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George Mason University
2002-03 University Catalog

About George Mason University

George Mason, 1725-92

When George Mason of Gunston Hall wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, he gave America the noble concept that the rights of the individual must be protected against the power of government. By placing in Virginia's first constitution a list of rights that could never be taken away from citizens, Mason sought to ensure a society in which government could not become all-powerful.

As a result of his influence, the first 10 amendments, which we know as the Bill of Rights, were added to the U.S. Constitution. The universal significance of this action made the American Revolution much more than a war for independence from Great Britain; it enshrined in our most important public document the principle that a government must always respect the rights of the people.

Mason, a slave owner, did not recognize that those rights extended to slaves. Nevertheless, his words were later used to demonstrate that slavery could not exist in a country that proclaimed its belief in human rights. In the United States we have not always adhered to Mason's great ideas, but they remain the measure of the best in our national life.