Date of Award


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Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts




I am attempting in this paper to describe the colonial ideas and institutions, which must have influenced George Mason in the writing of his Declaration of Rights for the Virginia Convention of 1776. First, I will show the effect of European thought and customs in the colonies. The English liberal tradition, which culminated in the seventeenth century struggle for civil liberties and a constitutional monarchy, is quite important. Since the Declaration of Rights can not be understood unless its immediate background is known, I will discuss the more American aspects of colonial life, which must have affected George Mason's political thought. The status of government, justice, religion and civil liberties in colonial Virginia should be investigated. The Declaration, as a revolutionary document, instead of summing up the rights achieved by the colonists, contains a blueprint for the future rights and government, not only of Virginians but also of all men who wish to maintain a democratic way of life.

In the last section I will deal with the more pertinent aspects of Mason's life. John Mercer, his guardian, started him in his interest in law, government and the rights of man. As a trustee of the town of Alexandria, a vestryman of his parish church, a justice of the Fairfax court, a great landowner, a member of the Ohio Company and as one of the Virginia Burgesses, Mason was well acquainted with all phases of Virginia life. He had a large share in the conflict over colonial rights, and we can see the growth of Mason's political beliefs, which resulted in 1776 in his draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

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