Blogs > Liberty and Power > Forgotten Founder

Mar 28, 2006 9:03 am

Forgotten Founder

Now that George Mason University has made the NCAA Final Four, some may wonder who the school is named after. Answer here. Well worth learning about or reminding oneself. Or pass it on to your students. (Hat tip: Todd Zywicki at VC)

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Aeon J. Skoble - 3/29/2006

That's interesting stuff, Roderick, thanks for adding it.

Roderick T. Long - 3/29/2006

Two interesting anecdotes that document doesn't mention:

1. Mason said he would rather cut his own hand off at the wrist than sign the Constitution.

2. When he was writing the Virginia Declaration of Rights he included the phrase "all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights,
of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity." The pro-slavery faction in the Virginia legislature objected that this provision would prohibit slavery. That was just what Mason intended, since he was anti-slavery. (Of course he owned slaves, and never freed them; but, like Jefferson, he was anti-slavery in principle -- if that isn't a misuse of the term "principle"!) Mason knew he couldn't get the Bill adopted unless he revised it to avoid anti-slavery implications; but he didn't want to make any qualificiation to the principle enunciated. So he and his opponents agreed to insert the weasel phrase "when they enter into a state of society" into the document with the understanding that this phrase would be interpreted as meaning "when they attain civilisation" by the pro-slavery faction (so that slaves, not having attained civilisation, would be exempted from the principle), while the anti-slavery faction would interpret the phrase as meaning no more than "when they get together in groups" (so that on that reading slaves would not be exempted). Mason having found wording that would be acceptable to both sides, the Bill passed. (This incidentally illustrates the perils of trying to interpret legal documents according to their "original intent." One reason such documents often contain ambiguous language is precisely because their framers often do not share a single precise original intent.)