Sunday, April 15, 2012
George Mason...founding father
George Mason was born on December 11, 1725 to George and Ann Thomson Mason at the Mason family plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia. His father died in 1735 in a boating accident on the Potomac, when the boat capsized and he drowned. 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. 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, was born on April 30, 1753.
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." 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. An important issue for him in the convention was the Bill of Rights. He did not want the United States to be like England. He foresaw sectional strife and feared the power of government.
A Virginia planter, Mason owned many African slaves. 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." 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 seemingly contradictory: on the one hand, he said that the draft Constitution did not specifically protect the right of states to let slavery continue where it already existed, and on the other hand he also said that the draft Constitution did not allow Congress to immediately stop the importation of slaves.
Mason's immediate concern was to prevent more slaves from being imported, and to prevent slavery from spreading into more states. 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." 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. 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.
at 11:39 PM