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The Virginia Declaration of Rights


[Committee Draft, 27 May 1776]

[Angle brackets < > in the text reflect the substantive changes from George Mason's first draft]

A DECLARATION of RIGHTS made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free Convention; <which rights do pertain to us, and our> posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.

Article 1

THAT all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent natural rights, of which they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; among which are, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

Article 2

That <all> power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them.

Article 3

That government is, or ought to be, instituted for the common benefit, <protection,> and security, of the people, nation, or community, of all the various modes and forms of government that is best, which is capable of producing the greatest degree of happiness and safety, and is most effectually secured against the danger of mal-administration; and that whenever any government shall be found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community hath an indubitable, unalienable, indefeasible right, to reform, alter, or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conductive to the publick Weal.

Article 4

That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but in consideration of publick services; which, not being descendible, or hereditary, the idea of a man born a magistrate, a legislator, or a judge, is unnatural and absurd.

Article 5

That the legislative and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from the judicative; and that the members of the two first may be restrained from oppression, by feeling and participating the burthens of the people, they should, at fixed periods, be reduced to a private station, return into that body from which they were <originally> taken, <and the vacancies be supplied> by frequent, certain, and regular elections.

Article 6

<That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, and attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage.>

Article 7

That no part of a man's property can be taken from him, or applied to publick uses, without his own consent, or that of his legal representatives; nor are the people bound by any laws but such as they have, in like manner, assented to, for their common good.

Article 8

<That all power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by any authority without consent of the representatives of the people, is injurious to their rights, and ought not to be exercised.>

Article 9

That laws having retrospect to crimes, and punishing offences, committed before the existence of such laws, are generally <oppressive,> and ought to be avoided.

Article 10

That in all capital or criminal prosecutions a man hath a right to demand the cause and nature of his accusation, to be confronted with the accusers or witnesses, to call for evidence in his favour, and to a speedy trial by an impartial jury of his vicinage, without whose unanimous consent he cannot be found guilty, <nor> can he be compelled to give evidence against himself; that <no man be deprived of his liberty except by the law of the land, or the judgment of his peers>.

Article 11

<That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines impossed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.>

Article 12

<That warrants unsupported by evidence, whereby any officer or messenger may be commanded or required to search suspected places, or to seize any person or persons, his or their property, not particularly described, are grievous and oppressive, and ought not to be granted.>

Article 13

That in controversies respecting property, and in suits between man and man, the ancient trial by jury is preferable to any other, and ought to be held sacred.

Article 14

That the freedom of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotick governments.

Article 15

<That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defence of a free state; that standing armies, in time of peace, should be avoided, as dangerous to liberty; and that, in all cases, the military should be under strict subordination to, and governed by, the civil power.>

Article 16

<That the people have a right to uniform government; and therefore, that no government separate from, or independent of, the government of Virginia, ought, of right, to be erected or established within the limits thereof.>

Article 17

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.

Article 18

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our CREATOR, and the manner of discharging it, can be <directed> only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the magistrate, unless, under colour of religion, any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or safety of society. And that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other.

A printed version of this draft in his the collections of the Virginia Historical Society. It was also published in the Pennsylvania Evening Post on June 6, 1776

First Draft by George Mason, ca. May 20-26 1776

Final Draft adopted by the Virginia Convention , June 12, 1776

For images of Mason's first draft, see the Library of Congress, American Treasures online exhibit, or directly at page 1, page 2, page 3.

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