George Mason on How Governments Can Become Oppressive

In April 1775, founder George Mason (1725-1792) wrote how a government established by free people could, over time, become oppressive.

His document entitled "Remarks on Annual Elections for the Fairfax Independent Company" came in the context of organizing a militia company representing Fairfax County, Virginia, where today George Mason University exists.

Mason, and his friend George Washington, ordered gunpowder for the Company and guaranteed payment with their own credit while money was collected from "titheable persons."

Mason wrote:

"We came equals into this world, and equals shall we go out of it. All men are by nature born equally free and independent. To protect the weaker from the injuries and insults of the stronger were societies first formed; when men entered into compacts to give up some of their natural rights, that by union and mutual assistance they might secure the rest; but they gave up no more that the nature of the thing required. Every society, all government, and every kind of civil compact therefore, is or ought to be, calculated for the general good and safety of the community. Every power, every authority vested in particular men is, or ought to be, ultimately directed to this sole end; and whenever any power or authority whatever extends further, or is of longer duration than is in its nature necessary for these purposes, it may be called government, but it is in fact oppression.

Upon these natural just and simple positions were civil laws and obligations framed, and from this source do even the most arbitrary and despotic powers this day upon earth derive their origin. Strange indeed that such superstructures should be raised upon such a foundation! But when we reflect upon the insidious arts of wicked and designing men, the various and plausible pretences for continuing and increasing authority, the incautious nature of the many, and the inordinate lust of power in the few, we shall no longer be surprised that free-born man hath been enslaved, and that those very means which were contrived for his preservation have been perverted to his ruin; or, to borrow a metaphor from Holy Writ, that the kid hath been seethed in his mother's milk.  {snip}

It has been lately observed by a learned and revered writer, that North America is the only great nursery of freemen now left upon the face of the earth. Let us cherish the sacred deposit. Let us strive to merit this greatest encomium that ever was bestowed upon any country. In all our associations; in all our agreements let us never lose sight of this fundamental maxim-- that all power was originally lodged in, and consequently is derived from, the people. We should wear it as a breastplate, and buckle it on as our armour."

Mason, who's been called "The Father of the Bill of Rights," was a delegate representing Virginia at the Constitutional Convention.

He, along with Virginia delegate Patrick Henry, voted against ratification of the Constitution in the Virginia Convention, feeling that it delivered too much power into the hands of a central government, at the expenses of the states.

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