Objections to the Constitution
In 1787, George Mason attended what we now call Constitutional Convention, a gathering of representatives from different states charged with revising the Articles of Confederation, the first Constitution of the United States. The representatives hoped to finish the convention with a document that would serve as the backbone of American government. Through debate and compromise, they drafted the U.S. Constitution. Many were not pleased with the document that was drafted.
One of George Mason’s objections was that he thought the Constitution did not adequately protect U.S. citizens without a Bill of Rights. Since no Bill of Rights was intended to be added before the document was ratified, he chose not to sign the Constitution. During the last days of the Constitutional Convention, Mason wrote down his reasons for deciding not to sign the document. He transcribed and circulated the notes he took, and they became known as George Mason’s “Objections to the Constitution.” This document laid the groundwork for the Bill of Rights that followed soon after the Constitution to defend the liberties of private citizens.
In 1776, many American colonists were unhappy with the tyrannical actions of the British government. Several colonies formed their own governing bodies in order to take control from Great Britain. A leader among these new legislatures was the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Virginia was one of the first states to write its own constitution and George Mason was the primary author of this historic document. In the Virginia Constitution, Mason called the British style of government unsatisfactory and described a new governmental structure. Mason’s idea was to have a system with multiple branches and levels. He also explained the powers of these different parts of government.
The Virginia Constitution was an important model for many other state constitutions as well as the official U.S. Constitution. Mason established many important principles of U.S. government, such as separation of powers, which quickly became central to American democracy.
Remarks on Independent Elections
In the years leading up to the American Revolution, colonists became increasingly unhappy with British rule and formed extralegal governing bodies to try to retake control. The Virginia Convention was an example of one of these colonial assemblies. In this legislature, there was a committee known as the “Committee of Safety,” which was responsible for making sure authority was fair in the colonies. George Mason played an important role in this committee, serving as chairman.
One aspect of colonial authority that George Mason monitored as chairman was the militia. Under British rule, militia officers were selected by their rank and the length of their service. Mason felt that the system should be more democratic, primarily by having officers elected by members of the militia.
When George Mason expressed his belief that militia officers should be elected annually, he showed his support for the democratic process. Mason’s emphasis on democratic ideals is also reflected in his later work on the Declaration of Rights and his participation in the Federal Convention of 1787.
Leading up to the American Revolution, many colonists were unhappy with Great Britain’s heavy-handed governance and felt as if their rights were ignored. In July of 1774, George Mason and George Washington met at Mount Vernon to discuss their rising concerns with the British government. Mason recorded their thoughts, authoring a document that became known as the “Fairfax Resolves.” The Fairfax Resolves included many important ideas and was soon endorsed by the Fairfax Convention, a governing body formed in protest of British rule. The document was heavily reproduced and distributed, making a large impact across the American colonies
The Fairfax Resolves included many revolutionary statements, such as the outward rejection of the claim that British parliament had supreme authority over the colonies. Mason also presented other influential ideas, such as consent of the governed, meaning that people must agree to their government and its laws in order for that government to have authority. George Mason’s work on the Fairfax Resolves advanced the ideas subsequently found in important American documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.