Blogs > Liberty and Power > George Mason's Feet of Clay

Apr 17, 2006 2:07 pm

George Mason's Feet of Clay

[cross-posted at Austro-Athenian Empire]

We should never let our admiration for a thinker’s virtues blind us to his flaws (or, of course, vice versa). Commenting on past U.S presidents, I recently wrote:

[I]t often seems like the better they are, the worse they are; i.e., when you look at the Presidents who did the most libertarian things, they always seem to be trying their damnedest to cancel out the merits of their pro-liberty achievements by turning around and doing the most horrifically anti-liberty things they can think of. (Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln all come to mind.)
Today’s Mises Daily Article by Norman Van Cott makes a similar point about another founding father with some libertarian credentials, George Mason. When he was good, he was very good; but when he was bad he really wallowed in despicable hypocrisy.

Mason pretended his opposition to the slave trade was based on grounds of justice and humanity, but the fact that he combined opposition to the importation of slaves with support for the strengthening of protections for domestic slaveowners suggests that his motivations were rather more along protectionist lines. As Van Cott writes, “the hypocrisy of the juxtaposed arguments is mind-boggling.” Read the article.

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Kenneth R. Gregg - 4/17/2006

I remember thinking this many years ago when I first started reading Mason's essays, and then changing my mind after further reading his writings more carefully. I just don't recall what it was that led me to change my mind. I'll have to spend some time in the musty old archives of my brain before I can concur on your interpretation. Maybe I can dredge out my rationale from wherever it's hidden.
Just a thought.
Just Ken