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The Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776

Context

The Virginia Declaration of Rights was drafted by George Mason and later was adopted on June 12, 1776. The Virginia Declaration of Rights was written after the members of Virginia's fifth Revolutionary Convention voted in favor to prepare for a new plan of government following the decision to break from Great Britain. Mason’s initial draft contained ten paragraphs that outline rights such as the ability to confront one's accusers in court and to present evidence in court, protection from self-incrimination, the right to a speedy trial, the right to a trial by jury, and the extension of religious tolerance. The final version of the Virginia Declaration of Rights consisted of sixteen sections with added rights such as providing protections for the press, striking down ex post facto laws, banning excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment. The Virginia Declaration of Rights has been an influential document and a forerunner for many documents that followed. Thomas Jefferson rephrased Mason’s statement of freedom in his Declaration of Independence. James Madison expanded on Mason’s ideas of guaranteed rights when he wrote the Bill of Rights to the U.S Constitution.


Citation: George Mason, Declaration of Rights, 1776, Accession 21512, Personal Papers Collection, Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Standards

VS.1, VS.6b, USI.1, USI.7c, CE.1, CE.2b, VUS.1, VUS.5c, GOVT.1, GOVT.2f

Suggested Questions

In Their Shoes: Why would George Mason consider these rights vital to free society?

Up For Debate: Is it possible to have a true democracy without these rights? Why or why not?

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