One of the nice things about early morning jogs on the National Mall is all the small gardens and memorials you come across by happenstance. This morning, because of a construction project blocking my normal path, I was detoured down some steps and into a small garden tucked away near the 14th street bridge along the Potomac river.
It’s a beautiful memorial garden dedicated to George Mason of colonial Virginia, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States. A life size bronze statue of Mason sits on a stone bench beneath a long trellis that curves along the southern end of the garden.
Mason appears relaxed and contemplative. On the bench to his right is his hat and walking stick, and on his left are two books; one by John Locke and the other by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Mason was one of the three Virginia delegates to the constitutional convention of 1787 who refused to sign the final draft of the Constitution. Mason actually wrote a paper entitled Objections to this Constitution of Government. Mason cited a lack of a Bill of Rights as his chief concern. But he also wanted an immediate end to the slave trade. He would eventually get his Bill of Rights when they were introduced by James Madison during the First Congress of 1789. The slave trade with America would not end until 1808, and, of course, slavery within the United States would not end until the Civil War.
It was George Mason, by the way, who gave Virginia its official title of the Commonwealth of Virginia. For Mason the state’s name would indicate that power stemmed from the people.
You may have noticed some writing to the left of Mason’s statue, engraved in the stone on the back of the bench. Let me note, these words were written before the Declaration of Independence was published in July of 1776.* The words just might ring familiar to you:
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.
— George Mason, May 1776
*The Declaration of Independence was written over the period between June 11th and July 4th of 1776.