Like John Hancock, he was orphaned as a boy and brought up by an influential uncle. A driving force behind the adoption of the United State Bill of Rights, George Mason was one of the most influential, yet least known, of America’s Founding Fathers.
As a Virginian delegate to the United States Constitutional Convention, Mason doggedly championed the concept of “inalienable rights.” And, in the end, he refused to sign the newly written United States Constitution, saying it did not go far enough to guarantee freedom and granted too much power to the federal government.
His ideas helped form our greatest documents
First drafted into civic service as a county representative to the Virginia State Convention, Mason was appointed to the committee charged with drafting the state’s Declaration of Rights—whereon he set down ideas that would later influence the writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson.
Drawing upon the writings of English philosopher, John Locke, Mason wrote:
That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights… among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.
Mason’s work, as stated in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, served as a springboard for other colonies in their desire to express independence, and at the Constitutional Convention in Philidelphia (1787), Mason—though he lacked a formal education—was one of the most influential and frequent speakers.
He refused to budge on issues restricting freedom
Even though he supported the ideas behind the Constitution, Mason cautioned that the new nation would either decay back into a monarchy or, worse yet, be taken over by the greed and corruption of the aristocracy. It was in large part owing to George Mason’s complaints that James Madison was inspired to draft the Bill of Rights.
After the new nation was formed, Virginia asked him to serve as one of their first United States Senators, but Mason refused—choosing instead to return to his land and to his family as a private citizen.
He is relatively unknown in public and largely ignored in the textbooks, but those deal daily with matters of the U.S. Constitution know him as one who made a difference. There are 23 bas-relief images on the walls of the U.S. House of Representatives, placed there to honor the greatest contributions to the law from all of human history. Among them are Moses, Solon, Thomas Jefferson … and George Mason.