Kevin D’Amato | United States
Since the founding of the United States, there has been a strong veneration associated with the founding fathers, the group men who convened to write, discuss and sign documents such as the Declaration of Independence and Constitution. I would say the praise is largely justifiable; the founding fathers played a key role in creating the modern western state. Their genius stemmed from their impeccable knowledge of history and rigorous study of philosophy. Influences for this new, great experiment ranged throughout thousands of years and included:
- The Roman Republic
- The Magna Carta
- Social Contract Theory
- John Locke’s Natural Rights Theory
With that being said, common knowledge surrounding the early years of our country is rudimentary. Children are brought up idolizing founders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. However, most simply do not know a majority of those influential men in “The Room Where it Happened”. While I don’t discount the importance of well-known founders, I believe there is something missing in the education of the average student. I wish to take you on a journey through time to learn about the forgotten icons who deserve your attention.
Who is George Mason?
George Mason IV was born as a farm boy in modern Fairfax County, Virginia on December 11th, 1725 to father George Mason III and mother Ann Stevens Thomson. At the age of 10, George Mason’s father died. From then on, his mother and uncle, John Mercer, raised him. Mason thus gained exposure to Mercer’s large library, which had a large impact on his curiosity and intellect.
From an early age, Mason had an interest in public life. He served as a vestryman for his parish and a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Beyond this, Mason was forming his life alongside his wife Ann Eilbeck (with whom he would have 12 children with). At his home, Gunston Hall, he grew crops such as tobacco and wheat.
As tensions between Great Britain and the colonies began to form, Mason became a leader of the Virginia Patriots and eventually wrote the Virginia Constitution in 1776. George Mason ending up being a Representative for Virginia for the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
On October 7, 1792, after struggling with illness all his life, George Mason IV passed away at the age of 66. He had long lived with gout, but historians believe he died of additional ailments following a chest cold.
Founder or Framer?
At this point, you may be asking an important question. If George Mason attended the Constitutional Convention, why do so many people not know him?
The answer lies in what occurred at the convention itself.
Out of the 55 delegates in attendance, ultimately only 39 signed the Constitution; George Mason did not.
While writing Virginia’s Constitution (1776), George Mason made a point of expressing individuals rights up front and keeping government as localized as possible. This model was used by many other states, but not exemplified to Mason’s wishes in the U.S. Constitution. Along with his gripes over government power, Mason vehemently opposed continuing the Atlantic Slave Trade, calling it “disgraceful to mankind”, despite owning slaves himself.
These grievances began to add up and hold Mason from signing the final version of the Constitution. Because of that decision, he will forever be known as a framer, not a founder.
The Significance of George Mason
George Mason’s principled stances for what he believed in makes him one of the most important figures in American history.
First, his argument against slavery was ahead of its time. To have the courage to speak out against slavery as a beneficiary is bold. If the Constitution had abolished slavery, George Mason would only lose wealth, yet he argued for it.
Second, without his stand against the original Constitution, we may have never gotten the Bill of Rights. The first 10 amendments covered a majority of Mason’s problems with the original document. We live in a better country because of them.
Third, Mason’s statements in regards to the Bill of Rights, specifically the 2nd Amendment, provide a strong backbone to the argument behind the preservation of the document. Mason repeatedly talked about the importance of these rights for all Americans.
I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.
George Mason’s Legacy
Although he does not receive the credit that he deserves, George Mason lives on in one major way. Near his home in Fairfax, Virginia is George Mason University, the largest public research institution in the state.
With the announcement of Amazon’s new headquarters location in Northern Virginia, the school shows no signs to stop its rapid growth. The school’s success definitely does justice to its namesake.
Even though traditional schools won’t give Mason his share of respect, it won’t prevent the intellectual world from continuing to discuss him. By remembering that education truly never ends, we are reminded that the possibility of knowledge is limitless.
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