Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Two Georges


George Mason and George Washington

Gunston Hall, viewed from the river side.
Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason, was just down the road from the state park where I was camping, the night after visiting George Washington’s home, Mount Vernon. I had no idea what Gunston Hall was, there was just a sign pointing towards the river. What a treat to follow curiosity in that direction and experience yet another beautiful home, and learn much more of my country's history.

So who was George Mason? Was he the Mason of the Mason-Dixie Line that separated North from South and delineated the States who joined the Confederacy? Perhaps he was the inventor of the Mason Jar, that wonderful technology for preserving foods that allowed people to survive many an ugly winter with all the bounty of summer at their fingertips….

Wrong on both guesses. He was way more important to history.

George Mason was a boyhood friend of George Washington, they were, after all, neighbors. Both Georges were well educated planters, wealthy in their day like the Walton family (WalMart) is today, influential, and very involved in forming the new nation that would become the United States.  Mason wrote Virginia’s statement of human rights, some 19 years before the revolutionary war. When the Continental Congress was convened to create a national government for the fledgling country, instead of having it be a consortium of powerful but confederated states, he pushed for rights to be included because he felt the government that was being proposed was too strong, too powerful, and would eventually no longer be by the people and for the people. The list of rights was not included so he refused to ratify the constitution, thus alienating himself from most of his friends including George Washington. But a while later, James Madison introduced the language, based almost verbatim on Mason’s Virginian list of rights, that were eventually amended to the constitution, and are now our bill of rights. His name has passed from most people’s view of history, yet what he did assures us that we can speak our minds, worship as we please, own firearms for protection, assemble peacefully to protest, etc. The current “Occupiers” are part of his living legacy.