Gunston Hall Plantation Discover George Mason Title
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Making A Nation
Lesson Six


(Teacher: Please distribute with lesson, "Let's Explore the VDR!")

Most great ideas don't come out of thin air! Usually, great ideas grow out of past ideas. They are shaped, sometimes inspired, by what existed before.

When James Madison of Virginia wrote the United States Bill of Rights in 1789, he used ideas contained in the very first bill of rights for America. This was the Virginia Declaration of Rights (VDR), written by George Mason 13 years earlier.

(as a class)

The ten amendments, or sections of the U.S. Bill of Rights, appear on the next page in modern language. The amendments which were influenced by the VDR are marked. As you discuss the Bill of Rights, find the article of the VDR where this right was first described.

The Bill of Rights

The following amendments are to be added to the Constitution of the United States of America. These amendments were suggested by the Congress and ratified by the legislatures of two thirds of the states.

I. The government is not allowed to limit people's freedom of religion, of speech, and of the press.(The freedom of religion and freedom of the press are based on VDR articles ____ and ____.)

The people have the right to gather together peacefully and to ask the government to correct problems.

II. A well-run military, made up of citizens, is necessary to protect our freedom. (Based on VDR article ____)

Citizens have the right to carry weapons.

III.In times of peace, a person has the right to refuse to allow soldiers to live in his home. During a war, the government may limit this right.

IV. A person may only be arrested or searched for a good reason. His home or belongings may only be taken away or searched for a good reason. A written order, called a warrant, is needed to do this. The warrant must have evidence to back it up and must give the person, place, or thing to be arrested, searched, or taken away. (Complete amendment based on VDR article ____)

V. Only a grand jury may decide whether a person will go on trial for a crime involving life and death or for an evil crime. The only exception is when the accused is serving in the military during a time of war or a time of public danger.

A person may only be put on trial once for a crime.

A person should not be forced to testify against himself in a criminal case. (Based on VDR article ____)

A person's life, freedom, land, or belongings should not be taken away unlawfully. (Based on VDR articles ____ and ____)

Citizens must receive something equal in return when their land or belongings are taken away for the good of the country.

VI. A person accused of a crime has the right to a fair and speedy trial with a jury. (Based on VDR article ____)

He has the right to ask about the details of the charge against him. (Based on VDR article ____)

He has the right to know and meet with the persons who are testifying against him. (Based on VDR article _____)

He may ask the court to subpoena people who will testify on his behalf. (Based on VDR article ____)

He also has the right to a lawyer.

VII. In civil law cases involving more than twenty dollars, citizens have the right to a trial with a jury. (Based on VDR article _____)
[Civil law cases are generally conflicts between people about property, a contract, or individual rights.]

VIII. In a court case, the amount of bail and fines charged must be fair. The punishment must not be cruel or unusual. (Based on VDR article ____)

IX. The people have other rights beyond those which are specifically listed in this bill of rights.

X. The Constitution lists the powers of the federal government. It also lists the powers which may not be held by individual states. All other powers are given to the individual states, or to the people.


Do a class mural to illustrate how the Bill of Rights was inspired by Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights. Think of a catchy slogan to show the link between these two documents. Make drawings showing some of the rights in action, either today or in the 18th century.

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