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George Mason was born on December 11, 1725, in Fairfax County, Virginia. At age ten George suffered the death of his father, who died in a boating accident. As a result of his father's death, young George inherited vast tracts of land in Massachusetts and Virginia. In 1735, George went to live with his uncle, John Mercer. George loved reading books from his uncle's vast library, which contained at least 500 books on law and law theory. In his early twenties, George studied law and worked on his vast plantation. In 1749, he became a member of the Ohio Company, which developed land along the Ohio River and in western territories.
The Fairfax Resolves
In 1750, George married Ann Eilbeck. Together, they would have twelve children (nine survived into adulthood). George would soon take an interest in politics and became a justice in the Fairfax County courts. In 1759, he was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses. Later in 1759, the Mason family moved into Gunston Hall, a large plantation on the Potomac River. In 1774, just before the American Revolution, George wrote the Fairfax Resolves, a document which described the colonists’ objections to the English blockade of Boston Harbor after the 1773 Boston Tea Party. In the Fairfax Resolves, Mason not only denounced the blockade, but called for a boycott of all English goods as well as the abolishment of slavery.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights
In 1776, Mason authored the document for which he is best known - the Virginia Declaration of Rights. The landmark document demanded the respect of individual rights and championed every freeman’s right for life, liberty, happiness, and safety. Mason’s words galvanized officials in other colonies, who quickly penned similar declarations for their states. The Virginia Declaration of Rights was the basis for the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution.
Refusing to Sign the U.S. Constitution
In 1786, George Mason was appointed as the Virginia delegate to a federal session in Philadelphia designed to revise the Articles of Confederation. Although Mason was very active in the revision, he ultimately refused to sign what would become the nation's new Constitution because it did not include a declaration of rights. Mason's decision agitated many of the founding fathers and probably cost him his friendship with George Washington. Nevertheless, the Bill of Rights was added to the US Constitution in 1791.
George Mason died at his home, Gunston Hall, in 1792. Today, George Mason University, located in Fairfax, Virginia, is named in his honor.