Wednesday, March 01, 2006

George Mason & The Bill of Rights

A few weeks ago I mentioned, even quoted, a man whose name few of us would be quick to recognize. No not Jefferson or the Adams boys, but rather one George Mason, (1725-1792) a gentleman of Virginia. George's father died in a boating accident, on the Potomac, when George was just 10, and a barrister uncle, John Mercer, took over George's tutelage. He was self educated within the walls of his uncle's library, a library which was known as one of the most extensive in the colonies.

By the age of 21 he had taken over the running of the plantation and had supervised the building of Gunston Hall, the home he had built. His marriage to Ann Eilback in 1750 produced 9 children and, as an integral part of Virginia plantation society, he was well liked although he had a tendency towards hypochondria and could be, at times, a bit irascible. George Washington was a friend and neighbor, and he had served with Washington in the Ohio Company, a group that sought to open up the west for more settlement, and acted as a supply agent to the troops in the French & Indian Wars. He held the rank of colonel in the Virginia Militia although he never saw service in the field.

So what has made George Mason so important to us? A man whose name , as I said, is not a household word, (except perhaps to those who are alumnae of George Mason University), as is Jefferson's or Washington's, and surely not a name high on the list of those whom children must memorize in their studies of American History. Passion is what makes George important. A passion which he fought and argued to have recognized, The Bill of Rights.

The Bill of Rights is near and dear to the hearts of all of us, and so much taken for granted. Thank heaven we had a George Mason whose passion to get it right delivered them unto us! Mason had authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights and these had had a profound effect on Jefferson's drafting of the Constitution. Many thought that the Constitution should stand on it's own merit ; others felt, if left as it was, it could eventually lean towards tyranny, as had recently been the case with Great Britain. Others felt that all things we sought to incorporate into this new nation must be specifically spelled out.

In May of 1787 at the Pennsylvania State House, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had gathered in order to flesh out and revise the Articles of Confederation. At the time Mason stated, "The eyes of the United States are turned upon this assembly and their expectations raised to a very anxious degree." But, when he felt his concern about adding a Bill of Rights were not being taken seriously, he left the Convention, a bitter man, and became an outspoken opponent of the Constitution!

Eventually Mason's idea was adopted and James Madison drafted The Bill of Rights which would be the first ten amendments to the Constitution. I have reprinted them here in the hopes that we can truly read and see the words which those men took such pains to produce. Words to assure that our new government would be a fair and equitable one, free, hopefully, of being hijacked by those in power. Please note the use of the words "by the people" or "to the people".

It is time that "We, the people..." start taking back what is rightfully ours by the rule of law. Josef Goebbels, from his front row seat in hell, is probably grinning from ear to ear seeing how easily these rights are being stripped from us, seemingly without objection! We should be weeping!

The Bill of Rights: A Transcription

Note: The following text is a transcription of the first ten amendments to the Constitution in their original form. These amendments were ratified December 15, 1791, and form what is known as the "Bill of Rights."

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

Amendment VII
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Susan B. Goodwin