The Virginia Declaration of Rights
After the Committee of Style finished with the final draft of the
Constitution at the Constitutional Convention, George Mason stood up and noted
that the new Constitution contained no declaration of the rights of the people,
a glaring error in his view. Elbridge Gerry seconded Mason's motion to convene
a committee to draft a declaration of rights. But no state voted to convene the
committee, and in protest, Gerry and Mason refused to sign the
Mason, along with James Madison, had had a heavy hand in the writing of the
Virginia Declaration of Rights. The Declaration was passed in a convention
of delegates on June 12, 1776. This Declaration later became a model for the
Bill of Rights Madison wrote as the first twelve proposed amendments to the new
United States Constitution.
A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of
Virginia, assembled in full and free convention which rights do pertain to them
and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.
Section 1. That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and
have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of
society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity;
namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and
possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
Section 2. That all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the
people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times
amenable to them.
Section 3. That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common
benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation or community; of all
the various modes and forms of government that is best, which is capable of
producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety and is most effectually
secured against the danger of maladministration; and that, whenever any
government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority
of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to
reform, alter or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive
to the public weal.
Section 4. That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or
separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of
public services; which, not being descendible, neither ought the offices of
magistrate, legislator, or judge be hereditary.
Section 5. That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be
separate and distinct from the judicative; and, that the members of the two
first may be restrained from oppression by feeling and participating the
burthens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private
station, return into that body from which they were originally taken, and the
vacancies be supplied by frequent, certain, and regular elections in which all,
or any part of the former members, to be again eligible, or ineligible, as the
laws shall direct.
Section 6. That elections of members to serve as representatives of the
people in assembly ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient
evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community
have the right of suffrage and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property
for public uses without their own consent or that of their representatives so
elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented,
for the public good.
Section 7. That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by
any authority without consent of the representatives of the people is injurious
to their rights and ought not to be exercised.
Section 8. That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man hath a right
to demand the cause and nature of his accusation to be confronted with the
accusers and witnesses, to call for evidence in his favor, and to a speedy
trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he
cannot be found guilty, nor can he be compelled to give evidence against
himself; that no man be deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land
or the judgement of his peers.
Section 9. That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive
fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Section 10. That general warrants, whereby any officer or messenger may be
commanded to search suspected places without evidence of a fact committed, or
to seize any person or persons not named, or whose offense is not particularly
described and supported by evidence, are grievous and oppressive and ought not
to be granted.
Section 11. That in controversies respecting property and in suits between
man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other and ought to
be held sacred.
Section 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks
of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
Section 13. That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the
people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free
state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided as dangerous
to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict
subordination to, and be governed by, the civil power.
Section 14. That the people have a right to uniform government; and
therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of, the government
of Virginia, ought to be erected or established within the limits thereof.
Section 15. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be
preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation,
temperance, frugality, and virtue and by frequent recurrence to fundamental
Section 16. That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the
manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by
force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free
exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is
the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity
towards each other.