"The American people are more indebted to George Mason
for the liberties they now enjoy than to any other mortal man living or dead."

Introduction to R. Carter Pittman

Scholar of George Mason and the Bill of Rights
Apologist for Liberty under Law in our Constitutional Republic

It was Mason who crystalized in our constitutional parchments the great principle that liberty is the gift of God—not government—and that the purpose of government is to protect that liberty—not to destroy it.

More great constitutional documents were produced by his pen than by that of any other one person in all recorded history. Usually providence fits times to the man, but in his case providence fit the man to the times. The times were those of transition from dependence on England to independence and self government. A people that had broken its old fences had to erect new fences.  The choice was between a government of laws and a government of flesh.

Old George Mason was there to the bitter end. He went down swinging, for you who read this—and for me. In 1789 he arose again with his Bill of Rights—then came death—and oblivion.

George Mason does not rule the world from his grave at the edge of an old field near Gunston Hall, but from that grave he shields one-half of the "poor creatures" of the earth from the lash of tyrants, the boot, the thumb-screw, and all the instruments of torture to be found in the museums of man's depravity.

He broke the lions of power to bit and harness and put the people in the drivers seats. His hand yet holds a death grip on the heavy hands of power.

Those who ride to power, and in power, rough-shod, over the rights of men, seem always to stand in marble on our public squares, while those who carry the torch of human freedom are forgotten, perhaps to be rediscovered centuries later.

The masses are prone to exchange an age of freedom for an hour of welfare. Anglo-Saxon institutions were designed to slow down the erosion of rights to give time for a sober second thought.

Wisdom and virtue are no longer "propagated by a virtuous education of youth" in America. We no longer adhere to "justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue." It is infrequent indeed that we recur to "fundamental principles." As a result "free government, and the blessing of liberty" is not being preserved in America and the history we now make is not an honored history.

Without exception, despotic rulers have excluded instruction in history from any plan of general education, or they have sought to make history books a mere aggregation of lies. They have sought to substitute abstract thinking, or "new philosophies," for the stark realities that are cried out by history's prophetic voice. They have always sought to substitute the worship of man for the worship of institutions and the worship of God. Need we be reminded of Caesar, Napoleon, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin or Peron?

The history of liberty has never been written. The story of liberty has never been told. Libertarians seem always to die young, laboring at an unfinished task.

In order to preserve liberty, we must know its history. We must analyze it, find its roots and fight to retain it.

To learn the history of freedom you must study the history of power.

Liberty and power are in eternal enmity. Liberty is defensive and power is offensive. Power is an armed aggressor. Liberty stands empty-handed, in need of unselfish champions at all times.

In all the historic struggles against despotism and the abuse of power, historical minded men have been in the forefront. The common law is but the filtered essence of history. It has been lawyers, principally, who have found the precedents against power and in behalf of human liberty and dignity in all ages past. Constitutional liberty has always stood in need of historical and legal precedents and always will.

Liberty can not long exist under any government that is not effectively forbidden to take unfair advantages of an accused. The controls of government are always more difficult than government controls. Government powers must be divided and subdivided and limited in order that citizens may have safety and happiness, which is the primary end of all governments.

The Bill of Rights does not purport to create or establish rights. It shields pre-existing rights. These rights are the gift of God not governments. Each separate provision is a little foxhole of liberty ground into the hard cold face of history by helpless men in an effort to shield their naked bodies from the lash of tyrants. Every liberty catalogued in the federal Bill of Rights could be the subject of a long historical commentary showing that each in its turn has been attacked and suppressed by those who have wanted to exercise unrestrained power.

The First Amendment doesn't say that those rights are given to the people. It says the people never gave them away. That Amendment is based upon the proposition that freedom of religion, freedom to speak, to write and to sigh and to cry, to assemble and to pray for deliverance from grievances, are the gift of God—not governments—and that they are held by the leave of no man and no government on earth. If government can give a right it can take it away or it can license the exercise of it.

History explains. Philosophy confuses. John Dickinson put it this way in the Constitutional Convention of 1787: "Experience must be our only guide. Reason may mislead us."

Philosophers have usually thrived in the midst of tryannies. Those who have urged historic precedents in defense of practical liberty have always been the ones to be led off to knives and halters.

The methods of despotic governments have been essentially the same in all ages. Tyranny learns nothing new. It gives new names to the same things and overwhelms the bulwarks of liberty with semantics.

For all men to be "equally free and independent" they must be "equal before the law." There is no such thing as freedom and independence under men. It exists under law or not at all.

Equality beyond the range of legal rights is despotic restraint. Equality may be imposed only in a despotism. Such may be done only through the process now called "social engineering" which holds that the end justifies the means. Those means must ever be force, restriction, terror and a complete loss of liberty.

When a constitutional provision, designed to preserve liberty, is redefined to serve another or different purpose, we are put on notice that it may be redefined again to serve still another and that a guardian of liberty may become its pallbearer.

The exercise of a power not granted in the Constitution itself is usurpation. The usurpation of power creates no legal authority. Upon the integrity of that principle rests the validity of every right man has ever wrested from power and every liberty he has ever torn from tyrants.

Under our common law and under our Constitution, no man or body of men may make law for freemen except the elected representatives of the people. Every freeman in a republic has the despotic right to veto all laws made by any man or group of men except his own delegates. For 500 years Anglo-Saxon freemen have exercised that veto power. Only a blind spot in our knowledge of history could cause any man to doubt the right of any freeman to disobey the unconstitutional edicts of a judge or king. Only fools and pseudo-socio-doctors contend that the Supreme Court can make law, but of such is the kingdom of tyranny.

Constitutional liberty is the child of Anglo-Saxon history, christened by the blood of our fathers. How could we so soon forget that the leading principle of the American Revolution was that only delegates chosen by the people may make constitutions and laws for the people? Every forgotten grave from Lexington to Yorktown is a memorial to that principle.

Those who rest in unmarked graves from Lexington to Yorktown were not fighting to decide who should govern, but to decide how they and their children should be governed. Was it all in vain? Have we nullified the American Revolution? Is our Constitution a cruel hoax?

We have no answer to the dilemma. It may be too late. Liberty is lean. We may have lost the will to be free.

Eternal vigilance is not the only price of liberty. The price of Anglo-Saxon liberty is blood.

The federal government is now completing the destruction of state sovereignty. "Oligarchy, masquerading as democracy" is here. The revolution is a fact accomplished. It was simple and bloodless.

When a servile and corrupt judiciary abandons the people and enlists in the service of those who would enslave mankind by the age old methods of tyrants, the rifle over the "fire board" is the last slender "security of a free State".

The Anglo-Saxon race must again emulate the Founding Fathers and organize to fight fire with brimstone. "Sons of Liberty" is an honored name for such an organization. "To your tents, O Israel" is an honored watchword.

Col. George Mason
That no free Government, or the Blessing 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 Principles.


Virginia Declaration of Rights

Paragraph 15

June 12, 1776

R. Carter Pittman and the Story of Liberty

In an address delivered on July 16, 1954 before the Alabama Bar Association, Carter Pittman told the story of how his odyssey began:

Twenty-eight years ago an eastern university law-school senior, paying his way by tutoring American history, questioned certain conclusions of Dean J. H. Wigmore, late of Northwestern University, as to the history of a provision of the fifth paragraph of the Federal Bill of Rights. Soon this student had run the indexes in the law and general libraries of Columbia University. He not only found nothing on the history of the Fifth Amendment, but found nothing indexed on the history of the many other provisions of the Bill of Rights. Librarians were consulted. The casual and unconcerned reply was: "We have nothing."

At the New York Public Library the answer was: "We have nothing." At the Harvard and Yale University libraries, the answer was: "We have nothing." Finally, at the Library of Congress, that supreme repository of the records of American civilization, the inquiring student stood speechless to hear the final verdict. It was: "We have nothing."

A quick look at the indexes revealed mountains of books on the history of the Declaration of Independence, a document that accords no constitutional right and affords no constitutional immunity, a document no man could use then or now to shield his naked body from the lash of tyrants, a document that served a noble but temporary purpose in the American Revolution, but which never drew one breath as living law.

The indexes at Harvard University library revealed many thousands of volumes on fish. A recent news item disclosed that Harvard's great Widener Library is the proud repository of 21,800 volumes on fish and fishing. But it does not yet contain one book on the history of the Federal Bill of Rights or any of those State bills of rights that preceded it and particularly the Virginia Bill of Rights, and upon which it was based. The most influential constitutional document ever penned by man was the Virginia Declaration of Rights of June 12, 1776. It was the grandfather of them all. Both it and its author await a Boswell.

The disillusioned and empty-handed student spent spare time for a full year, trying to find materials with which to set Dean Wigmore aright. Old unindexed records of American civilization were searched in boiler rooms and basements. Uncut leaves revealed that no other had traveled that way before.

At last he was able to piece together a semicoherent story of the historical evolution of the privilege against self-incrimination in America. A few years later the resulting paper was sent to Harvard Law Review, where it was rejected as uninteresting. Columbia Law Review rejected it for the same reason. Finally Virginia Law Review printed it as a space filler. Dean Wigmore picked it up in the third edition of his Work on Evidence, quoting that part of it that caused him to change and restate his views.

Justices Black and Douglas are especially fond of it. The Supreme Court has since cited it many times. Dean Griswold, of Harvard Law School, used it in his article on the subject in the June 1954 issue of the American Bar Association Journal. The Attorney General, Herbert Brownell, Jr., used it in his address to the Law Club of Chicago on November 6, 1953, in which he told the lawyers of Chicago more than once to see Pittman, "The Colonial and Constitutional History of the Privilege Against Self-Incrimination in America" (21 Va. L. Rev. 793, et. seq.).

Candor of mind displaced humility of heart, that I might tell that story for the first time. That student speaks to you now.

The shocking experience of the law school senior left in him an urge to place one book on the library shelves of America that would tell the history of each provision of the Federal Bill of Rights. For 27 years he accumulated materials. Hard earned and expended dollars soon became hundreds. Hundreds soon became thousands. It was early found that all the main roads of constitutional liberty in America bypassed big names to converge at last at a grand terminal with evolution's pioneer George Mason, of Gunston Hall. It was found that big names had borrowed from that fearless, humble, godly and forgotten man. It was soon learned why Jefferson regarded him the wisest man of his generation, why Madison described him the greatest debater he had ever heard speak, and why Patrick Henry named him the greatest statesman he had ever known.

The search was renewed with Mason as a guide. It was rewarding. Microfilms, photostats, and other material accumulated. The project outgrew the researcher.

Hon. R. Carter Pittman

In a later address Mr. Pittman added, "If you will again pardon a personal reference I will say that it was that study that gave to me a hobby in life that still possesses me. During that study I learned not only that liberty has had no historian in America but I learned that we have robbed libertarians of all credit and conferred that credit, in most cases, upon someone who rose to some position of power in America."

Through years of relentless study spanning the length and breadth of Western history, Mr. Pittman gradually earned respect and acclaim as a formidable authority on constitutional law. Members of the legal profession, governors, congressmen and senators, state legislators, historians and university faculty regularly sought his opinion on legal and historical questions. His authoritatives articles on constitutional law and history are cited in legal briefs and judicial rulings to this day.

Whether writing in distinguished journals, speaking out in televised interviews, delivering addresses before various civic functions, literary societies, and major universities throughout the country, Mr. Pittman's message always stirred and inspired. His recurring themes invoked respect for God and country, the importance of learning and honor, and the obligation each of us has inherited to actively defend our God-given liberties and preserve our Anglo-Saxon heritage.

"Mason had no Boswell, named no disciples and wrote no autobiography."

Mr. Pittman continued his research on George Mason, with the ultimate goal of authoring a definitive biography. In a letter to Judge Edward Dumbauld of Pennsylvania, Jan. 2, 1958, he wrote:

I have definitely declined appointment to the office of Judge of the Superior Court of the Cherokee Circuit in Georgia. I resigned as President of the States' Rights Council of Georgia after serving two years and I declined reappointment on the Board of Bar Examiners of the State of Georgia. I am turning more and more of my work over to associates in my office in the hope that I may realize my life's ambition to introduce to the world history's grand champion of human liberty in the person of George Mason. Within a few days a copying project will begin from which a chronological notebook is being made up of the unpublished writings of Mason.

Over a period of 40 years, he brought together the largest collection of primary and secondary source materials on George Mason ever compiled by a person or organization. These materials became the basis of the three volume set of The Papers of George Mason edited by Dr. Robert A. Rutland and published by the University of North Carolina Press. Dr. Rutland graciously acknowledged Mr. Pittman's role in the Introduction:

Among private collectors of manuscripts, no assistance has exceeded that afforded by Mr. R. Carter Pittman of Dalton, Georgia. Mr. Pittman's long-standing interest in Mason resulted in an extensive collection of microfilm and documentary reproductions which he generously offered the editor at the inception of the present work. Later, his editorial comments and guidance were of marked assistance.

Mr. Pittman's collection of research papers and microfilms are now housed in the library of Gunston Hall.

'Verily a great man hath fallen this day in Israel.'

In a 1957 address Mr. Pittman spoke of a man whose life paralleled his own:

Lord Acton, one of the deepest thinkers of the 19th century, spent most of his life accumulating materials for a history of liberty. After 40 years of research and preparation, he died in 1902 leaving a mass of materials that no later historian has undertaken to complete. Fortunately he had published a few newspaper articles and essays, some of which were republished as Essays on Freedom and Power, last reprinted in 1948. The history of liberty has never been written. The story of liberty has never been told. Libertarians seem always to die young, laboring at an unfinished task.

History repeated itself yet again on March 15, 1972. On this day, God called Mr. Pittman to rest from his earthly labors. Expressions of grieving and condolence poured in from around the country. William LaVarre, who had published essays of Mr. Pittman in the American Mercury, summed up the feeling of so many: "Your news of Patriot Pittman distresses me," he wrote to an associate,

His letters were always highly intelligent, as they were adamantly pro-Bible and pro-Constitutional Law. We will soon not have many, if any, Voices like his in our subverted Republic.

For generations Americans, no matter what their estates or bondage, will suffer from the acts, allowed, the Supreme Court of the '60s did to us . . . in its making of 9 Men "Law," rather than the judicial reviews that court should have been limited to. But we will survive, in some form, and many of our descendents—as some of us proudly look back on our Patriot ancestors—will benefit by having Carter Pittman, Attorney, as a memorable ancestor, acquaintance, or friend.

To Mrs. Pittman he wrote:

Although his grave may be mute, I know that his Good Works, and his legal and patriotic warnings, and prophesies, will never be silenced in our future history. He has left behind him, I am sure, in and out of Georgia, truths more eternal than any tombstone.

Sadly, the book on George Mason that had been Mr. Pittman's lifelong dream was not completed, and so a great volume is missing from the pantheon of classic American historical literature. But like Lord Acton, Mr. Pittman left behind numerous written works, published in prestigious legal and historical journals and popular periodicals. In these writings, a selection of which we are privileged to present, the Story of Liberty is finally told, its historical foundations clearly explained, and George Mason's role authoritatively documented.

"In order to preserve liberty, we must know its history.
We must analyze it, find its roots and fight to retain it."

Mr. Pittman issued clarion warnings to his fellow citizens that the liberties which we have so long taken for granted are in mortal danger, as our institutions of government have departed from the principles upon which our Republic was founded. He urged that we remember Col. Mason's exhortation to make "frequent recurrence to fundamental principles." And he expounded those fundamentals brilliantly, taking the reader back through centuries of Anglo-Saxon history, through the Colonial period to the Revolution, and then ahead to the 20th Century as he grappled with the assaults on our Constitution wrought in the most controversial and divisive issues of his day. His admonitions are more urgent now than when written.

And more than anyone else, Mr. Pittman brought George Mason, the Forgotten Founder, back to American consciousness. He presented Col. Mason as the great architect of constitutional liberty, whose mind and pen were indispensable in securing the rights of freemen in America—and throughout the world.

Through his tireless efforts in searching out and expounding the historical roots of our sacred heritage of liberty under law, and defending the essential foundations of our Constitutional Republic, R. Carter Pittman became Liberty's great apologist in our time, and bequeathed a worthy legacy to future generations of Americans.

—Joel T. LeFevre


Introduction to the George Mason Research Project
 (From a Letter to the Washington Post, January 23, 1954) 

Return to
Selected Works of
R. Carter Pittman