- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Americans from many walks of life attended the dedication yesterday of a memorial to George Mason, one of the nation's Founding Fathers, whose ideas were the basis for the U.S. Constitution's Bill of Rights.

"George Mason's contributions to the new republic were less visible, but nonetheless of great importance," Chief Justice William H. Justice Rehnquist said as he briefly described Mason's life in front of the bronze sculpture of the seated Virginian under a pergola on the Mall. It is within sight of the larger memorials to his compatriots, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

"This memorial is our last expression of gratitude," said Chief Justice Rehnquist, who like historians and other speakers credited the writings and actions of Mason for the Bill of Rights that guarantees basic freedoms to Americans.

More than 500 people, including men and women in Colonial attire and a bicyclist wearing shorts and a U.S. flag T-shirt, stood for nearly an hour during the program that closed with the National Men's Chorus singing "America the Beautiful."

In the crowd was slightly built Samuel C. Dawson III, of Lewisburg, W.Va. He is a great-great-great-greatgrandson of Mason, one of many descendants from the colonist's 12 children.

"It was good," Mr. Dawson said of the ceremony. "He never really got much credit."

Mason wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1775 a few months before Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson attributed the words and meanings of the second paragraph of the U.S. Constitution to Mason.

Mason's declaration states "That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights among which are the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Born in 1725, Mason was the fourth generation of his family to live in what became the United States. His father drowned when he was 10 years old. He was tutored and attended a private academy in Maryland before he took over management of the family's 20,000-acre estate, Woodlawn Plantation, in southern Fairfax County.

Plagued by sickness and gout most of his life, Mason made the longest trip of his life in 1787 to Philadelphia for the preparation of the U.S. Constitution. He refused to sign it because it did not address the rights that he believed in.

James Madison later noted that Mason said "he would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution."

George Washington reportedly did not like that and began referring to Mason as a former friend. Mason continued to argue for inclusion of the constitutional rights, and they were added as the first 10 amendments shortly after the Constitution was ratified.

Like other planters of the time, Mason owned slaves. He indicated they were deserving of freedom, but they should be educated first. Inscribed on a memorial wall are his words, "Slavery: that slow Poison which is daily contaminating the Minds & Morals of our People."

Most of the speakers yesterday quoted excerpts from Mason's writings in the 1700s that referred to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and freedom to pursue life, liberty and happiness.

Excepting for airplanes taking off and landing at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the motor sounds of traffic over the Potomac on the George Mason Memorial Bridge, the ceremony was uninterrupted.

Even a D.C. firetruck arrived with sirens silent to minister to a Navy color guard who had fainted. "It was the sun," flag bearer Courtney Moore, 19, of North Carolina said.

The latest memorial on the Mall is the first to honor an individual who was not president. The other memorials are to Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Located between the Potomac River and Tidal Basin, the new memorial is in the only remaining national garden of four established in 1902. The other three were destroyed for construction of the bridge over the Potomac that bears his name.

More than $2 million in donations paid for the memorial and garden, which was sponsored by the Colonial Dames of America and regents of Gunston Hall Plantation, now a museum on the Potomac 12 miles south of Washington's Mount Vernon.

Leading the Pledge of Allegiance yesterday was Max Stewart, an eighth-grader from Oklahoma. Students in Oklahoma donated to the memorial and Max was selected because of his prize-winning historical essay about an interview with Benjamin Franklin.

The sculpture was created by Wendy M. Ross of Bethesda after reading some of Mason's writings, visiting with some of his descendants and touring the museum at Gunston Hall Plantation.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide