- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 27, 2002

The Founding Father whose work inspired the Declaration of Independence is about to take his place alongside Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, as the final touches are put on a George Mason Memorial on the Mall.
The Mason memorial will be the first on the Mall commemorating an individual who was not president. (A memorial to Albert Einstein, near the Mall, is actually on the grounds of the National Academy of Sciences.)
The $2 million memorial, which will be dedicated April 9, has been in the works for 13 years, said Thomas Lainhoff, executive director of Gunston Hall Plantation, the state agency that maintains and operates Mason's estate in southern Fairfax County as a museum.
"George Mason is not nearly as well-known as he deserves to be," Mr. Lainhoff said. "The difference between Mason and the other Founding Fathers is that all the other fellows were much better PR men for themselves."
Mason's single greatest contribution, scholars agree, is the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights. Written before the Declaration of Independence, Mason wrote "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."
Thomas Jefferson borrowed liberally from Mason in writing the Declaration of Independence a few months later.
The Virginia Declaration was the first in the United States to assert a right to a free press and the right to a fair and speedy trial.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Mason was one of three delegates who refused to sign the pact, fearing the lack of a Bill of Rights would erode individual liberties. Notes taken by James Madison during the convention indicate Mason said "he would sooner chop off his right hand than put it to the Constitution."
But Mason's presence influenced the document: He pushed for the ability to impeach a president for "high crimes and misdemeanors," and his arguments for individual liberties persuaded others to add the Bill of Rights shortly after the Constitution was ratified.
Still, Mason's refusal to endorse the Constitution ended his friendship with George Washington, who later referred to Mason as his "former friend."
The controversy over the planned $200 million World War II Memorial demonstrated how difficult it can be to get a memorial placed on the Mall. But Mr. Lainhoff said congressional approval for the Mason memorial, in 1990, was relatively painless, passing unanimously.
"I don't think it was a real hard sell," he said. "When people learn more about him, it's not hard to be convincing."
The Mason memorial was the first to be authorized under federal legislation that required sponsors of a proposed memorial to raise the money themselves.
Mr. Lainhoff acknowledged that it would be much more difficult to get permission now for a Mason memorial.
"We were in the right place at the right time," he said. "The philosophy about how many memorials the National Mall can hold before it becomes saturated has changed."
As originally planned, the Mason memorial would not have featured a statue of him, just a small likeness of Mason's face to be carved into a wall that would feature Mason's writings. Mr. Lainhoff said the original idea was to emphasize Mason's works over the man himself.
Plans changed when sculptor Wendy M. Ross of Bethesda suggested a redesign with a bronze statue of Mason.
Miss Ross, who had done a sculpture of Mason several years ago for George Mason University in Fairfax, said the memorial needed a statue to serve as a focal point.
"I just didn't think a bas relief would be sufficient to convey the essence of the man, who is already unknown to most people," she said.
The sculpture, which will be installed today, features Mason, seated in his garden and surrounded by books. His gaze is fixed in the direction of the nearby Jefferson Memorial, creating a link between the two men just as in real life.
Sculpting Mason is no easy feat, given that no portraits are available. So Miss Ross attended a meeting of George Mason descendants in Richmond to try to gain some insight into what the man looked like.
Gunston Hall was responsible for raising the money to build the memorial. About $250,000 came from the state. The agency raised the rest from private donations.
Mr. Lainhoff said it's appropriate for a state agency to raise money for a monument in the District.
"Our mission is to educate the public about George Mason's contributions to the universal cause of human rights," he said. And the memorial on the Mall will inevitably attract more than the 40,000 annual visitors to Gunston Hall. "This gives us a special venue, a different venue to further that education."


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