George Mason, of Gunston Hall in Fairfax County, was a member of the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 and was one of three members of the convention who refused to sign the proposed Constitution. Before he left Philadelphia to return to Virginia, Mason prepared a list of his objections to the Constitution. Later he had the list printed for distribution to people he hoped to persuade to join him in opposing ratification of the Constitution. Mason's list was widely circulated and reprinted in many of the country's newspapers. The first item in the list was the lack of a Bill of Rights. As Mason was known as the principal author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, his desire for the new Constitution of the United States to contain a bill of rights was not surprising, and many opponents of the Constitution and some advocates of ratification agreed with him that a bill of rights should be made to the Constitution.
Mason's list also mentions other features of the form of government that he believed were equally serious and that, if not altered, justified rejecting the Constitution. He stated that the federal judiciary and the office of the president were given too much power; that blending executive and legislative power by making the vice president the presiding officer of the Senate was dangerous; that the treaty-making and taxing powers could allow groups of states to band together to injure the economic interests of other states; and that the clause making treaties and laws of the United States supreme over the laws of the states threatened the sovereignty of the states. Mason's list provided opponents of the proposed Constitution with formidable bases for attacking the portions of it that they disapproved and for mounting an opposition to ratification. Mason found so many serious problems with the Constitution that he vowed to defeat its ratification and advocated a new convention to revise the proposed Constitution.
1. What was George Mason's first objection to the United States Constitution? Why do you think he listed that one first?
2. Which objection do you think is the most important?
1. Some of George Mason's objections were remediated with amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Which amendments address his worries? Which of his objections could still be applied to the U.S. Constitution?
2. Do you agree with George Mason's objections to the U.S. Constitution? Choose three objections and discuss why you do or do not agree with them.
Broadwater, Jeff. George Mason: Forgotten Founder. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006.
Tarter, Brent. "George Mason and the Conservation of Liberty." Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 99, no. 3 (July 1991): 279–304.