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George Mason

From Academic Kids

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An etching of George Mason

George Mason (December 11, 1725October 7, 1792) was a United States patriot, statesman, and delegate from Virginia to the U.S. Constitutional Convention. He is nicknamed the "Father of the Bill of Rights".

Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which detailed specific rights of citizens. He was later a leader of those who pressed for the addition of explicitly stated individual rights as part of the U.S. Constitution. His efforts eventually succeeded in convincing the Federalists (such as James Madison) to modify the Constitution and add the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments of the Constitution). The Bill of Rights is based on Mason's earlier Virginia Declaration of Rights. The French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was also based on George Mason's work.

George Mason was born on December 11, 1725, at the Mason family plantation in Fairfax County, Virginia. His father died in 1735 in a boating accident. On April 4, 1750, he married Ann Eilbeck from a plantation in Charles County, Maryland. They lived in a house on George's property in Dogue's Neck, Virginia. Mason completed construction of Gunston Hall (a plantation house on the Potomac River) in 1759. Unfortunately, on March 9, 1773, his wife died.

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.

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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. However, he would not sign the Constitution for a number of reasons; the very first of his objections was that the original Constitution failed to contain a "declaration of rights". Mason continued to agitate for the addition of a bill of rights to the Constitution after the convention. This agitation cost Mason his long friendship with 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.

Mason died at his home, Gunston Hall, on October 7, 1792. Gunston Hall, located in Mason Neck, Virginia, is now a tourist attraction. The George Mason National Memorial is located in East Potomac Park, Washington, DC, near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial; it was dedicated on April 9, 2002. A major bridge connecting Washington, DC, to Virginia is officially named the George Mason Memorial Bridge (it is part of the 14th Street bridge complex). George Mason University located in Fairfax, Virginia, is named in his honor, as are Mason County, Kentucky and Mason County, West Virginia.

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