Return to
Selected Works of
R. Carter Pittman

   Introduction to the George Mason  
Research of R. Carter Pittman

With the publication of this letter in a leading newspaper, many learned for the first time of the extraordinary research project underway in Dalton, GA, which would bring together, over a period of four decades, the largest collection of source materials on George Mason ever assembled, some never before seen by historians.

Letter to the Editor that appeared in the
Washington Post, Saturday, January 23, 1954

Mason of Gunston Hall
For an extended period we have devoted spare time and scarce funds to the project of collecting every available scrap of the published and unpublished writings of George Mason of Gunston Hall (1725-1792). As is not well known, he was the author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights of June 1776 and the father of the American Bill of Rights of 1791.
We have found found much that Rowland and others interested in Mason did not find. From librarians, autographs collectors and other kindly people we have received gems of great value by, to and about Mason. The more we are aided the more we realize how helpless we would be but for those many selfless people who teach lessons of humility by example.
The oft recurring question is: Who are you and why has not some well known author initiated and some foundation financed such a project? The answer is both simple and incredible. No other persons seem to have ever felt the urge to write a history of the provisions of the Federal Bill of Rights, or one of those preceding it. Had such an attempt been made that person would have been aggravated, shocked and stopped, as we were, upon discovering that so many of liberty’s main roads by-pass the great names in American history to come to an apparent dead-end with evolution’s pioneer—George Mason of Gunston Hall.
For 150 years historians have been lost on a side road picked up in Philadelphia in July 1776, overlooking the main road from which it stemmed, with its terminal at Gunston Hall. History’s greatest hoax stems from ignored chronology, mistaken identity and two Jefferson letters that, while disclaiming originality, quibbled too much.
Around June 1, 1776, in Philadelphia, Richard Henry Lee exhibited to Franklin, Adams and Jefferson a manuscript copy of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in Mason’s handwriting. One of them inquired of Lee as to Mason’s sources for his first three paragraphs. Jefferson did not record the question, but he recorded a misleading part of Lee’s answer. Lee’s diverting guess as to John Locke’s Treatise on Government soon became false doc-
trine that Jefferson himself would not credit. The question remains unanswered in spite of libraries full of books on the interesting subject and wrong man.
When Mason wrote “the basis and foundation of government” for Virginia in the spring of 1776, he stated “the basis and foundation of government” and freedom in America and in much of the free world.
George Mason’s characteristic and utter contempt for fame, the burning of the homes of two Mason descendants together with the papers collected by one of them for a biography of Mason, and the vandalism of Federal soldiers during the Civil War, while searching for the papers of Senator James M. Mason, have conspired to make our project an unusually difficult, and sometimes heartbreaking, one. We beg for all the help we can get in our endeavor to rescue from oblivion history’s grand champion of the liberty and dignity of men. Ours is a Macedonian cry.
“Beggars bags are (not always) bottomless.” Every item sent to us will go into the Mason bag, and after we have attempted to use it, it will be emptied into a Virginia repository willing to calendar it and (with consent of the original sources) make microfilms and photostats available to those seriously interested in the study of our institutions of freedom and the man who first laid bare the bedrock on which to set their bases and lay their foundation.
  Dalton, Ga.

* This was one of a number of misconceptions previously held by historians that would be dispelled as Mr. Pittman continued his research. By the fall of 1955 Mr. Pittman had firmly established that it was Col. Mason’s draft of the Virginia Bill of Rights that Mr. Jefferson used and not the final (June 12th) version.

For a more in-depth consideration of the historical problems surrounding this great document, see The Virginia Declaration of Rights: Its Place In History.  —Editor