When someone mentions the name George Mason, the first thought that may come to mind is: “Oh, yes, they have a great basketball team.”
That’s true, but basketball is not the reason George Mason should be remembered by most Americans. His contribution to our nation is much more important.
Mason is recognized as the Father of the Bill of Rights. I know, you probably thought it was James Madison. While Madison did “propose” the U.S. Bill of Rights, he did so in response to a band of vocal opponents of the U.S. Constitution.
The National Constitution Center in Philadelphia includes a striking exhibit of 42 life-sized bronze statues of the Founding Fathers, the icons of their day: Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Madison, to name just a few.
But in that same room are the statues of three other delegates to the Constitutional Convention who defiantly refused to put pen to paper and sign the document. Why? Because the Constitution did not include a Bill of Rights spelling out the rights of states and the freedom of citizens.
It was a classic struggle between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. The Federalists argued against a Bill of Rights in the Constitution, but the Anti-Federalists were leery of a document not including safeguards of the most basic individual liberties we’ve come to cherish.
George Mason was one of those three refusing to sign. He was joined in his protest by Edmund Randolph, also of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts.
Mason several years earlier had written the Virginia Declaration of Rights in his call for independence from Great Britain. That document later became the template for our own statement of individual rights in the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
In his Virginia declaration, he wrote: “All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights … among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
While Mason seems to have been relegated to no more than a bit part in our nation’s history, he is really the one we should honor as we cherish our individual rights, which include:
Freedom of speech.
Freedom of assembly.
Freedom of the press.
Freedom of religion.
Freedom to petition government for a redress of grievances.
The right to bear arms.
The right to due process.
The right against self-incrimination.
The right to a jury trial.
Thanks to all our Founding Fathers, but especially George Mason, we can all raise a toast in celebration of the 226th anniversary of the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Now, as commentator Paul Harvey used to say, “you know the rest of the story.”
Doug Anstaett is executive director of the Kansas Press Association.
By Doug Anstaett