Spouse(s)Ann Eilbeck
Sarah Brent
ChildrenGeorge Mason V
Ann Eilbeck Mason Johnson
William Mason
William Mason
Thomson Mason
Sarah Eilbeck Mason McCarty
Mary Thomson Mason Cooke
John Mason
Elizabeth Mason Thornton
Thomas Mason
James Mason
Richard Mason
ParentsGeorge Mason III
Ann Stevens Thomson

George Mason IV (December 11, 1725 – October 7, 1792) was an American Patriot, statesman and a delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention. Along with James Madison, he is called the "Father of the United States Bill of Rights."[1][2][3][4] For these reasons he is considered one of the "Founding Fathers" of the United States.[5][6]

Like anti-federalist Patrick Henry, Mason was a leader of those who pressed for the addition of explicit States rights[7] and individual rights to the U.S. Constitution as a balance to the increased federal powers, and did not sign the document in part because it lacked such a statement. His efforts eventually succeeded in convincing the Federalists to add the first ten amendments of the Constitution. These amendments, collectively known as the Bill of Rights, were based on the earlier Virginia Declaration of Rights, which Mason had drafted in 1776.

On the issue of slavery, Mason walked a fine line. Although a slaveholder himself, he found slavery distasteful for a variety of reasons. He wanted to ban further importation of slaves from Africa and prevent slavery from spreading to more states. However, he did not want the new federal government to attempt to ban slavery where it already existed, because he anticipated that such an act would be difficult and controversial, emphasizing that "it will involve us in great difficulties and infelicity to be now deprived of them (of slaves)".[8]

Family[edit]

George Mason was born on December 11, 1725 to George and Ann Thomson Mason at the Mason family plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia. In 1735, when Mason was 10, his father drowned in the Potomac when the boat he was in capsized.[9] After this event the younger Mason lived with his uncle John Mercer. On April 4, 1750, he married sixteen-year-old Ann Eilbeck, from a plantation in Charles County, Maryland.[10] They lived in a house on his property in Dogue's Neck, Virginia. Mason completed construction of Gunston Hall, a plantation house on the Potomac River, in 1759. He and his wife had twelve children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. Mason's first child, George Mason V of Lexington,[11] was born on April 30, 1753. He married Elizabeth Mary Ann Barnes Hooe (Betsy) on April 22, 1784, and after having six children, died on December 5, 1796. The next Mason offspring was Ann Eilbeck Mason, fondly known as Nancy. Born on January 13, 1755, she married Rinaldo Johnson on February 4, 1789 and had three children before dying in 1814. The third child was named William Mason, but he did not live over a year and died in 1757. The fourth child, born on October 22, 1757, was also named William Mason, and he married Ann Stuart on July 11, 1793. They had five children together, and he died in 1818. The fifth child was a son they named Thomson Mason. He was born on March 4, 1759 and died on March 11, 1820. Thomson married Sarah McCarty Chichester of Newington in 1784; they had eight children.

George Mason's sixth child, christened Sarah Eilbeck Mason but fondly known as Sally, was born on December 11, 1760 and married in 1778. She had ten children with her husband Daniel McCarty, Jr. before dying on September 11, 1823. The seventh of the Mason children was another girl, Mary Thomson Mason. She was born on January 24, 1764, and married John Travers Cooke on November 18, 1784, with whom she had ten children before dying in 1806. John Mason was Mason's eighth child, being born on April 4, 1766. He married Anna Marie Murray on February 14, 1796, had ten children, and died on March 19, 1849. The ninth child was a daughter named Elizabeth Mason. She was born on April 19, 1768 and died sometime between 1792 and June 1797. She married William Thornton in 1789 and they had two children. The tenth child, Thomas Mason, was born on May 1, 1770 and died on September 18, 1800. He married Sarah Barnes Hooe on April 22, 1793 and the two had four children together.

George Mason's last two children were James and Richard Mason; twins who were born in December, 1772 but died six weeks later. Their mother died three months later on March 9, 1773 due to complications. George Mason remarried on April 11, 1780 but did not have any children with his new wife, Sarah Brent. George Mason also suffered from the condition known as gout for a large part of his life, and in accordance with current medical treatment, relied upon bloodletting.

Mason studied with tutors and attended a private academy in Maryland.[12]

Politics[edit]

Gunston Hall in May 2006, seen from the front

Mason was a justice of the Fairfax County court. Between 1754 and 1779, he was a trustee of the city of Alexandria, Virginia. In 1759 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.

Mason served at the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg in 1776. During this time he created drafts of the first declaration of rights and state constitution in the Colonies. Both were adopted after committee alterations; the Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted June 12, 1776, and the Virginia Constitution was adopted June 29, 1776.

Mason was appointed in 1786 to represent Virginia as a delegate to a Federal Convention, to meet in Philadelphia for the purpose of revising the Articles of Confederation. He served at the Federal Convention in Philadelphia from May to September 1787 and contributed significantly to the formation of the Constitution. "He refused to sign the Constitution, however, and returned to his native state as an outspoken opponent in the ratification contest." [13] One objection to the proposed Constitution was that it lacked a "declaration of rights". As a delegate to Virginia's ratification convention, he opposed ratification without amendment. Among the amendments he desired was a bill of rights. This opposition, both before and during the convention, may have cost Mason his long friendship with his neighbor George Washington, and is probably a leading reason why George Mason became less well-known than other U.S. founding fathers in later years. On December 15, 1791, the U.S. Bill of Rights, based primarily on George Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights, was ratified in response to the agitation of Mason and others.

At the convention, Mason was one of the five most frequent speakers. Mason believed in the disestablishment of the church. Mason was a strong anti-federalist who wanted a weak central government, divided into three parts, with little power, leaving the several States with a preponderance of political power.[7]

An important issue for him in the convention was the Bill of Rights. He did not want the United States to be like England. Yet he foresaw sectional strife and feared the power of government.[14]

Letter from Mason to George Washington congratulating him on victory at Boston, April 1776

Slavery[edit]

George Mason was one of the largest slaveholders in Fairfax county (possibly second only to George Washington) and had thirty-six slaves at the time of his death. Like some of his contemporary slave owners (e.g. Thomas Jefferson and George Washington), Mason conceded that the institution was morally objectionable, once calling it a "slow Poison" that "is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People."[15] Mason favored the abolition of the slave trade, but he did not advocate for the immediate abolition of slavery. Like Jefferson, he owned slaves whom he did not manumit.

Two of Mason's stated reasons for opposing the U.S. Constitution were that the draft Constitution did not specifically protect the right of states to let slavery continue where it already existed, and that the draft Constitution did not allow Congress to immediately stop the importation of slaves.[15][16] Mason's immediate concern was to prevent more slaves from being imported, and to prevent slavery from spreading into more states.[8] He was not eager to ban slavery where it already existed: "It is far from being a desirable property. But it will involve us in great difficulties and infelicity to be now deprived of them."[8] Mason ostensibly balanced his anti-slavery argument that importation should stop, with a pro-slavery argument that the draft Constitution should protect slavery from being taxed out of existence; however, the latter argument had already been incorporated into the Constitution according to James Madison.[17]

Because of his efforts to stop the spread of slavery, and his recognition of the undesirability of slavery, some historians have said that Mason should be categorized as an abolitionist.[14]:294, note 39 Other historians have disagreed.[14]

Death and remembrance[edit]

Bas-relief of George Mason in the chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives

George Mason died peacefully at his home, Gunston Hall, on October 7, 1792. Located in Mason Neck, Virginia, Gunston Hall is now a museum and tourist attraction. The George Mason Memorial in West Potomac Park, Washington, D.C., near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, was dedicated on April 9, 2002. The George Mason Memorial Bridge, one of five that make up the 14th Street Bridge, connects Washington, D.C., to Virginia. George Mason Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia, George Mason High School in Falls Church, and George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, are named in his honor, as are Mason County, Kentucky, Mason County, West Virginia and Mason County, Illinois. He was honored by the United States Postal Service with an 18¢ Great Americans series postage stamp. A bas-relief of Mason appears in the Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives as one of 23 honoring great lawmakers; his image is located above and to the right of the Speaker's chair.[18] The Society of Professional Journalists, Virginia Pro Chapter, presents an annual award named for Mason to a person who has made significant, lasting contribution to the practice of journalism in the Commonwealth.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "The New United States of America Adopted the Bill of Rights: December 15, 1791". The Library of Congress. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  2. ^ Heymsfeld, Carla R.; Lewis, Joan W. (1991). George Mason, father of the Bill of Rights. Alexandria, Va.: Patriotic Education Inc. ISBN 0-912530-16-2 
  3. ^ Spratt, Tammy. "Father" of Our Country vs. "Father" of the Bill of Rights". The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  4. ^ "Bill of Rights Day - December 15th". Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Retrieved 2007-12-06. 
  5. ^ Yardley, Jonathan (November 5, 2006). A founding father insisted that the Constitution wasn't worth ratifying without a bill of rights. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-12-06 
  6. ^ Henderson, Denise; Henderson, Frederic W. (March 15, 1993). How The Founding Fathers Fought For An End To Slavery. The American Almanac. Retrieved 2007-12-06 
  7. ^ a b Gutzman, Kevin (2007). The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution. Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc. pp. 35, 23. ISBN 1-59698-505-4. 
  8. ^ a b c Kaminski, John. Necessary Evil?: Slavery and the Debate Over the Constitution, pages 59 and 186 (Rowman & Littlefield 1995). Mason said: "The Western people are already calling out for slaves for their new lands; and will fill that country with slaves, if they can be got through South Carolina and Georgia....[T]he General Government should have the power to prevent the increase of slavery."
  9. ^ George Mason Writings and Biography Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  10. ^ Rowland, Kate Mason (1892). The Life of George Mason, 1725–1792. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. ISBN 0-548-13895-8. 
  11. ^ "Hollin Hall". George Mason's Plantations and Landholdings. Gunston Hall Plantation official website. Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-02-29. 
  12. ^ George Mason
  13. ^ Borden, Morton, ed. (1965). The Anti federalist Papers. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press. pp. ix. 
  14. ^ a b c Broadwater, Jeff (2006). George Mason: Forgotten Founder. Chapel Hill, NC: Fred W. Morrison Fund for Southern Studies of the University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-3053-6. 
  15. ^ a b "George Mason's Views on Slavery"
  16. ^ This issue is further discussed in Joseph J. Ellis, Founding Brothers (Knopf, 2000).
  17. ^ See "Debate in Virginia Ratifying Convention", The Founders’ Constitution (transcript from 1788-06-15). Mason said, "There is no clause in this Constitution to secure it; for they may lay such a tax as will amount to manumission." Madison responded: "From the mode of representation and taxation, Congress cannot lay such a tax on slaves as will amount to manumission....The census in the Constitution was intended to introduce equality in the burdens to be laid on the community."
  18. ^ "Relief Portraits of Lawgivers". Architect of the Capitol, Government of the United States of America. Accessed June 17, 2011.

Bibliography[edit]

External links[edit]