Virginia Memory, Library of Virginia
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George Mason

GEORGE MASON (1725–1792)

Detail from <em>Adoption of the Virginia Declaration of Rights</em>, Virginia State Art Collection: acquired: 1974, Library of Virginia.

George Mason served in the third, fourth, and fifth Virginia Revolutionary Conventions and prepared the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in May 1776 and the first draft of the first Virginia constitution in June of that year. He was born on December 11, 1725, and lived all of his adult life in what became Fairfax County in 1742. His mansion house, Gunston Hall, still stands today and is one of the most notable colonial residences in Northern Virginia. Mason was a tobacco planter and land speculator, and from time to time he served in the House of Burgesses, but he intensely disliked public service and shunned the limelight. The imperial crisis that arose at the end of the French and Indian War and its impact on his western land interests led him to study the colonial charters and laws and brought him to prominence as a defender of colonial interests.

Mason served in the House of Delegates several times during the American Revolution and was one of the Virginia delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787, although at the last minute he refused to sign the Constitution because he disapproved of too many of its provisions. His "Objections” to the Constitution were published throughout the country and used by opponents of ratification to argue that the new government would become too powerful, that it blended, rather than separated, the legislative and executive powers, and that it lacked a bill of rights. Mason was one of the most powerful speakers against ratification at the Virginia Convention of 1788, and his speeches helped convince the convention to propose amendments to the Constitution, which in turn persuaded James Madison to introduce a draft bill of rights in the United States House of Representatives in 1789. Mason refused appointment to the United States Senate by the Virginia state legislature.

Mason married Ann Eilbeck in 1750 and they had twelve children, nine of whom survived to adulthood. After her death he married Sarah Brent in 1780. George Mason died at Gunston Hall in 1792.