|Birth Day:||December 11, 1725|
|Death Date:||Oct 7, 1792 (age 66)|
American Anti-Federalist politician and Founding Father who represented Virginia at the U.S. Constitutional Convention and played a key role in formulating the United States Bill of Rights.
As per our current Database, George Mason died on Oct 7, 1792 (age 66).
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George Mason practiced law and became a justice of the Fairfax County Court before being elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1759.
George Mason, fourth of that name, was born into this environment on December 11, 1725. He may have been born at his father's plantation on Dogue's Neck (later Mason Neck), but this is uncertain as his parents also lived on their lands across the Potomac in Maryland.
On March 5, 1735, George Mason III died when his boat capsized while crossing the Potomac. His widow Ann raised their son George (then 10) and two younger siblings as co-guardian with lawyer John Mercer, who was their uncle by marriage, having wed George Mason III's sister Catherine. Ann Mason selected property at Chopawamsic Creek (today in Prince William County, Virginia) as her dower house and there lived with her children and administered the lands that her elder son would control upon reaching his 21st birthday. At age twenty-one, Mason inherited his father's large estate. It consisted of thousands of acres of farmland in Virginia and Maryland, as well as thousands of acres of uncleared land in the western country. Mason also inherited his father's slaves—said to number about three hundred.
In 1736, George began his education with a Mr. Williams, hired to teach him for the price of 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of tobacco per annum. George's studies began at his mother's house, but the following year, he was boarded out to a Mrs. Simpson in Maryland, with Williams continuing as teacher through 1739. By 1740, George Mason was again at Chopawamsic, under the tutelage of a Dr. Bridges. Mason's biographers have speculated that this was Charles Bridges, who helped develop the schools run in Britain by the Society for the Promotion of Christian Knowledge, and who came to America in 1731. In addition, Mason and his brother Thomson doubtlessly had the run of Mercer's library, one of the largest in Virginia, and the conversations of Mercer and the book-lovers who gathered around him were likely an education in themselves.
Mercer was a brilliant man of strong opinions, who expressed his views in ways that sometimes gave offense; Mason proved similar in brilliance of mind and ability to anger. George Mason attained his majority in 1746, and continued to reside at Chopawamsic with his siblings and mother.
The obligations and offices that came with being one of the largest local landowners descended on Mason as they had on his father and grandfather. In 1747, he was named to the Fairfax County Court. Mason was elected as a vestryman for Truro Parish, serving 1749–1785. He took a position among the officers of the county militia, eventually rising to the rank of colonel. In 1748, he sought a seat in the House of Burgesses; the process was controlled by more senior members of the court and he was not then successful, but he would win in 1758.
Mason sought to expand his land and wealth. He greatly expanded the boundaries of Gunston Hall estate, so that it occupied all of Dogue's Neck, which became known as Mason's Neck. One project that Mason was involved in for most of his adult life was the Ohio Company, in which he invested in 1749 and became treasurer in 1752—an office he held forty years until his death in 1792. The Ohio Company had secured a royal grant for 200,000 acres (81,000 ha) to be surveyed near the forks of the Ohio River (today the site of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). War, revolution, and competing claims from Pennsylvania eventually defeated the Ohio Company's plans. Although the company failed, Mason acquired considerable Western lands independently. His defense against the Pennsylvania claims, Selections from the Virginia Charters (1772), originally intended to promote the Ohio Company's claims, was widely applauded as a defense of the rights of Americans against royal decrees. Involvement with the Ohio Company also brought Mason into contact with many prominent Virginians, including his Fairfax County neighbor, George Washington.
On April 4, 1750, Mason married Ann Eilbeck, only child of William and Sarah Eilbeck of Charles County, Maryland. The Masons and Eilbecks had adjacent lands in Maryland, and had joined together in real estate transactions; by his death in 1764, William Eilbeck was one of the wealthiest men in Charles County. At the time of his marriage, Mason was living at Dogue's Neck, possibly at Sycamore Point. George and Ann Mason would have nine children who survived to adulthood. Ann Mason died in 1773; their marriage, judging by surviving accounts, was a happy one.
Alexandria was one of the towns founded or given corporate status in the mid-18th century in which Mason had interests; he purchased three of the original lots along King and Royal Streets and became a municipal trustee in 1754. He also served as a trustee of Dumfries, in Prince William County, and had business interests there and in Georgetown, on the Maryland side of the Potomac (today in the District of Columbia).
George Mason began to build his home, Gunston Hall, likely beginning in 1755. The exterior, typical of local buildings of that time, was probably based on architectural books sent from Britain to America for the use of local builders; one of these craftsmen, perhaps William Waite or James Wren, constructed Gunston Hall. Mason was proud of the gardens which still surround the house. There were outbuildings, including slave quarters, a schoolhouse, and kitchens, and beyond them four large plantations, forests, and the shops and other facilities that made Gunston Hall mostly self-sufficient.
Little is known of Mason's political views prior to the 1760s, when he came to oppose British colonial policies. In 1758, Mason successfully ran for the House of Burgesses when George William Fairfax, holder of one of Fairfax County's two seats, chose not to seek re-election. Also elected were Mason's brother Thomson (for Stafford County), George Washington (for Frederick County where he was stationed as commander of Virginia's militia as the French and Indian War continued) and Richard Henry Lee, who would work closely with Mason through their careers.
When the house assembled, George Mason was initially appointed to a committee concerned with raising additional militia during that time of war. In 1759, he was appointed to the powerful Committee on Privileges and Elections. He was also placed during the latter year on the Committee on Propositions and Grievances, which mostly considered local matters. Mason dealt with several local concerns, presenting a petition of Fairfax County planters against being assessed for a tobacco wharf at Alexandria, funds they felt should be raised through wharfage fees. He also played a major role as the Burgesses deliberated how to divide Prince William County as settlement expanded; in March 1759, Fauquier County was created by legislative act. In this, Mason opposed the interest of the family of Thomas, Lord Fairfax, who wanted existing counties expanded instead, including Fairfax. This difference may have contributed to Mason's decision not to seek re-election in 1761. Mason biographer Jeff Broadwater noted that Mason's committee assignments reflected the esteem his colleagues held him in, or at least the potential they saw. Broadwater did not find it surprising that Mason did not seek re-election, as he did not attend the sessions between 1759 and 1761.
Mason slowly moved from being a peripheral figure towards the center of Virginia politics, but his published response to the Stamp Act, which he opposed, is most notable for the inclusion of his anti-slavery views. George Washington or George William Fairfax, the burgesses for Fairfax County, may have asked Mason's advice as to what steps to take in the crisis. Mason drafted an act to allow for one of the most common court actions, replevin, to take place without the use of stamped paper, and sent it to George Washington, by then one of Fairfax County's burgesses, to gain passage. This action contributed to a boycott of the stamps. With the courts and trade paralyzed, the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766, but continued to assert the right to tax the colonies.
Following the repeal, a committee of London merchants issued a public letter to Americans, warning them not to declare victory. Mason published a response in June 1766, satirizing the British position, "We have, with infinite Difficulty & Fatigue got you excused this one Time; do what your Papa and Mamma bid, & hasten to return your most grateful Acknowledgements for condescending to let you keep what is your own." The Townshend Acts of 1767 were Britain's next attempt to tax the colonies, placing duties on substances including lead and glass, and provoking calls from the northern colonies for a boycott of British goods. Virginia, more dependent on goods imported from Britain, was less enthusiastic, and, as local planters tended to receive goods at their river landings, a boycott would be difficult to enforce. In April 1769, Washington sent a copy of a Philadelphia resolution to Mason, asking his advice on what action Virginia should take. It is unknown who adapted that text for use in Virginia (Broadwater concluded it was Mason) but Mason sent Washington a corrected draft on April 23, 1769. Washington took it to Williamsburg, but the governor, Lord Botetourt, dissolved the legislature because of the radical resolutions it was passing. The Burgesses adjourned to a nearby tavern, and there passed a non-importation agreement based on Mason's.
Although the resolution was not as strong as Mason had liked—he wanted Virginia to threaten to cut off tobacco—Mason worked in the following years for non-importation. The repeal of most of the Townshend duties (excepting that on tea) made his task more difficult. In March 1773, his wife Ann died of illness contracted after another pregnancy. Mason was the sole parent to nine children, and his commitments made him even more reluctant to accept political office that would take him from Gunston Hall.
In May 1774, Mason was in Williamsburg on real estate business. Word had just arrived of the passage of the Intolerable Acts, as Americans dubbed the legislative response to the Boston Tea Party, and a group of lawmakers including Lee, Henry, and Jefferson asked Mason to join them in formulating a course of action. The Burgesses passed a resolution for a day of fasting and prayer to obtain divine intervention against "destruction of our Civil Rights", but the governor, Lord Dunmore, dissolved the legislature rather than accept it. Mason may have helped write the resolution, and likely joined the members after the dissolution when they met at the Raleigh Tavern.
Washington took the Resolves to the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg, and although delegates made some changes, the adopted resolution closely tracks both the Fairfax Resolves, and the scheme for non-exportation of tobacco Mason had proposed some years earlier. The convention elected delegates to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, including Lee, Washington, and Henry, and in October 1774, Congress adopted a similar embargo.
Much of Mason's efforts in 1774 and 1775 was in organizing a militia independent of the royal government. Washington by January 1775 was drilling a small force, and he and Mason purchased gunpowder for the company. Mason wrote in favor of annual election of militia officers in words that would later echo in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, "We came equal into this world, and equals shall we go out of it. All men are by nature born equally free and independent."
Washington's election as a delegate to the Second Continental Congress created a vacancy in Fairfax County's delegation to the third Virginia Convention, and he wrote from Philadelphia in May 1775, urging that it be filled. By this time, blood had been shed between colonial and Briton at the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Mason attempted to avoid election on the grounds of poor health and that he was needed to parent his motherless children. Nevertheless, he was elected and journeyed to Richmond, which, being further inland than Williamsburg, was deemed better protected from possible British attack.
When the Richmond convention began in July 1775, Mason was assigned to crucial committees, including one attempting to raise an army to protect the colony. According to Robert A. Rutland, "Sick or healthy, Mason was needed for his ability." Mason sponsored a non-exportation measure; it was passed by a large majority, though it had to be repealed later in the session to coordinate with one passed by Maryland. Despite pressure from many delegates, Mason refused to consider election as a delegate to the Continental Congress in place of Washington when the latter became commanding general of the Continental Army, but could not avoid election to the Committee of Safety, a powerful group that took over many functions in the governmental vacuum. When Mason proffered his resignation from this committee, it was refused.
Illness forced Mason to absent himself from the Committee of Safety for several weeks in 1775, and he did not attend the fourth convention, held in December 1775 and January 1776. With independence from Britain widely accepted as necessary among prominent Virginians, the fifth convention, to meet in May 1776 at Williamsburg, would need to decide how Virginia would be administered henceforth, as the royal government was dead in all but name. Accordingly, the convention was seen as so important that Richard Henry Lee arranged for his temporary recall from Congress to be a part of the convention, and Jefferson tried but failed to arrange to leave Congress as well. Other notables elected to the convention were Henry, George Wythe, and a young delegate from Orange County, James Madison. Mason was elected for Fairfax County, though with great difficulty.
That convention, in May 1776, unanimously instructed Jefferson and other Virginia delegates to Congress to seek "a clear and full Declaration of Independency". At the same time, the convention resolved to pass a declaration of rights. Due to ill health, Mason did not arrive until May 18, 1776, after the vote, but was appointed to a committee led by Archibald Cary, which was to compose a declaration of rights and constitution. Mason was skeptical that the thirty-person Cary Committee could collectively compose anything worthwhile, but was surprised at how quickly it moved—though his membership had a role in that speed. On May 24, convention president Edmund Pendleton wrote to Jefferson about the committee's deliberations, "as Colo.[nel] Mason seems to have the ascendancy in the great work, I have Sanguine hopes it will be framed so as to Answer it's [sic] end, Prosperity to the Community and Security to Individuals".
When the convention began to debate the declaration, it quickly bogged down on the first sentence of Article 1, which some feared would imply that slaves were their masters' equals. This was resolved by the convention adding the words "when they enter into a state of society", thus excluding slaves. Mason spoke repeatedly in the five days of debate, using oratory one hearer described as "neither flowing nor smooth, but his language was strong, his manner most impressive, and strengthened by a bit of biting cynicism when provocation made it seasonable". The Declaration of Rights was passed by the convention on June 12, 1776.
Even before the convention approved the Declaration of Rights, Mason was busy at work on a constitution for Virginia. He was not the only one occupying himself so; Jefferson sent several versions from Philadelphia, one of which supplied the eventual constitution's preamble. Essex County's Meriwether Smith may have prepared a draft, but the text is unknown. As an original writing in Mason's hand is not known, the extent to which the final draft was written by him is uncertain. Nevertheless, William Fleming on June 22, 1776, sent Jefferson a copy of the draft before the Cary Committee, telling him "the inclosed [sic] printed plan was drawn by Colo. G. Mason and by him laid before the committee".
Mason and Washington were friends for many years until they finally broke over their differences regarding the federal constitution. Peter R. Henriques, in his journal article on their relationship, suggested that Mason cultivated the friendship more than Washington did, as Mason sent many more letters and gifts, and stayed more often at Washington's plantation, though the last can be explained in part as Mount Vernon lay on the road from Gunston Hall to Alexandria. Henriques suggested that as Mason was older, intellectually superior, and the owner of a flourishing plantation as Washington struggled to establish Mount Vernon, it would not have been in the future president's character to be close to Mason. Washington had a deep respect for Mason's intellectual abilities, several times asking for his advice, and writing in 1777 when learning that Mason had taken charge of an issue before the General Assembly, "I know of no person better qualified ... than Colonel Mason, and shall be very happy to hear he has taken it in hand".
Mason served as a member of the House of Delegates from 1776 to 1781, his longest continuous political service outside Fairfax County, which he represented in Richmond. The other Fairfax County seat turned over several times—Washington's stepson Jackie Custis was elected late in the war—but Mason remained the county's choice throughout. Nevertheless, Mason's health often caused him to miss meetings of the legislature, or to arrive days or weeks late. Mason in 1777 was assigned to a committee to revise Virginia's laws, with the expectation that he would take on the criminal code and land law. Mason served a few months on the committee before resigning on the ground he was not a lawyer; most of the work fell to Jefferson (returned from Philadelphia), Pendleton, and Wythe. Due to illness caused by a botched smallpox inoculation, Mason was forced to miss part of the legislature's spring 1777 session; in his absence delegates on May 22 elected him to the Continental Congress. Mason, who may have been angry that Lee had not been chosen, refused on the ground that he was needed at home, and did not feel he could resign from the General Assembly without permission from his constituents. Lee was elected in his place.
The committee draft, likely for the most part written by Mason, received wide publicity (the final version much less so) and Mason's words "all men are born equally free and independent" were later reproduced in state constitutions from Pennsylvania to Montana; Jefferson tweaked the prose and included the sentiments in the Declaration of Independence. In 1778, Mason wrote that the Declaration of Rights "was closely imitated by the other United States". This was true, as seven of the original states, and Vermont, joined Virginia in promulgating a bill of rights. Four in addition specified rights that were protected, within the body of their constitutions. Feelings were so strong in Massachusetts that voters there in 1778 rejected a constitution drafted by a convention, insisting that a bill of rights had to come first.
According to Wallenstein, historians and other writers "have had great difficulty coming to grips with Mason in his historical context, and they have jumbled the story in related ways, misleading each other and following each other's errors". Some of this is due to conflation of Mason's views on slavery with that of his desire to ban the African slave trade, which he unquestionably opposed and fought against. His record otherwise is mixed: Virginia banned the importation of slaves from abroad in 1778, while Mason was in the House of Delegates. In 1782, after he had returned to Gunston Hall, it enacted legislation that allowed manumission of adult slaves young enough to support themselves (not older than 45), but a proposal, supported by Mason, to require freed slaves to leave Virginia within a year or be sold at auction, was defeated. Broadwater asserted, "Mason must have shared the fears of Jefferson and countless other whites that whites and free blacks could not live together".
This did not end the desire of Virginians to send Mason to the Continental Congress. In 1779, Lee resigned from Congress, expressing the hope that Mason, Wythe, or Jefferson would replace him in Philadelphia. General Washington was frustrated at the reluctance of many talented men to serve in Congress, writing to Benjamin Harrison that the states "should compel their ablest men to attend Congress ... Where is Mason, Wythe, Jefferson, Nicholas, Pendleton, Nelson?" The general wrote to Mason directly,
Mason retained his interest in western affairs, hoping in vain to salvage the Ohio Company's land grant. He and Jefferson were among the few delegates to be told of George Rogers Clark's expedition to secure control of the lands north of the Ohio River. Mason and Jefferson secured legislation authorizing Governor Henry to defend against unspecified western enemies. The expedition was generally successful, and Mason received a report directly from Clark. Mason sought to remove differences between Virginia and other states, and although he felt the 1780 settlement of the boundary dispute with Pennsylvania, the Mason-Dixon line (not named for George Mason) was unfavorable to Virginia, he voted for it enthusiastically. Also in 1780, Mason remarried, to Sarah Brent, from a nearby plantation, who had never been married and was 52 years old. It was a marriage of convenience, with the new bride able to take some of the burden of parenting Mason's many children off his hands.
By the signing of the 1783 Treaty of Paris, life along the Potomac had returned to normal. Among the visits between the elite that returned with peace was one by Madison to Gunston Hall in December 1783, while returning from Congress in Philadelphia. The 1781 Articles of Confederation had tied the states in a loose bond, and Madison sought a sounder federal structure, seeking the proper balance between federal and state rights. He found Mason willing to consider a federal tax; Madison had feared the subject might offend his host, and wrote to Jefferson of the evening's conversation. The same month, Mason spent Christmas at Mount Vernon (the only larger estate than his in Fairfax County). A fellow houseguest described Mason as "slight in figure, but not tall, and has a grand head and clear gray eyes". Mason retained his political influence in Virginia, writing Patrick Henry, who had been elected to the House of Delegates, a letter filled with advice as that body's 1783 session opened.
Mason scuttled efforts to elect him to the House of Delegates in 1784, writing that sending him to Richmond would be "an oppressive and unjust invasion of my personal liberty". His refusal disappointed Jefferson, who had hoped that the likelihood that the legislature would consider land legislation would attract Mason to Richmond. The legislature nevertheless appointed Mason a commissioner to negotiate with Maryland over navigation of the Potomac. Mason spent much time on this issue, and reached agreement with Maryland delegates at the meeting in March 1785 known as the Mount Vernon Conference. Although the meeting at Washington's home came later to be seen as a first step towards the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Mason saw it simply as efforts by two states to resolve differences between them. Mason was appointed to the Annapolis Convention of 1786, at which representatives of all the states were welcome, but like most delegates did not attend. The sparsely attended Annapolis meeting called for a conference to consider amendments to the Articles of Confederation.
To deter smuggling, Madison proposed a bill to make Norfolk the state's only legal port of entry. Five other ports, including Alexandria, were eventually added, but the Port Act proved unpopular despite the support of Washington. Mason, an opponent of the act, accepted election to the House of Delegates in 1786, and many believed that his influence would prove decisive for the repeal effort. Due to illness, Mason did not come to Richmond during the initial session, though he sent a petition, as a private citizen, to the legislature. The Port Act survived, though additional harbors were added as legal entry points.
Although the Annapolis Convention saw only about a dozen delegates attend, representing only five states, it called for a meeting to be held in Philadelphia in May 1787, to devise amendments to the Articles of Confederation which would result in a more durable constitutional arrangement. Accordingly, in December 1786, the Virginia General Assembly elected seven men as the commonwealth's delegation: Washington, Mason, Henry, Randolph, Madison, Wythe, and John Blair. Henry declined appointment, and his place was given to Dr. James McClurg. Randolph, who had just been elected governor, sent three notifications of election to Mason, who accepted without any quibbles. The roads were difficult because of spring flooding, and Mason was the last Virginia delegate to arrive, on May 17, three days after the convention's scheduled opening. But it was not until May 25 that the convention formally opened, with the arrival of at least one delegate from ten of the twelve states which sent representatives (Rhode Island sent no one).
The Virginia Plan, if implemented, would base representation in both houses of the federal legislature on population. This was unsatisfactory to the smaller states. Delaware's delegates had been instructed to seek an equal vote for each state, and this became the New Jersey Plan, introduced by that state's governor, William Paterson. The divisions in the convention became apparent in late June, when by a narrow vote, the convention voted that representation in the lower house be based on population, but the motion of Connecticut's Oliver Ellsworth for each state to have an equal vote in the upper house failed on a tie. With the convention deadlocked, on July 2, 1787, a Grand Committee was formed, with one member from each state, to seek a way out. Mason had not taken as strong a position on the legislature as had Madison, and he was appointed to the committee; Mason and Benjamin Franklin were the most prominent members. The committee met over the convention's July 4 recess, and proposed what became known as the Great Compromise: a House of Representatives based on population, in which money bills must originate, and a Senate with equal representation for each state. Records do not survive of Mason's participation in that committee, but the clause requiring money bills to start in the House most likely came from him or was the price of his support, as he had inserted such a clause in the Virginia Constitution, and he defended that clause once convention debate resumed. According to Madison's notes, Mason urged the convention to adopt the compromise:
On August 6, 1787, the convention received a tentative draft written by a Committee of Detail chaired by South Carolina's John Rutledge; Randolph had represented Virginia. The draft was acceptable to Mason as a basis for discussion, containing such points important to him as the requirement that money bills originate in the House and not be amendable in the Senate. Nevertheless, Mason felt the upper house was too powerful, as it had the powers to make treaties, appoint Supreme Court justices, and adjudicate territorial disputes between the states. The draft lacked provision for a council of revision, something Mason and others considered a serious lack.
On August 31, 1787, Massachusetts' Elbridge Gerry spoke against the document as a whole, as did Luther Martin of Maryland. When Gerry moved to postpone consideration of the final document, Mason seconded him, stating, according to Madison, that "he would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution as it now stands". Still, Mason did not rule out signing it, saying that he wanted to see how certain matters still before the convention were settled before deciding a final position, whether to sign or ask for a second convention. As the final touches were made to the constitution, Mason and Gerry held meetings in the evening to discuss strategy, bringing in delegates representing states from Connecticut to Georgia.
As smaller states ratified the constitution in late 1787 and early 1788, there was an immense quantity of pamphlets and other written matter for and against approval. Most prominent in support were the pamphlets later collected as The Federalist, written by Madison and two New Yorkers, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay; Mason's objections were widely cited by opponents. Mason had begun his Objections to this Constitution of Government in Philadelphia; in October 1787, it was published, though without his permission. Madison complained that Mason had gone beyond the reasons for opposing he had stated in convention, but Broadwater suggested the major difference was one of tone, since the written work dismissed as useless the constitution and the proposed federal government. Nevertheless, both Lee and Mason believed that if proper amendments were made, the constitution would be a fine instrument of governance. The Objections were widely cited in opposition to ratification, and Mason was criticized for placing his own name on it, at a time when political tracts were signed, if at all, with pen names such as Junius, so that the author's reputation would not influence the debate. Despite this, Mason's Objections were among the most influential Anti-Federalist works, and its opening line, "There is no Declaration of Rights", likely their most effective slogan.
Mason faced difficulties in being elected to the ratifying convention from Fairfax County, since most freeholders there were Federalist, and he was at odds with many in Alexandria over local politics. The statute governing elections to the convention in Richmond allowed him to seek election elsewhere, and he campaigned for a seat from Stafford County, assuring electors that he did not seek disunion, but rather reform. He spoke against the unamended constitution in strong terms; George Nicholas, a Federalist friend of Mason, believed that Mason felt he could lead Virginia to gain concessions from the other states, and that he was embittered by the continuing attacks on him. On March 10, 1788, Mason finished first in the polls in Stafford County, winning one of its two seats; he apparently was the only person elected for a constituency in which he did not live. Voter turnout was low, as many in remote areas without newspapers knew little about the constitution. The Federalists were believed to have a slight advantage in elected delegates; Mason thought that the convention would be unlikely to ratify the document without demanding amendments.
After some of the Kentuckians had declared for ratification, the convention considered a resolution to withhold ratification pending the approval of a declaration of rights. Supported by Mason but opposed by Madison, Light-Horse Harry Lee, Marshall, Nicholas, Randolph and Bushrod Washington, the resolution failed, 88–80. Mason then voted in the minority as Virginia ratified the constitution on June 25, 1788 by a vote of 89–79. Following the ratification vote, Mason served on a committee chaired by George Wythe, charged with compiling a final list of recommended amendments, and Mason's draft was adopted, but for a few editorial changes. Unreconciled to the result, Mason prepared a fiery written argument, but some felt the tone too harsh and Mason agreed not to publish it.
The county court not only heard civil and criminal cases, but decided matters such as local taxes. Membership fell to most major landowners. Mason was a justice for much of the rest of his life, though he was excluded because of nonattendance at court from 1752 to 1764, and resigned in 1789 when continued service meant swearing to uphold a constitution he could not support. Even while a member, he often did not attend. Joseph Horrell, in a journal article on Mason's court service, noted that he was often in poor health, and lived the furthest of any of the major estateholders from the Fairfax County courthouse, whether at its original site near today's Tyson's Corner or later in newly founded Alexandria. Robert Rutland, editor of Mason's papers, considered court service a major influence on Mason's later thinking and writing, but Horrell denied it, "if the Fairfax court provided a course for Mason's early training, he chiefly distinguished himself by skipping classes."
Washington, who was in 1789 elected the first president, resented Mason's strong stances against the ratification of the constitution, and these differences destroyed their friendship. Although some sources accept that Mason dined at Mount Vernon on November 2, 1788, Peter R. Henriques noted that Washington's diary states that Mr. George Mason was the guest, and as Washington, elsewhere in his diary, always referred to his former colleague at Philadelphia as Colonel Mason, the visitor was likely George Mason V, the son. Mason always wrote positively of Washington, and the president said nothing publicly, but in a letter referred to Mason as a "quondam friend" who would not recant his position on the constitution because "pride on the one hand, and want of manly candour on the other, will not I am certain let him acknowledge error in his opinions respecting it [the federal government] though conviction should flash on his mind as strongly as a ray of light". Rutland suggested that the two men were alike in their intolerance of opponents and suspicion of their motives.
Mason had long battled against Alexandria merchants who he felt unfairly dominated the county court, if only because they could more easily get to the courthouse. In 1789, he drafted legislation to move the courthouse to the center of the county, though it did not pass in his lifetime. In 1798, the legislature passed an authorizing act, and the courthouse opened in 1801. Most of those at Gunston Hall, both family and slaves, fell ill during the summer of 1792, experiencing chills and fever; when those subsided, Mason caught a chest cold. When Jefferson visited Gunston Hall on October 1, 1792, he found Mason, long a martyr to gout, needing a crutch to walk, though still sound in mind and memory. Additional ailments, possibly pneumonia, set in. Less than a week after Jefferson's visit, on October 7, George Mason died at Gunston Hall, and was subsequently buried on the estate, within sight of the house he had built and of the Potomac River.
Defeated at Richmond, Mason returned to Gunston Hall, where he devoted himself to family and local affairs, though still keeping up a vigorous correspondence with political leaders. He resigned from the Fairfax County Court after an act passed by the new Congress required officeholders to take an oath to support the constitution, and in 1790 declined a seat in the Senate which had been left vacant by William Grayson's death, stating that his health would not permit him to serve, even if he had no other objection. The seat went to James Monroe, who had supported Mason's Anti-Federalist stance, and who had, in 1789, lost to Madison for a seat in the House of Representatives. Judging by his correspondence, Mason softened his stance towards the new federal government, telling Monroe that the constitution "wisely & Properly directs" that ambassadors be confirmed by the Senate. Although Mason predicted that the amendments to be proposed to the states by the First Congress would be "Milk & Water Propositions", he displayed "much Satisfaction" at what became the Bill of Rights (ratified in 1791) and wrote that if his concerns about the federal courts and other matters were addressed, "I could cheerfully put my Hand & Heart to the new Government".
Mason's biographers and interpreters have long differed about how to present his views on slavery-related issues. A two-volume biography (1892) by Kate Mason Rowland, who Broadwater noted was "a sympathetic white southerner writing during the heyday of Jim Crow" denied that Mason (her ancestor) was "an abolitionist in the modern sense of the term". She noted that Mason "regretted" that there was slavery and was against the slave trade, but wanted slavery protected in the constitution. In 1919, Robert C. Mason published a biography of his prominent ancestor and asserted that George Mason "agreed to free his own slaves and was the first known abolitionist", refusing to sign the constitution, among other reasons because "as it stood then it did not abolish slavery or make preparation for its gradual extinction". Rutland, writing in 1961, asserted that in Mason's final days, "only the coalition [between New England and the Deep South at the Constitutional Convention] in Philadelphia that had bargained away any hope of eliminating slavery left a residue of disgust." Catherine Drinker Bowen, in her widely read 1966 account of the Constitutional Convention, Miracle at Philadelphia, contended that Mason believed slaves to be citizens and was "a fervent abolitionist before the word was coined".
There are sites remembering George Mason in Fairfax County. Gunston Hall, donated to the Commonwealth of Virginia by its last private owner, is now "dedicated to the study of George Mason, his home and garden, and life in 18th-century Virginia". George Mason University, with its main campus adjacent to the city of Fairfax, was formerly George Mason College of the University of Virginia from 1959 until it received its present name in 1972. A major landmark on the Fairfax campus is a statue of George Mason by Wendy M. Ross, depicted as he presents his first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.
Mason was honored in 1981 by the United States Postal Service with an 18-cent Great Americans series postage stamp. A bas-relief of Mason appears in the Chamber of the U.S. House of Representatives as one of 23 honoring great lawmakers. Mason's image is located above and to the right of the Speaker's chair; he and Jefferson are the only Americans recognized.
Donald J. Senese, in the conclusion to the collection of essays on Mason published in 1989, noted that several factors contributed to Mason's obscurity in the century after his death. Older than many who served at Philadelphia and came into prominence with the new federal government, Mason died soon after the constitution came into force and displayed no ambition for federal office, declining a seat in the Senate. Mason left no extensive paper trail, no autobiography like Franklin, no diary like Washington or John Adams. Washington left papers collected into 100 volumes; for Mason, with many documents lost to fire, there are only three. Mason fought on the side that failed, both at Philadelphia and Richmond, leaving him a loser in a history written by winners—even his speeches to the Constitutional Convention descend through the pen of Madison, a supporter of ratification. After the Richmond convention, he was, according to Senese, "a prophet without honor in his own country".
The George Mason Memorial Bridge, part of the 14th Street Bridge, connects Northern Virginia to Washington, D.C. The George Mason Memorial in West Potomac Park in Washington, also with a statue by Ross, was dedicated on April 9, 2002.
Currently, George Mason is 295 years, 7 months and 18 days old. George Mason will celebrate 296th birthday on a Saturday 11th of December 2021.
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