George Mason’s Proposal in the Virginia Convention, June 27, 1788

This is a drawing of a blank, open journal and a quill.

George Mason advocated for a Bill of Rights to be added to the United States Constitution, and he introduced the following draft during the Virginia convention to ratify the Constitution. His draft includes many ideals from the Enlightenment, and he hoped to put these ideals into write and keep them protected in the new republic.

 

That there be a Declaration or Bill of Rights, asserting and securing from Encroachment, the Essential and unalienable Rights of the People, in some such Manner as the following.—

1. That all Freemen have certain essential inherent Rights, of which they cannot by any Compact, deprive or divest their Posterity; among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the means of acquiring, possessing and protecting Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.

2. That all Power is naturally vested in, and consequently derived from the People; that Magistrates therefore are their Trustees and Agents, and at all Times amenable to them.

3. That Government ought to be instituted for the Common Benefit, Protection and Security of the People; and that whenever any Government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a Majority of the Community hath an indubitable unalienable and indefeasible Right to reform, alter or abolish it, and to establish another, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the public Weal; and that the Doctrine of non-resistance against arbitrary Power and Oppression is absurd, slavish and destructive of the good and Happiness of Mankind.

4. That no man or Set of Men are entitled to exclusive or separate public Emoluments or privileges from the Community, but in Consideration of public Services; which not being descendable neither ought the Offices of Magistrate, Legislator or Judge, or any other public Office, to be hereditary.

5. That the Legislative, Executive and Judicial powers of Government should be separate and distinct; and that the Members of the Two first may be restrained from Oppression, by feeling and participating [in] the public Burthens, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private Station, return into the Mass of the people, and the Vacancies be supplied by certain and regular Elections, in which all, or any part of the Former Members to be eligible or ineligible, as the Rules of the Constitution of Government and the Laws shall direct.

6. That the Right of the People to participate in the Legislature is the best Security of Liberty, and the Foundation of all Free Governments; for this purpose Elections ought to be free and frequent; and all men having sufficient Evidence of permanent common Interest with, and Attachment to the Community, ought to have the Right of Suffrage: And no Aid, Charge, Tax or Fee can be set, rated or levied upon the People without their own Consent, or that of their Representatives so elected; nor can they be bound by any Law to which they have not in like manner assented for the Public Good.

7. That all power of suspending Laws, or the Execution of Laws by any Authority, without Consent of the Representatives of the People in the Legislature, is injurious to their Rights, and ought not to be exercised.

8. That in all Capital or Criminal Prosecutions, a Man hath a Right to demand the Cause & Nature of his Accusation, to be confronted with the Accusers and Witnesses, to call for Evidence and be admitted Counsel in his Favor, and to a fair and speedy Trial by an impartial Jury of his Vicinage, without whose unanimous Consent he cannot be found guilty, (except in the Government of the Land and Naval Forces in Time of actual War, Invasion or Rebellion) nor can he be compelled to give Evidence against himself.

9. That no Freeman ought to be taken, imprisoned, or desseized of his Freehold, Liberties, Privileges or Franchises, or outlawed or exiled, or in any manner destroyed, or deprived of his Life, Liberty or Property, but by the Law of the Land.

10. That every Freeman restrained of his Liberty is entitled to a Remedy, to enquire into the Lawfulness thereof, and to remove the same if unlawful, and that such Remedy ought not to be denied or delayed.

11. That in Controversies respecting Property, and in Suits between Man and Man, the ancient Trial by Jury of Facts, where they arise, is one of the greatest Securities to the Rights of a Free people, and ought to remain sacred and inviolable.

12. That every Freeman ought to find a certain Remedy, by Recourse to the Laws, for all Injuries or Wrongs he may receive in his person, property or Character: He ought to obtain Right and Justice freely, without sale, compleatly and without Denial, promptly and without Delay; and that all Establishments or Regulations contravening these Rights are oppressive and unjust.

13. That excessive Bail ought not to be required, nor excessive Fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual Punishments inflicted.

14. That ever Freeman has a Right to be secure from all unreasonable Searches and Seizures of his Person, his papers, and his property; all Warrants therefore to search suspected places, or to seize any Freeman, his Papers or property, without Information upon Oath (or Affirmation of a person religiously scrupulous of taking an Oath) of legal and sufficient Cause, are grievous and Oppressive; and all General Warrants to search suspected Places, or to apprehend any suspected Person, without specially naming or describing the Place or Person, are dangerous and ought not to be granted.

15. That the People have a Right peaceably to assembly together to consult for their common Good, or to instruct their Representatives, and that every Freeman has a Right to petition or apply to the Legislature for Redress of Greivances.

16. That the People have a Right to Freedom of Speech, and of writing and publishing their Sentiments; that the Freedom of the Press is one of the great Bulwarks of Liberty, and ought not to be violated.

17. That the People have a Right to keep and to bear Arms; that a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe Defence of a free State; that Standing Armies in Time of Peace are dangerous to Liberty, and therefore ought to be avoided as far as the Circumstances and Protection of the Community will admit; and that in all Cases, the Military should be under strict Subordination to, and governed by the Civil Power.

18. That no Soldier in Time of Peace ought to be quartered in any House without the Consent of the Owner; and in Time of War, only by the civil Magistrate in such Manner as the Laws direct.

19. That any Person religiously scrupulous of bearing Arms ought to be exempted upon payment of an Equivalent to employ another to bear Arms in his stead.

20. That Religion or the Duty which we owe to our Creator, and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by Reason and Conviction, not by Force or Violence, and therefore all Men have an equal, natural, and unaleinable Right to the free Exercise of Religion according to the Dictates of Conscience, and that no particular Religious Sect or Society of Christians ought to be favored or established by Law in preference to others.

 

Source: 

The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution Digital Edition, ed. John P. Kaminski, Gaspare J. Saladino, Richard Leffler, Charles H. Schoenleber and Margaret A. Hogan. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2009. Original source: Ratification by the States, Volume IX: Virginia, No. 2