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The Virginia Declaration of Rights, Article One, 1776


Materials in the Library of Virginia’s collections contain historical terms, phrases, and images that are offensive to modern readers. These include demeaning and dehumanizing references to race, ethnicity, and nationality; enslaved or free status; physical and mental ability; and gender and sexual orientation. 


In the process of breaking away from England, representatives for Virginia realized they had to define the government of the new state. In 1776, the Fifth Virginia Convention ratified a document, known as the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which laid out the principles of this new government. The Constitution and Bill of Rights later borrowed from this document.

The first article of the Virginia Declaration of Rights deals with natural rights, or rights that all people are granted from birth and should not be taken away. However, Virginia’s definition of natural rights did not extend to cover enslaved people. In the first and third images shown above, there are two different drafts for the proposed first amendment in the Virginina Declaration of Rights. 

Citation: Virginia. Convention (1776 : May 6-July 5). Proposed amendments to the Declaration of Rights, 1776 June 12. Accession 30003, State government records collection, The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Virginia.

Citation: Thomas Ludwell Lee. Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776. Accession 21539. Personal papers collection. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va. 23219.

Citation: George Mason. Declaration of Rights, 1776. Accession 21512. Personal papers collection. The Library of Virginia, Richmond, Va. 23219.





Suggested Questions

Analyze: Can you spot any differences between the two drafts? What is different? What is the same? Why do you think certain changes were made?

Analyze: Does any of the language remind you of other documents? How so?

Political Plans: Would you make any changes to this article? If so, what would you alter?