Did you know that the original United States Constitution did not actually address the individual rights of the citizens of the 13 British Colonies that had declared independence from Great Britain?
In fact, the entire purpose of the Constitution was to establish a stronger government. Our country’s first governmental plan, the Articles of Confederation, was criticized for not giving enough power to the central government, among other things. The new Constitution was first conceived on Jan. 21, 1786 in Annapolis, Md. However, not everyone was excited about the idea of creating a more powerful U.S. federal government and taking power away from the states. One such “anti-federalist” was George Mason.
Father of the Bill of Rights
Mason was a delegate for Virginia who served at the Virginia Convention in 1776 and later, the Constitutional Convention in 1787. However, Mason refused to sign the Constitution because it lacked a Bill of Rights to protect individual freedoms and he felt that it gave too much power to a central government. A staunch advocate for keeping states’ governments strong, Mason was responsible for creating the first declaration of rights and state constitution of any of the colonies for Virginia in 1776. He wanted the same thing for the United States.
After the Constitution was ratified in 1787, Mason was relentless in his fight to add to it a list of amendments that addressed individual rights—and eventually his complaints were heard. Many consider him to be the “Father of the Bill of Rights”—along with the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison. Although Madison receives the credit for being the author of the Bill of Rights, they were based on Mason’s declaration of rights for Virginia, which he had drafted in 1776.
Creation of the First 10 Amendments
The Bill of Rights was introduced to the House of Representatives in 1789 and its contents officially became the first 10 Constitutional amendments Dec. 15, 1791. Those amendments guarantee the personal freedoms of U.S. citizens and limit the government’s power. They are:
- Freedom of speech, press, religion and petition.
- Right to keep and bear arms.
- Protection from quartering of soldiers.
- Protection from unreasonable search and seizure.
- Right to due process of the law.
- Right to trial by jury, speedy trial, public trial, counsel.
- Right to civil trial by jury.
- Prohibition of excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.
- Protection of rights not enumerated in the Constitution.
- Protection of the powers of the states and the people.
Thanks to George Mason, our nation’s supreme law guarantees U.S. citizens certain freedoms and protections that many of us take for granted today. Without his contribution of the Bill of Rights, our country would not be the great place that it is to live and learn.