It all started with founding father George Mason. On June 12, 1776, Mason's Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted unanimously by the Fifth Virginia Convention at Williamsburg. The document, which was the first to constitutionally defend the individual rights of man, heavily influenced the U.S. Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Bill of Rights and the French Revolution's Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.
Consequently, on Tuesday, 236 years after the fact, a small celebration was held at Mason's former home at Gunston Hall.
"This document put Virginia on the map, and we were respected around the world for what we said about government," said Del. Scott Surovell (D-44) to a room of 50 attendees at Gunston Hall. "This document was given a lot of attention. The people who signed it not just put their property and reputations on the line, but also their lives."
The Declaration of Rights says that all the legislative powers of government "should be vested in, and consequently derived from, the people… That all men are by nature free and equally independent, and have certain inherent rights…namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."
Virginia Sen. Toddy Puller (D-36) read a letter from Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell: "As citizens we must continue to honor and remember the legacy of George Mason and the Virginia Declaration of Rights," she said, quoting from McDonnell's letter.
Reenactor Don McAndrews has served as a reenactor for George Mason at Gunston Hall since 1995. "It took 10 years of research to be thoroughly ready for the intensity of this role," McAndrews told Patch. "Mason was a genius and it took detailed study so that I would be versed in national, state and local politics, law, economics, transportation, agriculture and religion.
"He had a discerning mind, and his judgement was so good that people came from all around to ask him questions. But he never wanted to travel at all. The furthest he ever got from his home was at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787," said McAndrews.
Gunston Hall Update
This week, the Regents of Gunston Hall held an executive committee meeting and named Mark Whatford as Acting Director of the plantation. Whatford fulfilled the 30-day requirement as interim director after the Regents fired director David Reese in April. A search committee for the Director job has been formed and a job description is being drafted.
"We need to reach an understanding whether the Director needs to be a Commonwealth employee," said First Regent Wylie Raab, adding that she hopes to meet with the Virginia Secretary of Education over the next month. "There are some Commonwealth employees at Gunston Hall and there are some Regent-funded employees, and we just need to get that all straightened out. "
There is no timeline for hiring a new Director, said Raab. Also, the Education Coordinator position will remain vacant until the Director position is filled. "We want the full-time director to have input on that selection," she said.
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