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Primary Documents in American History

Virginia Declaration of Rights

Portrait of George Mason.
Portrait of George Mason.
Rosenthal, Albert, 1863-1939
1888 1 plate; 18 x 12 cm.
Publisher unknown.
First American West: The Ohio River Valley 1750-1820.
Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

A call for American independence from Britain, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was drafted by George Mason in May 1776 and amended by Thomas Ludwell Lee and the Virginia Convention. Thomas Jefferson drew heavily from it when he drafted the Declaration of Independence one month later. This uniquely influential document was also used by James Madison in drawing up the Bill of Rights (1789) and by the Marquis de Lafayette in drafting the French Declaration of the Rights of Man (1789).

Library of Congress Web Site | External Web Sites | Selected Bibliography

Digital Collections

A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875

The Letters of Delegates to Congress contain correspondence to and from George Mason. In addition, Mason's involvement as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 is documented in Farrand's Records.

George Washington Papers

Contains correspondence with George Mason, including Washington's draft of their joint Fairfax Resolves.

Printed Ephemera: Three Centuries of Broadsides and Other Printed Ephemera

Contains a copy of the Virginia Declaration of Rights as printed in the Virginia Gazette on June 14, 1776.

Thomas Jefferson Papers, 1606 to 1827

Thomas Jefferson also corresponded with George Mason. Enter "George Mason" in the search box for this collection.


Creating the United States

This online exhibition offers insights into how the nation’s founding documents were forged and the role that imagination and vision played in the unprecedented creative act of forming a self–governing country. The exhibition contains two documents related to the Virginia Declaration of Rights.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - The Virginia Declaration of Rights

George Mason of Fairfax County, Virginia, wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights, on which the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights are modeled. Mason refused to support the original Constitution because it failed to protect essential liberties.

American Treasures of the Library of Congress - Madison's Copy of the Proposed
"Bill of Rights"

In response to the demands of the anti-federalists for amendments guaranteeing individual rights, James Madison (1751-1836) drafted these twelve amendments to the Constitution. Seen here in one of only two known copies of the preliminary printing, these amendments were closely modeled on Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights.

Today in History

July 4, 1776

The Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

September 17, 1787

Members of the Constitutional Convention signed the final draft of the Constitution on September 17, 1787.

October 27, 1787

The Federalist Papers were a series of eighty-five essays by "Publius," the pen name of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay. The first appeared in the New York Independent Journal on October 27, 1787.

December 15, 1791

Confirming the fundamental rights of its citizens, the new United States of America adopted the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution, on December 15, 1791.

Link disclaimerExternal Web Sites

America's Founding Documents: Bill of Rights, National Archives and Records Administration

Constitution of the United States, Government Printing Office

The Founders' Constitution, University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund

George Mason Online, Gunston Hall Plantation

Our Documents, Bill of Rights, National Archives and Records Administration

Selected Bibliography

Conley, Patrick, and John P. Kaminski, eds. The Bill of Rights and the States: The Colonial and Revolutionary Origins of American Liberties. Madison, Wis.: Madison House, 1992. [Catalog Record]

Hickok, Eugene W., Jr. The Bill of Rights: Original Meaning and Current Understanding. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.[Catalog Record]

Miller, Helen Hill. George Mason: Gentleman Revolutionary. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1975. [Catalog Record]

Rowland, Kate Mason. The Life of George Mason, 1725-1792: Including His Speeches, Public Papers, and Correspondence. New York: Russell & Russell, 1964. [Catalog Record]

Rutland, Robert A., ed. The Papers of George Mason, 1725-1792. 3 vols. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1970. [Catalog Record]

Younger Readers

Banks, Joan. The U.S. Constitution. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2001. [Catalog Record]

Faber, Doris, and Harold Faber. We the People: The Story of the United States Constitution Since 1787. New York: Scribner's, 1987. [Catalog Record]

Heymsfeld, Carla R., and Joan W. Lewis. George Mason, Father of the Bill of Rights. Alexandria, Va.: Patriotic Education Incorporated, 1991. [Catalog Record]

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  March 16, 2022
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