George Mason’s home, Gunston Hall, just down the river from Mount Vernon, is closed on Thanksgiving Day but reopens to visitors the day after. In this season when Americans reflect upon all that we are grateful for, these stately and hallowed grounds are a good place to start.
Commonly referred to as the “forgotten founder,” George Mason IV had a fair amount of contempt for politics. Especially politicians. It was a dirty, grubby affair that attracted mostly dirty, grubby people.
In other words, Mason was clairvoyant.
He would certainly recognize today’s crop of sleazy hucksters peddling free lunch, free money and free health care. And when the whole fraudulent scheme collapses of its own weight, the hucksters blame it on the people who warned it would collapse.
Mason authored the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Deemed “the first and greatest charter of human liberty ever penned by man,” Mason’s list of rights inspired Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.
Mason later served as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and helped craft that document. But he ultimately refused to sign it because, among other flaws, it lacked a bill of rights. Obviously, not a man who craved fame or political fortune.
He returned to Gunston Hall defeated and disgusted. He took solace by engaging in what he knew to be the highest calling of a man in a democracy: private citizen. He was a farmer, a trader, an investor, a businessman, a father and a husband.
To Mason, that was the well-spring of power in a society. Not government.
“He declared that in a Republic the citizen is himself the State,” wrote a proud descendant decades later.
“He preferred to remain that ‘Lord of Creation,’ the American Citizen, whose dignity and honor are above all Principalities and Powers. The American Citizen is the Republic itself, and the tribunal of his authority is set above the Throne of Kings.”
As Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson would say, George Mason was his own 911.
To Mason, government was never a sure thing. Free people begrudgingly allowed it to exist in a most limited form to serve a severely limited purpose. And if that government got out of line, free people would simply dispatch it and start over again. Or do without.
Looking around Washington today and trying to pick between the all-seeing, all-groping, insatiably power-hungry big government Democrats and the all-seeing, all-groping, insatiably power-hungry big government Republicans, scrapping it all and starting over is not such a bad idea.
Years after George Mason returned to Gunston Hall from Philadelphia and after the Constitution was ratified, his continued calls for a bill of rights finally took hold. Using Mason’s Virginia declarations as a blueprint, James Madison wrote the Bill of Rights.
To this day, this list of rights is the only reason we have not been stripped of our guns. It is the only vestige of protection between us and the government spies. It blazed the trail to crush the intolerable institution of slavery — a result that Mason quite purposely knew and predicted would come from his demand of individual liberties.
As paltry and violated as our state of freedom seems today, it has been worse for various people at various other times during our history. Every time, it was the light cast far forward by George Mason that each time led us home.
And so it will again. Which is why this Thanksgiving, we should all pay our respects to the forgotten founder at Gunston Hall.
• Charlie Hurt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @charleshurt.