- George Mason IV
George Mason IV wrote the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, in which he asserted "That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent 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." This document was the first in America to call for freedom of the press, tolerance of religion, proscription of unreasonable searches, and the right to a fair and speedy trial.
Mason was vocal member of the Constitutional Convention held in Philadelphia during 1787, but his concern regarding the amount of power being given to the federal government and the Convention's unwillingness to abolish the slave trade led him to become one of the three dissenters who refused to sign the Constitution. His defense of individual liberties, however, reverberated throughout the colonies and a public outcry ensued. As a result, at the first session of the First Congress, Madison took up the cause and introduced a bill of rights that echoed Mason's Declaration of Rights. The resultant first 10 amendments to the Constitution, also called the Bill of Rights, pleased Mason, who said, “I have received much Satisfaction from the Amendments to the federal Constitution, which have lately passed…” Invited to become one of Virginia's senators in the First US Senate, Mason declined and finally was able to retire to Gunston Hall, where he remained until his death on October 7, 1792.