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Apr 02 2015

Virginia Declaration of Rights – 1776

In 1776, the fifth Virginia Convention unanimously adopted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, followed shortly by a separate document, the Constitution of Virginia. George Mason is given primary credit for drafting the document, while James Madison, Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton also proposed input. Thomas Jefferson likely was influenced by it when he drafted the Declaration of Independence shortly afterwards and James Madison used it in proposing the Bill of Rights years later.

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 and safety.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights

Virginia’s Declaration of Rights was drawn upon by Thomas Jefferson for the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence. It was widely copied by the other colonies and became the basis of the Bill of Rights. Written by George Mason, it was adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776.

The Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776

After having decided to break with Great Britain, members of Virginia’s fifth Revolutionary Convention voted unanimously on May 15, 1775, to prepare a new plan of government or constitution for Virginia, as well as a statement of rights. George Mason arrived late at the convention and became the thirty-second of thirty-six members of the drafting committee. Mason soon took the reins and drove the discussion. Edmund Pendleton noted, “The Political Cooks are busy preparing the dish, and as Colonel Mason seems to have the Ascendancy in the great work, I have sanguine hopes it will be framed so as to Answer it’s [sic] end, Prosperity to the Community and Security to Individuals.”