OUR FOREFATHERS’ COVENANTS
June 5, 2020
In May of 1776, George Mason wrote, "All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural 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." His statement became part and parcel of the Virginia Constitution. It was a mere two months later that Thomas Jefferson cribbed from Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights while writing the Declaration of Independence. Many historians have suggested that Jefferson's version was not an improvement on Mason's.
Only weeks later, on June 12, 1776, Mason penned Article XVI of the Virginia State Constitution. It is a remarkable statement, and later became part of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. George Mason wrote, "That Religion, or the Duty which we owe our Creator, and the Manner of discharging it, can be directed only by Reason and Convictions, 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."
Not long thereafter, he addressed the General Court of Virginia when the question of the court's authority arose. He said, "The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth."
Mason's involvement in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 brought him to the floor as one of its most frequent and outspoken delegates. A man of strong convictions and personal integrity, Mason was adamant in his belief that the U.S. Constitution must protect the rights and liberties of its citizens. When the original final draft was presented for ratification and failed to limit the federal government's power to infringe on religious liberty and personal rights, he refused to sign the Constitution despite the pleas of his fellow Virginians, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson. Even with Madison's assurance that the Bill of Rights Mason had crafted for the state of Virginia would be presented at the next Constitutional Convention for adaptation and inclusion, Mason remained steadfast in his refusal to sign.
Despite the fact that he had inherited an enormous plantation and had more than 300 slaves, George disapproved strongly of the slave trade and wrote his fellow-delegates that slavery was, "that slow poison, which is daily contaminating the minds and morals of our people."
PC historians have sought to rewrite history and pretend that our founding fathers fought for "separation of church and state," eschewing and decrying all mention of Jesus Christ and God Almighty as the basis of our nation's Constitution. Many of them have ignored folks like George Mason who authored so many documents, the wording of which was incorporated -- one way or another -- into the documents that made up America's beginnings. One PC historian described Mason as "the biggest slave-owner to attend the Constitutional Convention," ignoring Mason's own public statements on slavery, and his actions which led (years after his death) to the abolishing of slavery.
As I have already noted, Mason felt that the Constitution -- as originally presented for ratification -- did not go far enough in protecting individual rights and local interests. He also expressed his concern that the Presidency was too powerful, exercising in many cases the same powers that the English kings exercised. His calls for a Bill of Rights and for an end to the importation of slaves were rejected. He sought for something in our Constitution that would ban slavery outright, but too many of his fellow-slaveholders vehemently opposed such a suggestion.
He opposition to the Constitution as framed, and refusal to sign it, ended a long-time friendship with George Washington and James Madison (and that, quite possibly, is why we have had so little mention of George Mason's name as being synonymous with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al.), provoking occasional attacks (though not from Washington and Madison) on his mental powers and acuity. One supporter of the Constitution accused him of having lost his wits in his old age. Never at a loss for words, Mason quipped, "Sir, when yours fail, nobody will ever discover it."
Mason was not alone in his opposition to the Constitution as framed. Patrick Henry (of whom we have already written) joined him in a vociferous fight against ratification, arguing that all three branches of the Federal Government had been given far too much power. Together, they argued that the "necessary and proper" and "general welfare" clauses would give Congress unlimited power over the states.
Historical author Russ Walton writes that "It was this phrase, of George Mason's which later became incorporated in the Declaration of Independence as ’the laws of nature and nature's God."
I'd like to take you behind the scenes in George Mason's authorship of the Bill of Rights, and the forcefulness with which he fought for religious liberties as a part of our Constitutional heritage and rights.
During the 1770's, the English Parliament -- in an effort to stem the growing rebellion in the American Colonies -- passed law after law after law attacking American liberty. George Mason had already been involved in the affairs of government, functioning first as a judge, and then as a legislator. The death of his wife, Ann, in 1773 contributed in no small part to the intensifying of his activities in shaping and writing legislation since it provided him a means to set aside his grief.
When, in 1774, he drew up the Halifax Resolves, outlining the colonists legal and constitutional grounds for their objections to the Boston Port Act, his fellow-Virginians began to really see him as someone whose legal mind and rational thought processes could serve Virginia's needs for its own Constitution.
Already involved in the Constitutional debates surrounding America's Declaration of Independence, Mason's arguments put him in the right place at the right time when Virginia began to consider its own status. He was an active participant in the Virginia House of Burgesses, arguing for Virginia's liberties as a self-governing entity. As I noted in our previous Coffee Break, George Mason was also a very loud voice at the Constitutional Conventions in calling for a Bill of Rights.
It takes no great imagination to understand why George Mason disliked politics, but he considered that his first obligation as a legislator -- and one whose opinion was valued among his fellow founders -- was to protect individual liberties. He believed that this was the principal role of government. Though his primary labors were among the Federalists, Mason was at heart an anti-Federalist who believed that Federal Government should be severely restricted in its powers; and that individual states should have the greater say in their affairs.
the Virginia Committee of Correspondence joining in a cooperative effort with
other colonies to oppose the British Parliament's actions through
"non-importation agreements" (in reality a boycott of British
goods). He was a principal author of the rules for the boycotts in
Virginia. When King George and his Parliament refused to back down,
George Mason joined fellow-Virginian George Washington in writing the Fairfax
Resolves: a document which condemned Parliament's actions as illegal and a
violation of American liberty, and gave Virginians a reason to resist British
interference in their lives.
On May 20, 1776, after it had become obvious that America would separate from Great Britain, Mason began six days of writing, working on a new constitution that would guarantee the rights of individuals. James Madison (who was also a delegate to the Virginia Convention) had named Mason the "master builder" (i.e., the primary author) of the Virginia Constitution and the Virginia Declaration of Rights. George Mason took his task seriously.
Over the next six days, Mason wrote as follows:
”A Declaration of Rights, made by the Representatives of the good People of Virginia, assembled in full Convention; and recommended to Posterity as the Basis and Foundation of Government.
That all Men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural Rights, of which they can not by any Compact, deprive or divest their Posterity; among which are the Enjoyment of Life and Liberty, with the Means of acquiring and possessing Property, and pursuing and obtaining Happiness and Safety.
That Power is, by God and Nature, vested in, and consequently derived from the People; that Magistrates are their Trustees and Servants, and at all times amenable to them.
That Government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common Benefit 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 mal-administration. And that whenever any Government shall be found inadequate, or contrary to these Purposes, a Majority of the Community had an indubitable, inalienable and indefeasible Right to reform, alter or abolish it, in such Manner as shall be judged most conducive to the Public Weal.
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, or hereditary, the Idea of a Man born a Magistrate, a Legislator, or a Judge is unnatural and absurd.
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 they may lay upon the People; they should, at fixed Periods be reduced to a private Station, and returned, by frequent, certain and regular Elections, into that Body from which they were taken.
That no part of a Man's Property can be taken from him, or applied to public uses, without the Consent of himself, or his legal Representatives; nor are the People bound by any Laws, but such as they have in like Manner assented to for their common Good.
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 or Witnesses, to call for Evidence in his favour, and to a speedy Tryal by a Jury of his Vicinage; without whose unanimous Consent, he can not be found guilty; nor can he be compelled to give Evidence against himself. And that no Man, except in times of actual Invasion or Insurrection, can be imprisoned upon Suspicion of Crimes against the State, unsupported by Legal Evidence.
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.
That as Religion, or the Duty which we owe to our divine and omnipotent Creator, and the Manner of discharging it, can be governed only by Reason and Conviction, not by Force or Violence; and therefore that all Men should enjoy the fullest Toleration in the Exercise of Religion, according to the Dictates of Conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the Magistrate, unless, under Col- our of Religion, any Man disturb the Peace, the Happiness, or Safety of Society, or of Individuals. And that it is the mutual Duty of all, to practice Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity towards Each other.
That in all controversies respecting Property, and in Suits between Man and Man, the ancient Tryal by Jury is preferable to any other, and ought to be held sacred.”
The original document containing the above proposed parts of the bill of rights was entirely written in George Mason's hand. That document today is in the Mason papers in the Library of Congress. As proposed by Mason, the entire Bill of Rights was debated, amended and ratified, passing unanimously on June 12, 1776.
"The genius of Mason's Declaration," as Thomas Jefferson said of his own Declaration of Independence, "was not in the originality of principle of sentiment... [Rather,] it was intended to be an expression of the American mind"with its brilliant "harmonizing sentiments of the day."
Incorporated into Jefferson's remarks is the perfect squelch for the liberal, revisionist argument of today that the founders never intended for America to become a Christian nation. If the true sentiment of our founding fathers was, as George Mason wrote, "the mutual Duty of all, to practice Christian Forbearance, Love and Charity towards Each other,"then indeed they expected that America would function under the headship of the Lord Jesus Christ without denominational preference or effort to establish one the doctrines of one [Christian] sect over another.
William C. Rives characterized Mason's Declaration as "a condensed, logical and luminous summary of the great principle of freedom inherited by us from our British ancestors; the extracted essence of the Magna Charta, the Petition of Rights, the Acts of the Long Parliament, and the doctrines of the Revolution of 1688 as expounded by Locke, - distilled and concentrated through the alembic of his own powerful and discriminating mind. There is nothing more remarkable in the political annals of America than this paper. It has stood the rude test of every vicissitude."
George Mason's Article X of Virginia's Bill of Rights was modified and amended slightly after much debate. The final draft read like this:
That Religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the magistrate, unless, under colour of religion, any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or safety of society. And that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity towards each other.
As I noted previously, George Mason's labors became the backbone of our nation's Constitutional Bill of Rights, articulated in Amendments I through X. Mason's Article X became Amendment I to the U.S. Constitution, revised to read:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Now you know the history of that Amendment to the Constitution. And now you know the fraud that has been -- and is being -- perpetrated on America today in the guise of "separation of church and state." No such phrase exists in our Constitution, and history shows us that our founding fathers NEVER meant for such a concept to be interpreted from the statements of rights and liberties drafted.
George Mason went to be with the Lord less than a year after his Bill of Rights was ratified as a part of the Constitution on December 15, 1791. He died at his Gunston Hall Plantation home October 7, 1792.
In his Last Will and Testament, Mason wrote, "My soul, I resign into the hands of my Almighty Creator, whose tender mercies are over all His works, who hateth nothing that He hath made, and to the Justice and Wisdom of whose dispensation I willing and cheerfully submit, humbly hoping from His unbounded mercy and benevolence, through the merits of my blessed Savior, a remission of my sins."
It seems almost ridiculous and redundant to make the statement that few of our founders have had more of lasting impact on the history and future of this nation than George Mason. Each of our founding fathers played an integral role in establishing America as a Christian nation. Yet Mason, like his friend Patrick Henry, fought with every breath of his existence for our religious liberties and rights as Christians, determined to the death to see that America would not follow in the footsteps of other nations as an unGodly country, corrupted by the greed for personal power and self-aggrandizement, and religions that rejected Jesus Christ as Lord.
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Blessings on you!
Regner A. Capener
RIVER WORSHIP CENTER
Temple, Texas 76502
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