Virginia Declaration of Rights
by George Mason -
June 12, 1776
The Virginia Declaration of Rights was written by George Mason in late May 1776. It was unanimously adopted by the Virginia Convention on June 12, 1776, with an amendment written by Thomas Ludwell Lee and the Convention that added section 14 about the Right to have a uniform government. The Virginia Declaration of Rights was later added to the Constitution of Virginia as Article 1. It is still in the Constitution of Virginia to this day. Thomas Jefferson relied on the Virginia Declaration of Rights heavily when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.
The Virginia Declaration of Rights consists of sixteen articles enumerating the natural rights of the people in Virginia, including the rights to life, liberty and property. George Mason based his philosophy on earlier works, as most political writers of the day did, such as the English Bill of Rights. He condemns the notion of hereditary political offices and instead says that government is created to serve people. The Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted before the Declaration of Independence, so it is the oldest constitutionally based protection of American rights.
Virginia Declaration of Rights
I. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have
certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of
society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their
posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of
acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness
II. That all power is vested in, and consequently
derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and
servants, and at all times amenable to them.
III. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit,
protection, and security of the people, nation or community; of all the
various modes and forms of government that is best, which is capable of
producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most
effectually secured against the danger of maladministration; and that,
whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these
purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable,
and indefeasible right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner
as shall be judged most conducive to the public weal.
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Declaration of Rights
IV. That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate
emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of
public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the
offices of magistrate, legislator, or judge be hereditary.
V. That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be
separate and distinct from the judicative; and, that the members of the
two first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and
participating the burthens of the people, they should, at fixed
periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from
which they were originally taken, and the vacancies be supplied by
frequent, certain, and regular elections in which all, or any part of
the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the laws
VI. That elections of members to serve as
representatives of the people in assembly ought to be free; and that
all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with,
and attachment to, the community have the right of suffrage and cannot
be taxed or deprived of their property for public uses without their
own consent or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by
any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the
VII. That all power of suspending laws, or
the execution of laws, by any authority without consent of the
representatives of the people is injurious to their rights and ought
not to be exercised.
VIII. That in all capital or
criminal prosecutions a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature
of his accusation to be confronted with the accusers and witnesses, to
call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy trial by an impartial
jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be
found guilty, nor can he be compelled to give evidence against himself;
that no man be deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land or
the judgement of his peers.
IX. That excessive bail ought
not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual
X. That general warrants, whereby any officer or messenger may be
commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact
committed, or to seize any person or persons not named, or whose
offense is not particularly described and supported by evidence, are
grievous and oppressive and ought not to be granted.
XI. That in controversies respecting property and in suits between man and
man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to
be held sacred.
XII. That the freedom of the press is one
of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by
XIII. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the
proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state; that standing
armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous to liberty;
and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict
subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power.
XIV. That the people have a right to uniform government; and therefore, that
no government separate from, or independent of, the government of
Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.
XV. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty,
can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice,
moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent
recurrence to fundamental principles.
XVI. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging
it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence;
and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of
religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the
mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity
towards each other.
Adopted unanimously June 12, 1776 Virginia
Convention of Delegates drafted by Mr. George Mason
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