Our 39th wedding anniversary is coming up this Saturday. As part of our celebration, Janice and I took an overnight trip to see some historic places in Virginia.
We visited Gunston Hall, the home of George Mason, who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776. This Declaration was a precursor of our Bill of Rights, Amendments 1-10 to the Constitution. Gunston Hall is only a few miles from Mount Vernon. George Mason and George Washington were good friends, and both members of the Pohick Church (which we viewed from outside). The two Georges had a dispute when Mason refused to sign the Constitution in 1787 because at that time it did not have a Bill of Rights.
The preamble to the Virginia Declaration has language that parallels the Declaration of Independence: “… 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 part about “property,” derived from John Locke’s writings, was left out of the Declaration of Independence, because it might have been used to perpetuate slavery.
As a challenge to visitors, the Gunston Hall Visitor Center had nine cards with purported rights printed on them, and asked which of those nine rights were not included in the Virginia Declaration. The three that were not included were “the right to meet one’s elected representative,” “the right to privacy,” and “the right to bear arms.” It might be worth noting that the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade was based on a right to privacy supposedly concealed in the Ninth Amendment.
The Virginia Declaration also says, in a later section, 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.“
In Fredericksburg, we visited the Kenmore Plantation. That was the home of Fielding Lewis and his wife Betty, George Washington’s sister. Lewis is not considered a Founding Father, but he was a wealthy Patriot who sacrificed to the cause of independence.
Our last historic site was James Madison’s Montpelier. Madison is often called the “Father of the Constitution.” In the debates of the Constitutional Convention, Madison provided an intellectual foundation, thanks to his extensive studies. He had read the history of prior attempts at self-government, with attention to what worked and what went wrong to cause democratic polities to fail.
Each of the three Georgian mansions displayed a copy of the Fry-Jefferson map of Virginia and Maryland. Co-cartographer Peter Jefferson was Thomas Jefferson’s father.