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George Washington’s notes on George Mason's Objections to the Constitution of Government formed by the Convention, October 7, 1787

Constitutional Convention delegate George Mason of Virginia, whose thoughts on liberty had strongly influenced Thomas Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence, objected to the lack of a “Declaration of Rights” in the U.S. Constitution. Fellow Virginian George Washington, who presided over the Constitutional Convention, made notes regarding the freedoms Mason considered essential.

Liberty of the press––no declaration to secure it or the Tryal by Jury in civil causes—nor against the Danger of Standing Armies in times of Peace

Manuscript Division, Library of Congress

George Washington’s notes on George Mason's Objections to the Constitution of Government formed by the Convention, October 7, 1787 Liberty of the press––no declaration to secure it or the Tryal by Jury in civil causes—nor against the Danger of Standing Armies in times of Peace

Ensuring Essential Freedoms

During the ratification of the U.S. Constitution in 1787-1788, many people felt the document lacked sufficient protection for citizens’ individual rights and liberties. George Mason, author of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights, warned of the government’s usurpation of liberties without specific protections in the Constitution. Some states, when ratifying the Constitution, included amendments specifying individual rights. To broaden support for the new Constitution, the First Congress proposed a series of amendments that became today’s Bill of Rights.