On this day in 1776, the Virginia Convention, assembled in Williamsburg, unanimously adopts George Mason’s declaration of rights.
The assembled slaveholders of Virginia promised to “the good people of VIRGINIA and their posterity” the equal right to life, liberty and property, with the critical condition that the “people” were white men. These same white men were guaranteed that “all power” would be “vested in, and consequently derived from” them. Should a government fail to represent their common interest, a majority of the same held the right to “reform, alter or abolish” the government.
Much of the Virginia Declaration had roots in the English Bill of Rights, drafted in 1689 upon the overthrow of Catholic King James II by Protestant Queen Mary and her husband King William III. However, the ruling class of Virginia, which was largely derived from the disinherited younger sons of the British nobility, was eager to abolish the hereditary privileges from which they and their ancestors had been excluded and Article 4 of the declaration banned them, thereby moving beyond the English statement in the parameters of its social reform.
Virginia’s Declaration of Rights later became the basis for the Bill of Rights amended to the federal Constitution.