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tv   George Masons Declaration of Rights the American Revolution  CSPAN  September 25, 2022 1:30am-2:29am EDT

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hello. great to be back with you all. i hope you had a delicious and enjoyable lunch. so many wonderful places here in alexandria. i want to extend a special thanks and appreciation to historic alexandria and the american or the emerging revolutionary war for inviting me to be part of this symposium and spend some time with all of you today. i also want to extend a special welcome to all those participating remotely. thank you for joining us. and of course, a special thanks for all of you for being here today. i'm very, very happy and very honored to be here today. i learned a tremendous amount and thoroughly enjoyed all of the presentations from this morning and really just looking forward to spending a little bit of time this afternoon talking with you about george mason, his ideas, and most particularly the virginia declaration of rights and their global impact. so just to get us started in building off some of what we learned this morning. our george george mason, the
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fourth was a fourth generation virginian. it was his great grandfather, george, the first who sided with the crown. the royalists in the english civil war, which we learned a little bit more about this morning. and as a result, as we also learned this morning, it was prudent for him to get out of england at a certain point. and as a result, he was able to acquire about 900 acres of land in what is now stafford county in the county of virginia, and came over at that time in about 1652. it was his son, george, the second, who first acquired what is now known as mason neck and began to establish the family's plantation on what is now known as mason neck. virginia just about 20 miles south by the river from where we are now. it was his son. when anybody like to guess where we're going with this george, the third who first established a residence on what is now mason neck. and it was george mason, the
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fourth who was born there in 1725. and i want to begin by just providing a little bit more context for george himself as a person, because it's really important to the larger story of his ideas and what he later articulated, not only in the virginia declaration of rights, but in several other really important documents that he wrote. so, as i said, george mason was born on what is now gunston hall on mason neck, virginia, in 1725. he was the oldest with two younger siblings. unfortunately, his father, george, the third, died when he was only nine years old. george, the third, drowned while crossing the potomac in a ferry accident, trying to get over to some family holdings in maryland. and it was at that point that his mother and i found it necessary to return to her family's plantation again down near fredericksburg, in what is now stafford county. and was an amazing woman in her own right. i wish we knew a little bit more about her.
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she never remarried, but she prioritized several things for her three young children, one of which was education. and while george never attended formal school and made sure that all of her children had access to tutors, and importantly for our story, george mason also had tremendous access to the library of his uncle. his uncle was a gentleman by the name of john mercer. john was one of the leading lawyers in the colony of virginia at the time, and he also had one of the largest libraries in virginia at the time. and george, we know from his writings, immersed himself in that library. he was a voracious reader and just really, as i said, immersed himself in learning as much as he could. and this was really the foundation of what became the expression of his ideas. later, when george turned 21, as a result of his father dying without a will, he inherited the entirety of the family's estate.
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this estate included at that time over 20,000 acres of land and over two dozen enslaved african-americans. it was very shortly thereafter, very shortly after he turned 21, that he returned to mason neck. he returned to his family's plantation, then called newtown, and once again took up residence on the property where he was born very shortly thereafter. he met a young woman also named anne. and i work from across the river in maryland, and they were married in 1753. they had a child. it was a boy. would anybody like to guess what his name was? george mason. very good. george mason. the first if you're keeping score at home or up to five, george mason's now there will be more. stay tuned. and as their family began to grow, they began to build what is now called gunston hall, their home. i just want to go quickly through some pictures of the house. but the house itself was one of
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the first brick colonies or first brick houses built in the colony. and it was truly, as you all know, an expression of george mason and his families as wealth, status and prestige. as a leading member of the virginia gentry. and what you see here is the central passage. again, i will go quickly through this. the formal dining space, the formal parlor. and here is the little parlor. and what is important to note, and we will talk a little bit more about this as we progress through our conversation this afternoon. is that, again, what you see here is not only an architecture and architecturally significant house, but truly an expression of his wealth and his status. and one of the one of the realities, any time we're talking about george mason, is the inherent contrast fiction between his ideas, the choices he made and the actions he subsequently took and the wealth that he enjoyed largely based on the work done by enslaved african-americans afforded him
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his education and the opportunity to immerse himself not only in learning, but to immerse himself in the ideas, the public service and the opportunities that later resulted in him writing documents like the virginia declaration of rights. and that's why it's important to us for at least to at least acknowledge and recognize that content. and as such, at this point, it became increasingly a responsibility of george to serve in public office. and in the late 1750, since he's elected for the first time to the house of burgesses then meeting in williamsburg, he was elected to a three year term. and one of the things i like to ask folks is three year term, they met somewhat regularly, but also somewhat infrequently, as you know. would anybody like to guess how often george traveled to williamsburg to officially take his seat in the burgesses? he went just once, which i think still may be the worst attendance record of any elected official in the history of virginia. we'll put that aside for just a
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minute. but what's interesting about this is and i like to share with people is that george wrote frequently throughout his life that he always considered his greatest responsibility, being that of a husband and a father. and he truly valued that role. he also wrote frequently that the idea of a magistrate, meaning an elected official, being hereditary or serving for life was absurd. and he had a really interest being belief and perception on what the role of a public servant should be. and what's interesting is what really motivated george to serve when called upon was when it was aligned with his responsibility as a husband and father. and when he was really called and felt called to take action and to participate. my guess is in the late 1750s, when he was elected, there wasn't enough to motivate that interest. so he only made it to williamsburg once. but what we begin to see as we move into the 1760s, an increasing level of activism on
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the part of george mason. it starts a little bit slowly, but it progressively builds. in the 1760s, he begins to write letters that are published in newspapers in england, decrying the acts of both parliament and the crown. but he doesn't do it under his name. he does it under the pseudonym of a virginia planter. but as we get a little further down the line, he again becomes much more active. and his first real moment of becoming more active is in 1774, when he goes to the good, the home of his very, very good friend business partner and neighbor, george washington. and they write the fairfax results. this was a document written at mount vernon collaboratively by washington and mason. many of you all familiar with this. but as you see, they write, we cannot be considered as a conquered country because we are descendants, not of the conquered, but of the conquerors. and this document goes on to make implied threats of military
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action and in so doing, really challenge really challenge the unconstitutional actions, what were believed and perceived to be by virginia and by many others as being unconstitutional. one of the other really interesting and important parts of this document is that you'll see here that it clearly stated the american claims to equal rights under the british constitution represent tension in parliament, control over taxation, control over military forces within their borders, control over judicial powers and more. and as we heard this morning in our latest presentation. this all goes back to that earlier period of time. and they're building upon these actions and this ideology that had been previously expressed by way of justifying and explaining their own grievances and eventually justifying their own actions. so this is really when mason first becomes much more publicly involved. and one of the other important things to remember about mason is that he is of an older
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generation compared to most of those who rise to prominence during the revolutionary period. he's older than washington. he's a generation older than jefferson and and madison. his closest friends and his closest colleagues through much of this time are not only washington, but the lee brothers, richard henry francis lightfoot and thomas gladwell. but also patrick henry. they are closer and more similar in age. and even though he never attended formal school at this critical moment in the revolutionary movement, he is looked up to as one of the leading intellectual tools of this revolutionary ideology. he was not known for his oratory. what he was known for at this time, and what many of his colleagues and peers and those with whom he was working recognized about him was his ability to bring a lot of concepts and philosophic ideas
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together and then to articulate them clearly and compellingly. and this is what he begins to do. so as a result, when the second continental congress is getting ready to convene in philadelphia, he is elected to serve in the second continental congress. at this point, however, his first wife, anne, his beloved first wife, and had only recently passed away from complicated visions with childbirth. and the two twins that she bore also passed away at that time. so remembering back to what i said, he's considering his first obligation, that of husband and father. he declines the appointment to serve on the second continental congress and decides instead to stay at gunston hall and to take care of his family. this, ironically, is how we end up with the two lee brothers that signed the declaration of independence, because he recommends that francis lightfoot lee go in his place, joining richard henry lee again, representative of their very close relationship and as you know, the continental congress calls on all of the colonies to
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call a convention to establish new governments in each of those colonies, as they're contemplating what their next step will be. and george's is immediately elected to serve in the fifth virginia convention, getting ready to meet in williamsburg and somewhat reluctantly, he agrees to serve now in true george mason fashion. he shows up over two weeks late, lingering a little bit at home. but as soon as he arrives in williamsburg, he's appointed to the committee charged with creating a new government for the colony of virginia. now he goes to his first committee meeting on may 18th, 1776. there's close to 40 people on this committee. it includes amongst them a very young, aspirational leader by the name of james madison. and what you see almost immediately is george writes a letter to his good friend, richard henry lee in philadelphia. and i will read this for you all, in which he says, we are
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now going upon the most important of all subjects government, the committee appointed to prepare a plan is according to custom over charged with useless members. he feels pretty strongly about this. we shall, in all probability have a thousand ridiculous end in practical proposals. and of course, a plan formed of heterogeneous, jarring and unintelligible and gradients. this can be prevented only by a few men of integrity and abilities whose country's interests lie next to their hearts. now, we've all been on committees that we thought had been too big. we've all probably wrestled at some point in our lives with some of the challenges associated with committee work, particularly a committee, if we think is overcharged with useless members. so what do we do when that happens? we have a couple of choices. what do we do? well, george mason decides to retire to the tavern. so at this point, george mason returns to his lodging at the
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raleigh tavern in williamsburg. and over the next nine days, largely without interruption, the only real interruption, our visits towards the end of this nine period, nine day period from thomas will. but over this nine day period, he writes the first constitu option for virginia and most importantly for our conversation today, the virginia declaration of rights. and in writing, the virginia declaration of rights, he begins by saying in article one that all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights of which when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity, namely the enjoyment of life and liberty with the means of acquiring and possessing property and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. now, one of the interesting things about this article, one that you see here, is that this version of article one is the draft that was formally ratified
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by the convention. several weeks later, mason's first draft did not include that clause. when they enter into a state of society. when mason wrote his first draft, he was providing and articulating rights that are listed here to a much potentially a much broader cross-section of society. and when it went to the committee and then eventually to the convention, there were great reservations expressed about that. for all the reasons we can imagine, because to be in a state of society, not only did you have to be white and male, you had to own property, among other things. so this this formally ratified version excluded a number of people that mason, in his first draft, meant to be included, which is an interesting aspect to this. mason goes on in the remaining 15 articles, and i'm not going to read all 15 to you, but in the remaining articles, he goes
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on to articulate ideas such as that all power is vested in and consequently derived from the people that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and that all times and then amenable to them in article two. then in article three, as you see here, he writes that government exists and shall exist for the common benefit protection and security of the people. and then in the second section, within article three, he writes that if government is found not to be fulfilled with those responsibilities, that it's the moral obligation of the people to abolish, amend, or to reform, alter or abolish that government. and again, you're seeing many of the themes which we heard about this morning here articulated more formally in the declaration of rights and brought together in one document, it in article six, something that was very important to mason was this concept of representation. and we see this a little bit later in some of his other writings. he believed and expressed his
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belief that that government should be truly representative of the people and that elections should be free. there's a middle section within the declaration of rights, which we're not going to talk as much about today. that is more more closely associated with concepts of human rights protections against cruel and unusual punishment, provisions for trial by a jury of your peers. provisions against excessive bail. and then when we get down to article 12, one of my personal favorites that the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained. but by despotic governments, you'll see in article 15 a really interesting aspect to what mason has written here, what mason has written in the virginia declaration of rights are not only the rights that he believes you are entitled to, but he also identifies, as you see in article 15, what you must do, what responsibility you have
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to truly benefit from, and access these rights, which is unusual at this particular time. he's saying you must have a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and adds to clause at the end. and by frequent recurrence, two fundamental principles. he's not only telling people what rights you have, but how you need to behave, how you need to act, which i think is interesting and compelling. and then when you look at article. 16 one, which also subsequently underwent revision when it was presented back to the committee and to the full convention revision that was suggested by madison, you see here this concept of freedom of religion. one of the ones i've not listed here, which i'll just touch based on briefly since it's closely associated not only with some of what mason articulated in the fairfax resolves, but also some of what we learned a little bit more about this morning is that mason writes in article 11, i believe that one
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of the greatest threats to liberty and the rights of the people, particularly in a time of peace, is a standing army. he believes that a body of well-regulated militia is the best way to ensure the rights and liberties and freedoms of the people. and as a result, as we as virginia and the colonies move forward into the war itself. mason sons all serve in the virginia militia. none of them serve in the continental army, sort of one piece of evidence supporting his belief that standing armies were not the best way for a government or for a country to proceed. that said, he did provide a lot of material and financial support to the war effort, including the continental army. but that's a whole separate conversation for another time. so in a, you know, in totality, what you see in the virginia declaration of rights, as referenced by one of his biographers, jeff broadwater,
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who wrote the book forgotten founder, is that part of the genius of the declaration of rights? lay in mason's ability to combine enlightenment political philosophy with the english legal tradition to express and scarcely to pages the ideology of the american revolution in giving legal sanction to popular sovereignty, individual equality, and the right to revolt against an oppressive government. mason codified basic liberal principles not been recognized in american english law. this is a really significant document in a document that was not only influenced by a lot of writings, a lot of similar expressions that came before, but also had a significant impact not only in the colonies and in america, but globally and we'll talk more about that in just a minute. what we do know after this was presented to the convention, it was debated. and we've just seen a couple of examples of how it was amended at this point several days after
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it goes to the committee and to the full convention for review. mason immediately fires off another letter to richard henry lee up in philadelphia, in which he is, quote, decrying the slow pace of the proceedings. he's getting a little impatient. he thinks what he wrote is pretty good. why do we have to debate this any longer? we should just ratify this bad boy and get going. remember, he arrived in williamsburg on may 18th. it's on june 12th that the convention ratifies the virginia declaration of rights less than a month after he arrived in williamsburg and he is decrying the slow pace of the proceedings. i just ask you to think about that in today's context. but what we do know, it was immediately published. it was disseminated broadly throughout the colonies. our friend thomas jefferson was in philadelphia and while writing the declaration of independence, had a published copy of the declaration of rights, which he acknowledged on
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the desk, on the table where he was working. and obviously, you can see some parallels between what mason wrote three weeks earlier and what was eventually incorporate it into the declaration of independence. so at this point, mason considers his work concluded. he returns to gunston hall for the balance of the revolutionary war years. he stays largely at home. as i mentioned, his two of his sons, george the fifth and william, served in the virginia militia. he does participate in other ways. as i said. he and washington are writing frequently at this time. washington's asking for supplies, asking for financial support, which mason provides. of particular interest, perhaps, to all of you in alexandria. he also self funds and creates the potomac flotilla, a small flotilla of gunboats that are designed to protect and prevent british incursion up the potomac
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river. but he stays, you know, largely at home. and while he gets involved in some ways, he's not as actively involved as he had been in the years immediately leading leading up to the declaration of independence. but if we jump ahead just a little bit and part of the global impact, which we'll explore a little bit more in just a few minutes, is also based on an understanding of how his ideas and how. how the values that he articulates progress. so we've started with the fairfax resolves. we've seen the declaration of rights. and at this point, as we move forward a little bit further in time. mason like many others, become increasingly frustrated after the war with the articles of confederation. he eventually is elected to the constitutional convention getting ready to convene in philadelphia. he accepts that appointment and makes the difficult decision to
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travel to philadelphia. now, as you heard, i am from philadelphia originally, mason did not like philadelphia. he's he's big on writing fiery letters back to back to friends. so he arrives in philadelphia with the virginia delegation. he is fully committed at that time to the notion of a strong national government. he is in agreement with the others on the virginia delegation about that. but when he arrives, he is not at all happy. he writes letters back home in which he complains that philadelphia is dirty, the people are rude, too expensive, the food is horrible and he can't wait to get home. so he clearly is not enthused about that aspect of it. this is also the furthest he ever travels away from gunston hall. so there are also in some of his writings, are this sense of longing to be home. but what he does do is he participate fully in the convention based on madison's
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own notes. mason was the third most frequent speaker of all the delegates at the convention, which was very unlike mason. he much preferred to work behind the scenes alone in the tavern, writing out his ideas. but he is one of the third the third most active speaker. he's clearly involved and engaged in this discourse, in this debate, in this process. and what you see is, over the course of that hot summer in philadelphia, he begins to become increasingly disillusioned with what he is seeing developed and eventually, when it comes time for the delegates to make the decision about whether or not they will sign the constitution. and mason is one of three delegates who declines. and in so doing, he says that he would sooner chop off his right hand than affix it to the document as presently written. and in true, george mason fashion, he writes out his 16 reasons he liked that number, why he is opposed to the constitution. and he joins fellow virginian
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edmund randolph and a delegate from massachusetts, elbridge gerry, in being the three who who refused to sign. one of the most important reasons is that it doesn't have a declaration of rights, and we're not going to go through all of these in exhaustive detail. but again, it shows that progression of his thinking, and it all relates to the global impact of the declaration of rights itself. he's very concerned that the house of representatives and the government generally is not truly representative and not a truly representative body. he believes the house should have primacy over the senate and anything that impacts the people should be the sole purview of the house of representatives being the more representative body. he also thinks it should be proportionately much larger. you will also see here that he is very concerned about the consolidation of executive power in one chief executive. he proposes not only that the president should have a advisory council, but that they one of his earlier recommendations was
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that there should be three presidents that shared power equally. and again, some of this is borne out of concerns about a monarchy. and this is what fractures his relationship with washington. now, there are there are some who would say that they never spoke again. we know that's not true. they still maintain some degree of correspond. it's an interaction. but the relationship, which once had been very intimate, is now very professional, very different nature of that relationship. you'll also see here that he considers one of the fun ones is that that the position of vice president he describes as useless and unnecessary. and he also thinks it blair mason has strong opinions about a lot of things and he's very good at writing out those opinions, which we appreciate. he also thinks that it blurs the separation between the executive branch and the judiciary or the legislative branch by virtue of the vp serving as the president
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of the senate. some of the other interesting ones in here are that he does, while not listed here, does advocate strongly in opposition to the extension of the slave trade for another 20 years. and again, mason had a number of very contradictory ideas in relation to some of his actions and some of the choices that he made. but he does. he's one of the few delegates that advocates in opposition to the extension of the slave trade. but lastly, what you see here of the 16 is this notion that the constitution will create a moderate aristocracy. he's very concerned about that. and for the first time in his life, mason is the subject of public ridicule and scorn. he is eviscerated in publications in virginia, most particularly in fairfax county, which was strongly in support of the constitution for his
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opposition. when it comes time for virginia to convene their ratifying convention, he cannot get elected from fairfax to serve in that convention. instead, he is elected from stafford as a property owner. he's able to be elected from stafford and travels to richmond to serve in the ratifying convention where he and patrick henry are the two most vocal, active opponents to virginia ratifying the constitution. they're joined by a very young james monroe who joins them in advocating and opposition. but as we know, the constitu is ultimately ratified. and at this point, mason returns to what he would describe as public station back at gunston hall. he basically retires. he goes home, spends the rest of his days at gunston hall. what we do know is he continues to stay in communication with a number of delegates who were his colleagues in philadelphia. most notably james madison.
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james monroe remains a very close friend. thomas jefferson. and for the purposes of our story today, what we also know is that when madison realizes that we do need this thing called the bill of rights, amended to our constitution, one of the first things he does is travel to gunston hall and consult with mason about how best to accomplish that. mason lives long enough to see the bill of rights amended to the constitution and ultimately dies at gunston hall after a very brief illness in 1792. thomas jefferson was the last person to see last visitor to see him before he passed. and unfortunately, monroe was trying diligently to get there, but could not get there in time. so as we think about what all this means in its global context, there are a couple of key things that i'll just share by way of how i would define the global impact. most particularly of the virginia declaration of rights, and i've kind of got this divided down into a couple of different categories. one, it motivated other declarations. you know what? mason was able to do was clearly
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not only a motivating factor and a very influential factor in our own declaration of independence, but it also directly informed the french declaration of the rights of man. and we also know from the historical record and there are sections of the united nations universal declaration of human rights that very closely reflect and mirror what mason wrote in 1776. we also know, and i'm going to forget the exact number, that there are, we'll just say approximately 15 other state constants, actions that that include verbatim language from the declaration of rights states ranging from as far away as wisconsin. and for example, there's language in the first wisconsin constitution that that directly quotes, some of which mason wrote in the virginia virginia declaration of rights. so you see what mason wrote and the ideas that he expressed, the ideology he encapsulated these
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notions of sovereignty, individual rights, revolting against suppressive governments, all reflected in many, many other ways, and having motivated other declarations, you also see that it truly inspired movements and is drawn upon as inspiration for other attempts to not only establish independence, but also to provide for the rights of people. one of my personal heroes is thaddeus chris cusco. you see a picture of him here. as you know, he served in the american revolution, became very close, not only with washington but with jefferson, was very much aware of the declaration of rights and became so personally invested, committed and passionate about this concept that not only did he go back to poland and inspire a revolution there, ultimately unsuccessful but still impactful. one of the interesting things about thaddeus is that he also,
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when he died, he left his estate to jefferson for the express purpose of jefferson using those funds to free his slaves. jefferson fought that in court and never did, but it inspired that movement and more recently we see in foundational documents for liberian independence. and even in vietnam in 1945, you see a direct quote having to do with life, liberty and obtaining happiness and safety, all of which go back to what mason articulated in 1776. and then what jefferson expanded on several weeks later. it's also important this whole notion of sanctioning sovereignty and independence and this and what mason has said in terms of revolting and reforming, amending or abolishing governments that are not performing in the fulfillment of their duties. and we see this in the spanish colonies in the americas. we see this in texas.
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when they were trying to establish their own independence. and you see it right on up to the 1990s in yugoslavia. you see references again to the second paragraph in the declaration of independence that refer to or the first paragraph, rather, drawing on the declaration of rights that also, you know, really provide this sanction and this this notion of sovereignty and independence being a moral not only response duty, but a moral obligation. if your government is failing to perform as it should and as is right and appropriate and then just a couple of other aspects to this. i think we all can name example bills or our own experiences with bills of rights. i mean, it is it's a mainstream thing now in our society for there to be bills of rights. i've just listed a handful of them here. the picture you see here from our exhibit at gunston hall, where we've got copies of a whole bunch of bill of rights.
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and part of what mason did and built upon from prior history is this notion of articulating what you believe, the rights that you believe you're entitled to, the rights that you value and are important in a codified way. and using that as a document to not only express rights, but to create action in support of what you are entitled to and what you deserve. as a member of society and community. and then lastly, and this is really more related to his opposition to the constitution, but in many ways, you know, mason established a precedent for peaceful dissent after you know, after he refused to sign even though he was the subject of scorn and ridicule and animosity. and even though he advocated strongly against ratification, he chose to so civilly and civically and through the processes that were provided in government to express a
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difference of opinion and to express a dissenting opinion. and in many ways, historians and scholars agree that in many ways this was an important moment where there was dissent, where a precedent was established to reach compromise and dissent in a way that was predicated on a shared articulation of ideas and values in a way that did not lead to additional revolt or revolution. and that is important as well. so in conclusion, is a fascinating guy, a very interesting personality, one that is characterized by a number of contradictions. but at the end of the day, wrote a document that was not only incredibly important, meaningful and impactful to the revolutionary movement. and in so doing articulated the ideology for our revolution. but a document that not only informed generations in america that followed, but truly had a global reach in all the ways we've discussed in the document.
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that is incredibly important for us to continue, know, learn about and understand today. and i encourage you all as you are able to come down to gunston hall visit. george mason's gunston hall experience the place tor the home and most importantly, reflect to think about and act upon the important ideas that he expressed about the inherent rights that we all have, the freedoms that we all enjoy, and the justice and equality to which we are all entitled and to which we all deserve. so thank you very much for your time today. i've enjoyed it. i'm happy to answer any questions. yes, thank you so much for this excellent presentation. and i'm wondering if you can speculate because i know that there aren't really answers in the written archive about this question, but the two other individuals that did not sign
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the constitution, edmund randolph and elbridge gerry, george washington went on to have a very close relationship with randolph and i think at least a decent relationship with gerry. what was different about? mason it's it's a great question. and as you said, edmund randolph went on to reconcile with washington, became general. you know, i think in many ways mason was never invested in this in the concept of being a professional politician. he refused as we've talked just in brief, about. but there were many other examples. he was elected to office and for a variety of reasons, not just because he prioritized being a husband and father but because he did not feel that it should be a profession. he felt as though there should
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be frequent and free elections and that there should be strict limitations on the period of time somebody serves in such a position. so he did not really have a stake in building a political career and i readily admit that i'm not an expert on edmund randolph by any stretch of the imagination. i do know that he did seem to have more aspirations for a career in public service. but mason, again, really thought that. he that that an individual should only serve when they really could make a difference and when they were called to do so. so i think that's one difference. i think the other differences this going to sound overly judgmental. and i apologize. it does. but mason didn't really like people that much, you know. you know, he was social, he was cordial. he was also content. thinker isn't grumpy a good part of the time.
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and i think he that's one reason why i think he preferred to stay at home where he was comfortable and he he did not really want to engage in that same way. he also was clearly someone who had a lot in his own way. and again, not to sound overly judgmental, i obviously never met george mason personally, although i do live on campus at gunston hall, so i feel like we've kind of bonded a little bit, he pretty proud of his ideas and you know, i think he he he he was he believes so strongly and had such pride in what he wrote, that he was resolute in in not changing his opinion on that. and and i think, you know, he was willing in many ways to sacrifice his relationship with washington as a result. and he stood by that and he never sort of recanted on on what he believed and why he opposed the constitution, which
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is which i think is interesting. there's a i did not share the slide, but there's a great quote i'll just share real quickly. oops, i go wrong way. and i think this ironically to edmund randolph, i'd forgotten that he says i quitted my seat in the house of delegates from a conviction that i was no longer able to do any essential service. some of the public measures have been so contrary to my notions of policy and of justice that i wish to be no further concerned with or answerable for them, and to spend the remnant of my life in quiet and retirement. this is kind of george. yet with all her faults, my country will ever have my warmest wishes and affections, and i would at any time, most cheerfully, my own ease and domestic enjoyment to the public good. that's kind of george's concept to public service in a nutshell. hopefully that answered some part of your question. yes, sir. thank you. great talk. yeah. george mason's often overlooked, as in his viewpoint.
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perspective is is really important. i think it's awesome. awesome talk but question about the his dissent to the constitution and a big part of that was no bill of rights doesn't sign and then shortly thereafter they come and talk about adding a bill of rights. why didn't they just include that in the initial constitution? yes, you know, it's interesting and again, i don't proclaim to be a complete expert on all things constitutional convention. what what i can share is that one of the interesting things is this of a of a declaration of rights or a bill of rights did not come up until very late in that summer. it was not something that was discussed from the outset. know mason didn't show up on day one and say, we need to make sure this thing has a declaration of rights in fact, he doesn't even talk about it until late. and so one school of thought is that and scholars have written that, you know, one of the reasons why there may have been
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a reluctance to add it to the constitution at that time is people were tired. you know, there was there this sense that let's not bring up one more really difficult, challenging thing that's going to in gender, all of this additional debate we know will be somewhat at least somewhat controversial. let's just get the best we can get, ratify this and go home. i also think that at some level, well, to two more things. there was also this sense that from what i know, that the constitution has written sort of inherently encapsulated those rights. and it did not need to be specifically expressed in other ways. and we can debate, you know, all the different reasons why that may or may not be the case and why some may or may not have thought that was the case. i also think for all of mason's cantankerous and sometimes grumpy demeanor, and i say that with respect, but i do think
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there was a big part of mason that was inherently optimistic. and i do think he was hopeful throughout that summer, too. it got to the point where he just could not feel that same level of hope that they would get there. and perhaps that's why that's why they he waded until so late to to make that strong case and make that strong push. so i think it's sort of a combination of of, you know, political small p realities associated with wanting to move on, get it done, put it to bed. some believe that it was inherently in there already. and then i think on mason's part, you know, part of his personal, i think, was that, you know, this will be okay until he thought it wasn't. other questions. yes, sir. i have a simple question. i hope so, but it's not clear to me where did his money come from? the reason why i say is
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washington was never always disappointed with the productivity of mount vernon tobacco prices peaked in the late 1740s, where i don't think he married a fantastically rich woman. i just asked. oh, sure. it's it's a great question. very fair question. so one as i said, he inherited a great deal of wealth. mason, you know, mason also did to ways i can answer that. mason was very conservative his what he would consider to be unnecessary expenditures. he as you know, as i alluded to, was not one that was traveling a lot, was not one that was hosting lavish parties. a lot was not one that was investing in. although he certainly invested his home and its furnishing things. but he was not, you know, out buying goods like crazy.
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you know, one of the best examples is he never changed gunston hall. he gunston hall in 1755, never added on to it, never changed any of the decor. never. i mean, you think about folks like washington and jefferson and madison, they were perpetually expanding and building their houses, and that's expensive. mason did either. he just loved it. the he built it or didn't want to spend the money. i don't know. a combination of the two. so much so that when he died there was no debt. unlike so many others at this particular time. no. i also know that he took advantage of what we would today consider or call some tax. he wrote his will many years before he passed and in essence transferred property to his heirs before he died, which was in essence a tax loophole which preserve some of his assets, if you will. but i think most importantly, he
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was a very conservative in what in anything that was considered unnecessary. other questions. i wanted to ask about his time in the tavern. yes. writing by himself. and he had mentioned that he's well read. did he write down or can kind of extract where what books or things that he drew from to write the declaration of rights? because, you know, i'm sure it was rum punch, but other things that assisted him in writing this document, i mean, he certainly read locke, you know, read all of it, all the enlightenment thinkers that we heard a little bit about before were certainly too heavily on the british bill of rights, the magna carta, all of that. i don't know. i don't have sort of a full bibliography committed in memory. but it was all of those same writers and writings that characterized that enlightenment period and was drawing on those
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heavily heavily in every way he could. you know, he was very, very fortunate to have access to his uncle john's library. obviously, which was, i think, a pivotal moment for him as a young boy growing up, particularly a young boy who never went to formal school. and in fact, you know, one of the great one of the great examples that he provided or continues to provide is this is this high value on education and this high value on lifelong learning. you know, he you know, he he paid for tutors to come over and not only educate his children, but other children in neighboring communities and throughout his life, only did he speak about his family, but also spoke a lot about the value and importance of education and that was a big part of what he did as well. you have a question, sir. just note to two parts. you were one in the course of your talk. we were up to george the fourth
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and george the fifth. and you implied that there would be others in the family history. are we up to george there still? george mason's running around today. we're probably into into the hundreds, if not thousands of george is now. all right. and then second to follow up, some of the founders were famous for for being anchored in their religious principles and their their their heritage of their particular church was george ah. george mason unchurched anglican baptist. any any feelings about his his religious vibe. yes. he was a very active participant in a very human and poet church still in existence, just a little bit south of fort belvoir. as you know, he and george washington were were there the mason pugh is still i mean, it's reconstructed, but it's there's still a mason pew there. he was very active in polk.
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he among other things, as an aside, was on the committee responsible for building. the current church, which was built in 1772, the first public church, you may know was in a different location. and when this church was built, he was responsible for leading the team that was building it. there were there was at least one of the indentured servants that mason employed in building gunston hall paul that he again hired to do work at polk, george bernard sears was a carver who did all of the woodwork inside of gunston hall. he retained sears to do all of the woodwork inside poet church. so he was very active at polk and very, very active in the anglican church throughout his life and attended there for the entirety of his life. one of the interesting things as an aside is he says nothing to
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do with the declaration of rights but one of the pieces in our collection is a silver monteith bowl that was commissioned by his grandfather father in london and as you may know, a monteith bowl was used to cheer wine glasses. a beautiful in our collection in mason's in the family bible. any time there was a birth it is written in mason's hand that they actually baptized their children in the monteith bowl. so i don't know why they didn't go to public church to do that or another church to do that. but apparently this monteith four was also used to to baptized our children. so it's a long answer to your question about religion, but probably safer for the baby as they had all for the probably safer and the monteith is on display in our exhibit at gunston hall if you want to see it. so the travels around it was in the smithsonian in people think it's pretty cool. so come check out our silver bowl. don't bring your baby, though. that's we don't allow that
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anymore. yes, sir. okay. yeah, well, i won't be doing that anyway. did george mason leave any writings that would suggest how he reconciled in his mind the institution of slavery with the bill of rights? he did know one of the challenges we have with george mason, unlike folks like washington and jefferson, is the totality of surviving papers of george mason total three volumes, very small by comparison. i don't remember how many volumes jar of washington and jefferson, but much much more. but yes, mason. mason there were a number of instances in which mason wrote about slavery. there are a number of quotes from those writings that are frequently referred to. he refers to slavery. the institution slavery as a slow poison. he refers to the fact that slaves free will make of their masters petty tyrants. he writes about.
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how the sins this isn't a direct quote, but you'll get the concern. he writes about how the sins of man will be, will be. how does he say the sins man in owning slaves will be reflected in will be reflected in calamities that the nation will face? and again, that's not the direct quote, but he's implying that, you know, our sins behavior now will have its reckoning at some point. and he's writing this in 1700s. what what he also writes, though, and those are just snippets of larger, larger writings. he also writes, you know, or let me, let me rephrase that. his writings also make clear that he fundamentally believes that african-americans, people of african descent are inferior.
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i mean, we just need to acknowledge that he makes that clear in his writings. he also writes about slavery with some frequency in very specific economic terms. he writes that one of his concerns about slavery is that it will limit up limit economic opportunities for free whites. and create a lower class of white. he says white men that will not have access to jobs as a result and. then the other thing we just we need to openly acknowledge when we think about this too, particularly as we think about the economics of it, is that there are very few examples that we have ever been able to learn about in which mason purchased an enslaved individual.
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you know, the mason family had been in virginia since 1652. they they eventually he owned over 300, enslaved african-americans and, you know, his his enslaved community was naturally regenerating itself. so he you know, i think it's fair to say that he was writing in opposition to the slave trade when he was economically not necessary for him to be a participant. so, yes, and there there are examples in we have copies of advertisements in the alexandria newspaper from the time in which he was actively pursuing runaways. you know, so there is some information about this. but, you know, i think at the end of the day, what we do at gunston hall, you know, our our approach is understanding his ideas, his choices and his actions and putting it in that context and thinking about not
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only his ideas, choices, actions, but the legacy of those ideas, choices and actions today, while also admitting that all of us as humans have ideas and may make choices and take actions that aren't always in direct alignment with those ideas. it's just part of human frailty at some level, and i'm not in any way justifying what he did. what we tried to do is to be honest and truthful about what he wrote, what he did, the reality of slavery, while also putting it in the context of humanity and also thinking about how what he did also still has meaning and value. no, he did not. every one of the individuals he owned was bequeathed to one of his heirs. other questions. thank you very much.


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