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George Mason IV

George Mason IV: Father of the Bill of Rights

"Too few Americans realize the vast debt we owe [George Mason]. His immortal Declaration of Rights in 1776 was one of the finest and loftiest creations ever struck from the mind of man. George Mason it was who first gave concrete expression to those inalienable human rights that belong to every American citizen and that are today the bedrock of our democracy. Our matchless Bill of Rights came directly from the amazing wisdom and far- seeing vision of this patriot. Those first ten amendments to our Constitution, which we call our Bill of Rights, were based on George Mason's great Declaration of Rights. That is why I say that George Mason will forever hold a special place in our hearts."— Harry Truman, 1949

George Mason IV was born December 11, 1725 at the Mason family plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia. George Mason's father died in a boating accident on the Potomac River in 1735. He and his mother, Ann, became the ward of his uncle, John Mercer, a prominent Virginia lawyer. He had virtually little schooling and essentially educated himself from his uncle's library. George Mason was a United States patriot, statesman, and delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention.

George Mason established himself as an important figure in his community. As owner of Gunston Hall, he was one of the richest planters in Virginia. Although an owner of Black slaves, Mason favored the abolition of the slave trade. He once referred to slavery as "that slow poison, which is daily contaminating the minds and morals of our people."

George Mason was a justice of the Fairfax County court, and between 1754 and 1779 Mason was a trustee of the city of Alexandria. In 1759 he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. When the Stamp Act of 1765 aroused outrage in the colonies, George Mason wrote an open letter explaining the colonists' position to a committee of London merchants to enlist their support.

In 1774 Mason again was in the forefront of political events when he assisted in drawing up the Fairfax Resolves, a document that outlined the colonists' constitutional grounds for their objections to the Boston Port Act. Virginia's Declaration of Rights, framed by Mason in 1776, was widely copied in other colonies, served as a model for Jefferson in the first part of the Declaration of Independence, and was the basis for the federal Constitution's Bill of Rights.

At Philadelphia in 1787 Mason was one of the five most frequent speakers at the Constitutional Convention. He exerted great influence, but during the last two weeks of the convention he decided not to sign the document. Mason's refusal prompted some surprise, especially since his name was so closely linked with constitutionalism. He explained his reasons at length, citing the absence of a declaration of rights as his primary concern. Eventually, he succeeded in convincing the Federalists to modify the Constitution and add the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments of the Constitution). The Bill of Rights was based on Mason's earlier Virginia Declaration of Rights.

George Mason died peacefully in his home on October 7, 1792. Gunston Hall is now a tourist attraction located in Mason Neck, Virginia. The George Mason Memorial is located in East Potomac Park, Washington, DC near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. A major bridge connecting Washington, DC to Virginia is officially named the George Mason Memorial Bridge (it is part of the 14th Street bridge complex). George Mason University is named in his honor.