George Mason, father of the Bill of Rights, author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Congress, patriot, farmer
Not far from the National Mall with its monument to Washington and its memorial to Lincoln and just across the street from the rotund temple to Jefferson sits a humble memorial to one of America's most underrated and little known founders and patriots: George Mason.
Mason authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which served as a template for the U.S. Bill of Rights. He was a contemporary of George Washington's until they had a falling out around the time of the Constitutional Congress, when Mason told Washington it would be folly to draft and ratify a constitution that did not include a list of citizen's rights. Washington disagreed, not believing that such a bill would be necessary. In 1787, the Constitution was ratified. However, Washington was indeed short-sighted and a Bill of Rights had to be drafted as an amendment to the Constitution. It was ratified in 1791. Unfortunately by then the damage had been done to Washington's and Mason's friendship. Mason would ever after refer to him as "my former friend, George Washington."
Etched into stone at this humble memorial to George Mason are several quotes. The most stirring is this:
Regarding slavery...that slow poison which is daily contaminating the minds and morals of our people: every gentlemen here is born a petty tyrant, practiced in acts of despotism and creulty. We become callous to the dictates of humanity and all the finer feelings of the soul, taught to regard a part of our own species in the most abject and contemptible degree below us. We lose that idea of the dignity of man, which nature had implanted in us for great and useful purposes.Mason died in 1792. Today, he has a university named for him, as well as counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Illinois. His descendants include the Hiltons. It's too bad Mason's eighth great-granddaughter, Paris Hilton, hasn't taken a page out of his distinguished history and carried on the legacy of public service, devotion, and dedication Mason embodied.
Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 12/07