(Copy of the first Daught by GM.)


A Declaration of Rights made by the Representatives of the good People of Virginia, assembled in full and free Convention; which Rights do pertain to them and their Posterity, as the Basis and Foundation of Government.

1. That all men are created equally free & independent, & have certain inherent natural Rights, of which they cannot, by any Compact, deprive or divest their Posterity; among which are the enjoyment of Life& Liberty, with the Means of aquiring and possessing Property,& pursuing & obtaining Happiness & Safety.
2. That all Power is by God & Nature vested in, & consequently derived from the People; that Magistrstes are their Trustees & Servants, and at all Times amenable to them.
3. That Government is or ought to be instituted for the common Benefit, Protection, & Security of the People, Nation or Community. Of all the various Modes & Forms of Government, that is best, which is capable of producing the Greatest Degree of Happiness & Safety, & is most effectually secured against the Danger of MalAdministration; and that whenever any Government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these Purposes, a Majority of the Community hath an indubitable, unalienable, & indefeasible Right to inform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the Public Weal.
4. 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, neither ought the Offices of Magistrate, Legislator, or Judge to be hereditary.
5. That the legislative & executive Powers of the State should be separate and distinct from the judicial; and that the Members of the two first may be restrained from Oppression by feeling and participating the Burthens of the People, they should at fixed Periods, be reduced to a private Station, & return into that Body from which they were originally taken; and the Vacancys be supplied by frequent, certain & regular Elections.
6. That Elections of Members, to serve as Representatives of the People in the Legislature, ought to be free, and that all Men having sufficient Evidence of permanent common Interest with, & Attachment to the Community, have the Right of Suffrage; and cannot be taxed or deprived of their Property for public Uses , without their own Consent, or that of their Representatives so elected, nor bound by any Law to which they have not, in like Manner, assented for the common Good.
7. That all Power of suspending Laws, or the Execution of Laws, by any Authority, without Consent of the Representatives of the People, is injurious to their Rights, and ought not to be exercised.
8. That in all capital or criminal Prosecutions, a Man hath a Right to demand the Cause & Nature of his Accusation, to be confronted with the Accusers & Witnesses, to call for Evidence in his Favour, and to a speedy Trial by an impartial 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 be deprived of his Liberty, except by the Law of the Land, or the Judgment of his Peers.
9. That excessive Bail ought not to be required, nor excessive Fines imposed, nor cruel & unusual Punishment inflicted.
10. That in Controversies respecting Property, and in Suits between Man & Man, the ancient Trial by Jury is preferable to any other, & ought to be held sacred.
11. That the Freedom of the Press is one of the great Bulwarks of Liberty and can never be restrained except by despotic Government.
12. That a well regulated Militia, composed of the Body of the People trained to Arms, is the proper, natural and safe Defence of a free State; that standing Armies in time of Peace, should be avoided as dangerous to Liberty, and that in all Cases, the Military should be under strict subordination to, & governed by the civil Power.
13. That no free Government, or the Blessing of Liberty, can be preserved to any People, but by firm adherence to Justice, Moderation, Temperance, Frugality & Virtue, and by frequent Recurrence to fundamental Principles.
14. 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 the Safety of Society; and it is the mutual duty of all to practise Christian Forbearance, Love, & Charity towards each other.

This Declaration of Rights was the first in America; it received few Alterations or Additions in the Virginia Convention (some of them not for the better) and was afterwards closely imitated by the other United States.
The above is transcribed verbatim, without conscious editing, from a facsimile of George Mason's own copy of his work. The notes at beginning and end are also in Mason's handwriting, the omission of 'r' from 'draught' being his. Other marginal notes are not Mason's and have not been copied. The original document is in the State Library of Virginia.

The Declaration passed by the Virginia Convention for Independence had three important changes. The first article was changed to confer rights, not on 'all men' but on all men who 'enter into a State of Society.' This change was meant to exclude slaves and unassimilated Indians, and is undoubtedly the principal one referred to by Mason as 'not for the better.' Mason was strongly opposed to slavery. Also, articles prohibiting broadform search warrants and the establishment of rival, independent governments in Virginia were added.

This Declaration of Rights was passed on June 12, 1776, less than a month after the Convention had set its list of irreconcileable grievances before the crown and instructed Richard Henry Lee to propose to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia 'that these United Colonies are and of Right ought to be free and independent States'. Three weeks later came Independence Day. Of the Virginia Declaration's antecedents, the most important is Mason's own 'Fairfax Resolves' of 1774. As for its descendants, it sets forth some principles of government, such as separation of powers and regular periodic elections, which would later inform the writing of our federal Constitution. Also, many of the notions and much of the language found in our Bill of Rights. It was, in its time, and still remains one of the most comprehensive and well reasoned prescriptions for the rights and liberties of individuals before their government.