“There is no Declaration of any kind, for preserving the Liberty of the Press, or the Tryal by Jury in Civil Causes; nor against the Danger of standing Armys in time of Peace.”
So wrote George Mason, a delegate from Virginia to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, when he publicly opposed the new U.S. Constitution as proposed to the states for ratification. Mason was an extraordinarily important patriot and Founding Father, and is described as a “political figure to be reckoned with, spoken of in the same breath with Virginians Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Patrick Henry, and Richard Henry Lee.” He was the architect of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776, which preceded the Declaration of Independence and served the cause of liberty from England throughout the Revolution. But at the Constitutional Convention, he objected so strongly to the omission of a Bill of Rights and other weaknesses in the new system of government that he refused to sign the Constitution. Only two other delegates, Elbridge Gerry and Edmund Randolph, agreed with Mason to that degree. It appeared that Mason’s objection would go unheeded as state after state ratified the Constitution.
George Mason would not be deterred. In June 1788, he published a pamphlet, Objections to the Proposed Federal Constitution, laying out his points in detail, including the sentence above. Note that he equated the right to a jury trial in civil suits with freedom of the press, that beloved right ensconced in the 1st Amendment and so often defended by Americans of all political stripes. The pamphlet was enormously popular and eventually won over Thomas Jefferson, then minister to France, who wrote to his friend, James Madison, that he was alarmed by “the omission of a bill of rights.” Madison saw the legal and political imperative of such an addition to the Constitution. After he was elected to Congress, Madison proposed 17 amendments to the Constitution, of which 10 were ratified by the states, including the 7th Amendment.
For his insistence on a Bill of Rights to accompany the new Constitution, George Mason rightfully shares the title of “Father of the Bill of Rights” with Madison.