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A Quick Guide to George Mason

A Quick Guide to George Mason


Founding Fathers: George Mason

George Mason was born on December 11, 1725 on a farm in Fairfax County, Virginia. He is most famous for leading Virginia patriots during the American Revolution and his idea of inalienable rights, which influenced Thomas Jefferson when he was writing the Declaration of Independence. As a member of the Constitutional Convention, George Mason advocated for a weak central government and a strong local government. This advocacy was one of the factors that led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights.

George Mason was born as the son of George and Ann Thomson Mason on his family’s plantation in Fairfax County. After his father drowned in a boating accident in 1735, George Mason left his mother to live with his uncle, John Mercer.  His uncle had a vast collection of volumes in a library, with around 500 books dedicated to law. After studying with tutors and going to a private school in Maryland, he took over his inheritance at the age of 21 of about 20,000 acres of land in both Maryland and Virginia. 

As a near neighbor of George Washington and landowner, George Mason took a leadership role in local affairs. He also became interested in Western expansion of America and was very active in the Ohio Company, which was organized in 1749 in order to sell land and develop trade on the upper Ohio River. Around the same time, George Mason also helped to found the town of Alexandria, Virginia. Because of family problems and poor health, George Mason typically stayed away from public office, although he accepted election and became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1759. With the exception of his membership in the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787, being a member was the highest office George Mason ever held. However, he was still very crucial in shaping political institutions in the United States.

As a leader of the Virginia patriots from 1775 to 1783 on the eve of the American Revolution, George Mason also served on the Committee of Safety. In 1776, Mason drafted the state constitution in Virginia, where his declaration of rights became the first authoritative description of the doctrine of inalienable rights. George Mason's Declaration of Rights was known to Thomas Jefferson, who was influenced by it when drafting the Declaration of Independence. The Virginia's Declaration of Rights soon became a model by most of the states for their own state constitutions and also became incorporated in some form to in the federal Constitution. From 1776 to 1788, George Mason also served as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

As a member of the Constitutional Convention, George Mason strongly opposed the compromise which permitted the continuation of the slave trade in the United States until 1808. Although Mason was a Southerner, he considered the slave trade “disgraceful to mankind.” Mason also preferred education for bondsmen and also supported a system of free labor. Because Mason objected to the large and indefinite powers placed in the new government, he joined many other Virginians in opposing the adoption of the Constitution. As a Jeffersonian Republican, George Mason felt that local governments should be kept strong while the central government should be weak. Mason’s criticism of the Constitution helped bring about the ratification of the Bill of Rights to the United States Constitution.

Soon after the Constitutional Convention, George Mason retired to his home, Gunston Hall. He passed away on October 7, 1792 and was buried at Gunston Hall.

A Quick Guide to Gouverneur Morris

A Quick Guide to Gouverneur Morris

Founding Fathers: Gouverneur Morris

Gouverneur Morris was born on January 31, 1752 at Morrisania estate, in Westchester County, New York. His family was very well off and had a long record of public service. His older half-brother, Lewis, was also a founding father who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Gouverneur Morris was educated by private tutors and later attended a Huguenot school in New Rochelle. In the early part of his life, he lost one of his legs in a carriage accident. He went to King's College in New York City and graduated at the age of 16 in 1768. He then read law and after three years. After this, he gained admission to the New York bar.

When the American Revolution loomed on the horizon, Gouverneur Morris became more interested in political matters. Because of his conservative views, he first feared the movement. However, in the beginning of 1775, he sided with the Whigs. That year, he represented Westchester County and took a seat in Revolutionary provincial congress of New York from 1775 to 1777. In 1776, when Gouverneur Morris also served in the militia, he drafted the very first constitution of the state of New York. He also joined the council of safety in 1777.

From 1777 to 1778, Gouverneur Morris sat in the legislature and from 1778 to 1779, he also sat in the Continental Congress as one of the youngest and most intelligent member. During this time, he signed the Articles of Confederation and also drafted instructions that provided a partial foundation for the treaty ending the Revolutionary War. He was also a close friend of George Washington and one of his most powerful congressional supporters.

Gouverneur Morris ran for reelection to Congress in 1779 but lost. He then relocated to Philadelphia and went back to practicing law. In 1781, he went back to his public career as the principal assistant to Robert Morris, which he held for 4 years.

Gouverneur Morris became one of the leaders at the Constitutional Convention. He also served on many committees and was involved in drafting the Constitution. Later, Gouverneur Morris left public life for a time to focus on. In 1789, Gouverneur Morris joined with Robert Morris in a business venture, and traveled to France, where he saw the beginnings of the French Revolution.

Gouverneur Morris stayed in Europe for about a decade. In 1792, President Washington appointed him as Thomas Jefferson’s replacement as Minister to France. In 1799, he returned to the United States. The next year, Morris was elected to complete an unexpired term in the United States Senate. As a strong Federalist, he was defeated for reelection in 1802 and left office the next year.

Gouverneur Morris and moved to Morrisania. In 1809 he married Anne Cary and had one son. During his final years, he continued speaking out against Democratic-Republicans and strongly opposed the War of 1812. Between 1810 and 1813, he also served as a chairman of the Erie Canal Commission.

Gouverneur Morris died at Morrisania, New York on November 16, 1816 at the age of 64. He was buried in New York City at St. Anne's Episcopal Churchyard.


A Quick Guide to William Johnson

A Quick Guide to William Johnson


Founding Fathers: William Johnson

William Samuel Johnson was born on October 7, 1727 in Stratford, Connecticut. He was already a well-known figure before the American Revolution. He was the son of Samuel Johnson, who was a prominent Anglican clergyman and later the president of King's College. 

William Johnson was first homeschooled. Afterwards, he attended and graduated in 1744 from Yale College. He continued on and received a master's degree there in 1747. While his father wanted him to enter the clergy, William Johnson decided to pursue a legal career. He had taught himself the law and after he was admitted to the Connecticut bar, he started a practice. Here he developed an important clientele quickly which included many from Connecticut as well as New York City and established many business connections which extended beyond Connecticut. In 1749, he married Anne Beach, who was the daughter of a local businessman. Together the two of them had six sons and five daughters, but many of their children died before seeing adulthood.

In the 1750s, William Johnson began his public career as a militia officer in Connecticut. In both 1761 and 1765, Johnson served in the lower house of the assembly. In the 1766 and 1771 election, he was also an elected member of the upper house. During the American Revolution, William Johnson was disturbed by the conflicting loyalties. While he shared many of the same grievances against the British government as his fellow colonists, he still kept strong transatlantic ties and had trouble choosing sides.

William Johnson finally decided to fight for peace between the colonies and Great Britain and to go against the extremist Whig faction. Between 1772 and 1774, Johnson acted as judge of the Connecticut supreme court.

Johnson was elected to the First Continental Congress in 1774, but he chose not to participate. When hostilities broke out, Johnson only participated in peacemaking activities. In April 1775, he was sent by Connecticut to speak to British General Thomas Gage about stopping the bloodshed. Unfortunately, he failed and soon fell out of favor with the radical patriot elements who had gained power in Connecticut government. William Johnson was arrested in 1779 for communicating with the enemy, but he cleared himself of these charges and was released.

After the passions of war had settled down, William Johnson went back to his political career. As a member of the Continental Congress from 1785 to 1787, Johnson was one of the most significant and admired delegates. Because of his influence in the Constitutional Convention, William Johnson did not miss any sessions after arriving to the convention on June 2. During the ratification, he worked towards ratification of the Constitution in Connecticut.

William Johnson took part in the new government as a Senator where he was involved in passing the Judiciary Act of 1789. In 1791, William Johnson resigned because he wanted to devote his time to his presidency of Columbia College from 1787 to 1800 in New York City. In 1800, he retired from the college. His wife had died around this time and a few years, he got remarried to Mary Brewster Beach, a relative of his first wife. They lived at his birthplace, Stratford, Connecticut. He passed away there on November 14, 1819 at 92 years old and was buried at Old Episcopal Cemetery.

A Quick Guide to John Dickinson

A Quick Guide to John Dickinson

Founding Father: John Dickinson

John Dickinson was born on November 18, 1732 at the Crosiadore estate, near Trappe in Talbot County, Maryland. John Dickinson was the second son of Samuel Dickinson, who was a prosperous farmer, and his second wife, Mary Dickinson. In 1740, John Dickinson’s family moved from Maryland to Kent County, Delaware. Here, private tutors were hired to educate the John Dickinson. In 1750, he started to study law in Philadelphia with John Moland. In 1753, John Dickinson travelled to England in order to continue his education at London's Middle Temple. After four years, he came back to Philadelphia and quickly became a prominent lawyer. In 1770, John Dickinson married Mary Norris, the daughter of a wealthy merchant.

By this time, John Dickinson superior talents and education had placed him into politics. In 1760, Dickinson had already served in the assembly of the Three Lower Counties, where he was the speaker. Combining his Delaware and Pennsylvania careers, he won a seat as a member in the Pennsylvania assembly in 1762 and sat for another term in 1764. John Dickinsona became a leader of the conservative group in the political battles of the colonies. His defense of the governor against the group led by Benjamin Franklin damaged his popularity but earned him respect from others for his integrity. Nevertheless, in 1764 he lost his legislative seat.

Meantime, the tension between the colonies and Great Britain had gotten stronger and John Dickinson had become a prominent Revolutionary thinker. In the debates regarding the Stamp Act of 1765, he played a vital part. The same year, John Dickinson wrote “The Late Regulations Respecting British Colonies Considered”, which was a very influential pamphlet that begged Americans to fight for repeal of the act by putting pressure on British merchants. Because of this, the Pennsylvania legislature made him a Pennsylvania delegate to the Stamp Act Congress.

Between 1767 and 1768, John Dickinson wrote a set of newspaper articles in the Pennsylvania Chronicle that later was collectively called Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania. These letters attacked the taxation policy of the British and urged the colonies to resist these unjust laws. The letters also emphasized the potential of a peaceful resolution. Because the letters were extremely popular in the colonies, John Dickinson was given an honorary LL.D. from the College of New Jersey along with public thanks during a meeting in Boston. In 1768, in response to the Townshend Duties, John Dickinson championed rigorous colonial resistance through the use of non-exportation and non-importation agreements.

In 1771, John Dickinson returned to the Pennsylvania legislature, where he drafted a petition intended for the king which was unanimously approved. However, because of his continuous opposition to the use of force, by 1774 he lost a lot of his popularity. He was extremely critical of the tactics used by New England leaders that year and refused to support any aid requested by Boston after the Intolerable Acts, although he sympathized with the plight of Boston. Reluctantly, John Dickinson was pushed into the Revolutionary fray. In 1774 he became chairman of the Philadelphia committee of correspondence and also briefly sat as a representative from Pennsylvania in the First Continental Congress.

Throughout 1775, John Dickinson supported the Whigs, but he continued to work for peace. Dickenson drew up many petitions questing redress of grievances from the king. At the same time, he also chaired a Philadelphia committee of safety and defense and also held a colonelcy in the very first battalion recruited to defend the city of Pennsylvania.

After Lexington and Concord, John Dickinson continued to wish for a peaceful solution. During the Second Continental Congress from 1775 to 1776, he drew up a Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms as the representative from Pennsylvania. In the Pennsylvania assembly, he also drafted an authorization to send some delegates in 1776 to Congress. This draft directed them to look for redress of grievances, but also ordered them to oppose the separation of the American colonies from Great Britain.

By this time, John Dickinson’s moderate position had made him a member of the minority. In Congress, Dickinson voted in 1776 against the Declaration of Independence and. He refused to sign it. Even so, he became one of two contemporary congressional members, the other being Thomas McKean, who enrolled the military. When John Dickinson was not reelected, he resigned his commission as brigadier general and went back home to his estate in Delaware. In 1776, he was his new constituency reelected him to Congress, but he declined the position and also quit from the Pennsylvania Assembly. 

John Dickinson came out of retirement in 1779 to take a seat in the Continental Congress, where he stayed till 1780. Here he was a signer of the Articles of Confederation. Before this he was the head the committee which had drafted these articles. In 1781, John Dickinson became president of the Supreme Executive Council of Delaware. After a little while, Dickinson moved back to Philadelphia. Once back, he became president of Pennsylvania from 1782 to 1785. In 1786, John Dickinson represented Delaware at the Annapolis Convention, where he was a chairman. 

The year after, Delaware sent John Dickinson to the Constitutional Convention. Because of his illness, he missed many of the sessions. However, he made many worthwhile contributions, such as his service as a member of the Committee on Postponed Matters. While he did not like the forcefulness of James Madison and many other nationalists, Dickinson helped create the Great Compromise and also wrote many public letters expressing support for the ratification of the Constitution. Because of his early departure from the Constitutional Convention, Dickinson was not actually able to sign the Constitution. However, he authorized his fellow-delegate and friend George Read to sign it for him.

John Dickinson lived for another two decades, but he did not hold any public offices during this time. Instead, Dickinson devoted himself to his writings on politics. In 1801, he published two volumes of his works. John Dickinson died at Wilmington on February 14, 1808 at the age of 75. He was entombed at the Friends Burial Ground.


13th Amendment

12th Amendment

William Paterson

James Wilson

United States v. Lopez

Roper v. Simmons

McCulloch v. Maryland

Miranda v. Arizona

James Wilson

United States v. Lopez

Roper v. Simmons

McCulloch v. Maryland

Miranda v. Arizona

Third Amendment

Brandenburg v. Ohio

Bowers v. Hardwick