George Mason (1725 - 7 October 1792). Mason was born to a tobacco-planting family that had lived along the northern reaches of the Potomac River in Virginia for several generations. He married the daughter of a Maryland merchant, and built an elegant plantation house for his family along the banks of the Potomac. Mason did not attend college (Princeton and William and Mary were the choices of many of the Virginia gentry), but privately educated in the home of noted lawyer, John Mercer. Before the Revolution, he served infrequently in public office (one term in the Virginia House of Burgesses, the colonial legislative assembly). Mason joined the protests against British imperial policy in the 1760s, and drafted the Virginia protest against the Townsend Duties in 1769 and the Coercive Acts in 1774.

Mason, as a member of the revolutionary Virginia assembly, drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights (which served as a model for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution) and the new state constitution. Mason served in the Virginia assembly during the Revolutionary War, and after the War, in 1787, was sent to the Philadelphia Convention. Mason supported a stronger national government, but at the Convention he favored enhanced legislative power (over separation of power among three independent branches), greater rights for the states, and inclusion of a bill of rights. Losing on each of these issues, he refused to sign the Constitution and became one of the most prolific and articulate opponents of ratification. In ill health, he declined a seat to the new United States Senate and died soon after.

 

Sources: Mason’s writing are available in Robert Rutland, ed., The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792 (1970). For a recent reassessment of his work, see Brent Tarter, "George Mason and the Conservation of Liberty," Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 99 (1991), 279-304.

Mason’s writings on the Constitution can be found as well in Herbert J. Storing, The Complete Anti-Federalist (1981).


George Mason's Objections to the Constitution of Government formed by the Convention

 

There is no Declaration of Rights; and the Laws of the general Gov­ernment being paramount to the Laws & Constitutions of the several States, the Declarations of Rights in the separate States are no Security. Nor are the People secured even in the Enjoyment of the Benefits of the common‑Law; (which stands here upon no other Foundation than it's having been adopted by the respective Acts forming the Constitu­tions of the several States.‑)

In the House of Representatives there is not the Substance, but the Shadow only of Representation; which can never produce proper In­formation in the Legislature, or inspire Confidence in the People: the Laws will therefore be generally made by Men little concern'd in, and unacquainted with their Effects & Consequences.‑ [See Note a, below].

The Senate have the Power of altering all Money‑Bills, and of ori­ginating Appropriations of Money, & the Sallerys of the Officers of their own Appointment in Conjunction with the President of the United States; altho' they are not the Representatives of the People, or amenable to them.‑

These with their other great Powers (vizt. their Power in the Ap­pointment of Ambassadors & all public Officers, in making Treaties, & in trying all Impeachments) their Influence upon & Connection with the supreme Executive from these Causes, their Duration of Office, and their being a constant existing Body almost continually sitting, join'd with their being one compleat Branch of the Legislature, will destroy any Balance in the Government, and enable them to accomplish what Usurpations they please upon the Rights & Libertys of the People.‑

The Judiciary of the United States is so constructed & extended, as to absorb & destroy the Judiciarys of the several States; thereby render­ing Law as tedious intricate & expensive, and justice as unattainable, by a great Part of the Community, as in England, and enabling the Rich to oppress & ruin the Poor.‑

The President of the United States has no constitutional Council (a thing unknown in any safe & regular Government) he will therefore be unsupported by proper Information & Advice; and will generally be directed by Minions & Favourites‑or He will become a Tool to the Senate‑or a Council of State will grow out of the principal Officers of the great Departments; the worst & most dangerous of all Ingredients for such a Council, in a free Country; (for they may be induced to join in any dangerous or oppressive Measures, to shelter themselves and prevent an Inquiry into their own Misconduct in Office; whereas had a constitutional Council been formed (as was proposed) of six Members; vizt. two from the Eastern, two from the Middle, and two from the Southern States, to be appointed by Vote of the States in the House of Representatives, with the same Duration & Rotation of Office as the Senate, the Executive wou'd always have had safe & proper Informa­tion & Advice, the President of such a Council might have acted as Vice President of the United States, pro tempore, upon any Vacancy or Dis­ability of the chief Magistrate; and iong continued Sessions of the Sen­ate wou'd in a great Measure have been prevented. )

From this fatal Defect of a constitutional Council has arisen the im­proper Power of. the Senate, in the Appointment of public Officers, and the alarming Dependance & Connection between that Branch of the Legislature, and the supreme Executive.‑Hence also sprung that un­necessary & dangerous Officer the Vice President; who for want of other Employment, is made President of the Senate; thereby danger­ously blending the executive & legislative Powers; besides always giving to some one of the States an unnecessary & unjust Pre‑eminence over the others.‑

The President of the United Sees has the unrestrained Power of granting Pardons for Treason; which may be sometimes excercised to screen from Punishment those whom he had secretly instigated to commit the Crime, & thereby prevent a Discovery of his own Guilt.‑

By declaring all Treaties supreme Laws of the Land, the Executive & the Senate have, in many Cases, an exclusive Power of Legislation; which might have been avoided, by proper Distinctions with Respect to Treaties, and requiring the Assent of the House of Representatives, where it cou'd be done with Safety.‑

By requiring only a Majority to make all Commercial & Navigation Laws, the five Southern States (whose Produce & Circumstances are to­tally different from that of the eight Northern & Eastern States) will be ruined; for such rigid & premature Regulations may be made as will enable the Merchants of the Northern & Eastern States not only to de­mand an exorbitant Freight, but to monopolize the Purchase of the Commodities at their own Price, for many Years: to the great Injury of the landed Interest, & Impoverishment of the People: and the Danger is the greater, as the Gain on one Side will be in Proportion to the Loss on the other. Whereas requiring two thirds of the Members present in both Houses wou'd have produced mutual Moderation, promoted the general Interest, and removed an insuperable Objection to the Adop­tion of the Government.‑

Under their own Construction of the general Clause at the End of the enumerated Powers, the Congress may grant Monopolies in Trade & Commerce, constitute new Crimes, inflict unusual & severe Punish­ments, and extend their Power as far as they shall think proper; so that the State Legislatures have no Security for the Powers now presumed to remain to them; or the People for their Rights.‑

There is no Declaration of any kind for preserving the Liberty of the Press, the Tryal by jury in civil Causes; nor against the Danger of stand­ing Armys in time of Peace.

The State Legislatures are restrained from laying Export‑Duties on their own Produce.‑

The general Legislature is restrained from prohibiting the further Importation of Slaves for twenty odd Years; tho' such Importations render the United States weaker, more vulnerable, and less capable of Defence.‑

Both the general Legislature & the State Legislatures are expressly prohibited making ex post facto Laws; tho' there never was or can be a Legislature but must & will make such Laws, when Necessity & the public Safety require them; which will hereafter be a Breach of all the Constitutions in the Union, and afford Precedents for other Innova­tions.‑

This Government will commence in a moderate Aristocracy; it is at present impossible to foresee whether it will, in it's Operation, produce a Monarchy, or a corrupt oppressive Aristocracy; it will most probably vibrate some years between the two, and then terminate in the one or the other.‑

 

a) This Objection has been in some Degree lessened by an Amendment, often before refused, and at last made by an Erasure, after the Engrossment upon Parchment, of the word forty, and inserting thirty, in the 3d. Clause of the 2d. Section of the 1st. Article.