Birthdays are important in my family. Our nation’s birthday is no exception. No doubt, today, millions of Americans will think about what Thomas Jefferson considered to be his biggest accomplishment, authoring the Declaration of Independence.
But as we pause to remember the events in Philadelphia 233 years ago, we must not forget the contributions of another less famous Virginian, George Mason. Mason authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights in May of 1776. It was amended by Thomas Ludwell Lee and the Virginia Constitutional Convention in Williamsburg on June 12, 1776.
This part may sound familiar:
That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights… among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursueing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.
Jefferson borrowed heavily from the document when he wrote the Declaration of Independence passed in Philadelphia the following month. Mason’s document later became the basis for the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. (Mason, for his part, lobbied against passage of the Constitution as written because it didn’t have a Bill of Rights.)
To be sure, Jefferson admired Mason, calling him the “wisest man of his generation”.
We owe Mason more than he gets credit for.