|Colony into Commonwealth
The Virginia Declaration of Rights (VDR) was written by George Mason in 1776. This document contains many important ideas about human rights. These ideas are expressed below in 20th-century language.
Times have changed since the VDR was written. Mason talked about the rights of "all men." Most women in 1776 did not own property, so they did not have rights. Also, when Mason talked about "all men," he meant only "white men." Slaves did not have rights. In our modern version of the document, the words "all people" are used in place of "all men."
Read the 16 points, called articles, in the VDR. As a group, answer this question: What would happen if this right didn't exist today? After discussion, groups share their answers.
Choose one of the rights stated in the VDR. Draw a picture of men and women exercising this right today.
12 June 1776
This declaration of rights is made by the representatives of the people of Virginia. The rights are the foundation for the government of Virginia. They exist for people today and for people in the future.
1. All people are born free and independent. They have the right to find and own land and other property. They also have the right to a happy and safe life.
2. The people choose a government and allow a government to exist. The government must listen to what the people have to say.
3. A government is set up for the good of the people. If a majority of the people decide that the government is not helping or protecting them, they have the right to change or do away with the government.
4. People who work for the government should be paid for their work. However, they should not receive any extra money or special privileges.
5. The government is divided into three parts: the lawmakers, the administrators, and the judges. The lawmakers and administrators are elected and must serve the wishes of the people. From time to time, they should be asked to step down from their offices. In this way, they will keep in touch with the lives of ordinary citizens.
6. All people with property have the right to vote for who represents them in government. Their property cannot be taxed or taken away without their approval or the approval of their government representatives. People should only obey the laws which were made with the approval of their representatives.
7. The people give their elected representatives the right to do away with a law or to carry out a law. A government may only reject a law or make a law with the approval of the people's elected representatives.
8. When a person is accused of a crime, he has the right to ask about the details of the charge against him. He has the right to meet with the persons who are accusing him of the crime and the witnesses to the crime. He should receive a speedy and fair trial with a jury. During the trial, he is allowed to provide evidence to show that he is innocent. He is not forced to say anything against himself. His freedom may only be taken away when a jury decides that he has broken the law.
9. In a court case, the punishment must not be cruel or unusual. The amount of bail and fines charged must be fair.
10. Government officials must have evidence of a crime to search a particular place or arrest a person. A written order should be as specific as possible and should only be made when there is evidence to support it.
11. A trial by jury is the very best way to settle a disagreement between people or a disagreement that involves property.
12. In order to have a fair system of government, we must have freedom of the press. The government should not control the people who report the news.
13. A trained military force is necessary. The military should be made up of citizens of the community. The troops should only be called together in times of conflict. The government is in charge of the military at all times.
14. All people of Virginia have the right to participate in the government of Virginia. It would not be fair to the people to set up a government that is separate from this system.
15. A free government is only possible when everyone obeys the principles of justice, reason, and goodness.
16. All people have the right to practice the religion of their choice. It is the duty of citizens to show love and kindness towards each other.
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