MASON, George, American statesman: b. Stafford (now Fairfax) County, in the "North ern Neck" of Virginia, 1725; d. 7 Oct 1792. He spent his early life on a typical plantation. The same region produced his coworkers in the cause of the American Revolution, Richard Henry Lee and George Washington (qq.v.). Mason seems to have been tutored at home, being grounded in a knowledge of the classics, both Latin and English. His younger brother, Thomas, was sent to London to study law at the Middle Temple. George Mason was married in 1750 to Ann Eilheck, who died in 1773. Of this union there were several chil dren. He was married again in 1780 to Sarah Brent. The family, after 1758, resided at "Gun ston Hall," in Stafford County, a famous seat still standing on the banks of the Potomac. His energies were given to extensive planting interests.
As a member of the Ohio company, he was identified with his neighbor, George Washing ton, in the initial stages of the French and Indian War, growing out of the concerns of that company. In 1759 he entered the Virginia house of burgesses, at the same time with Washington. He early protested against slav ery. In 1765 he wrote: "The policy of en couraging the importation of free people and discouraging that of slaves has never been duly considered in this colony, or we should not at this day see one-half of our best lands in most parts of the country remain unsettled and the other cultivated with slaves; not to mention the ill effects such a practice has upon the morals and the manners of our people." He drafted the "Non-Importation Association," which George Washington presented in 1769 in Williamsburg, and the "Resolves* adopted at a general meeting of the freeholders of Fair fax County, 18 July 1774. These "Resolves' urged "that a Congress should be appointed to consist of deputies from all the colonies, to concert a general and uniform plan for the defense and preservation of our common rights"; and "that during our present diffi culties and distress, no slaves ought to be im ported into any of the British colonies on this continent; and we take this opportunity of declaring our most earnest wishes to see an entire stop forever put to such a wicked, cruel and unnatural trade." Sparks says of these
Fairfax resolves that "they constitute one of the ablest and most luminous expositions of the points at issue between Great Britain and the colonies which are to be found among the public documents of that period. Embracing the great principles and facts, clothed in a nervous and appropriate style, they are equally marked with dignity, firmness, intelligence and wisdom." These "Resolves" served as the basis of the association formed by the Virginia Con vention, of August 1774 and that of the general Congress at its first session the following Sep tember.
He was a member of the Virginia Conven tion held in Richmond, July 1775, which took measures to arm the colony and appointed a committee of safety. He declined appointment in Congress as Virginia's representative in the seat made vacant by Washington's acceptance of the command of the American forces. The mind of Mason was dominant in the Virginia Convention of 1776, so creative in State and National policies. He was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, adopted by the convention on 12 June 1776. (See VIRGINIA CONVENTION OF THE REVOLUTION). A copy of the first draft of this historic paper, in the hand writing of George Mason, is to 1 e seen in the Virginia State Library. At the foot of the manuscript the author added these words: "This Declaration of Rights was the first in America ; it received few alterations or addi tions in the Virginia Convention (some of them not for the better), and was afterward closely imitated by the other United States." The small table upon which it is believed Mason wrote this "Declaration" is preserved at the Virginia Historical Society in Richmond. Mason's chaste and concise statement of the fundamental principles of free government de serves to rank with the foremost political char ters of the English-speaking world. James Madison styles him "the master-builder of the Constitution° of Virginia, adopted 29 June 1776, the natal day of the commonwealth.