Virginia Declaration of Rights
Original Author: George Mason
Created: 1776
Medium: Manuscript
Publisher: Library of Virginia

Virginia Declaration of Rights

This transcript, made by an unknown hand and dated 1776, is a partial copy of the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (this is page one of four) written by George Mason of Fairfax County. The final version of the declaration was incorporated into the state constitution of 1776 and was retained in all subsequent state constitutions. An addendum written at the end of this draft states that the original document "received few alterations or additions in the Virginia Convention (some of them not for the better) …" Another handwritten aside notes that two additional articles "not of fundamental nature" (and not shown here in the original draft) were added to the final bill.

The sixteen-part Declaration of Rights, adopted by the Virginia Constitutional Convention on June 12, 1776, provided protection for freedom of religion, various safeguards for criminal defendants, and other fundamental liberties. As the first bill of rights appended to a written constitution, the Virginia declaration became a model for similar documents, including other state constitutions and the federal Bill of Rights. Thomas Jefferson would get much of the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence from the first article of Mason's Declaration of Rights, which reads, in this draft, "that all men are created equally free & independent, & have certain inherent natural Rights, of which they can not, by any Compact, deprive or divest their Posterity; among which are the Enjoyment of Life & Liberty, with the Means of acquiring & possessing Property, & pursueing & obtaining Happiness and Safety."