George Mason, like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, was happiest at home, either in the fields and woods, with a good book by the hearth, or entertaining neighbors and family. Living close to the soil, time was measured by the rhythms of nature. The flow of the seasons brought different activities: planting and harvesting, fishing and hunting, visiting neighbors in winter, and strolling through the gardens in summer. There was time for church, social gatherings, dances and parties, especially during the Christmas season. All took place in the community and around the home, and for George Mason, home was Gunston Hall in Fairfax County, Virginia. Traditions ran deep, with kith and kin close by and entertainments mostly homemade. Mason and many of his contemporaries loved to experiment with plants and took pride in their gardens. Gunston Hall was noted for the beautiful English boxwood that lined the walk from the house to a beautiful view of the Potomac River.
The years when these boxwood sent their roots into the Virginia soil, were the years the American republic took root on these shores. Visitors such as Washington, Jefferson, and other patriots, neighbors and family, walked down the garden paths, and guided by the boxwood, took in the vista of the distant Potomac River, the artery of trade in this region. As children played, talk of domestic concerns and the nature of American rights and liberties was heard on these grounds.
An early opponent of English abuse of Colonial rights, Mason was the principal drafter of the Fairfax Resolves, which his neighbor, George Washington, took to the Virginia Convention in Williamsburg. There a slightly altered version was approved, including an embargo of English goods. The Resolves stated the Colonial view of their constitutional rights and the limit of Parliament’s authority to legislate for the colonies. While the colonies remained, for the time, loyal to the king, some were beginning to see a future separation as the only guard against English abuse of their rights.
The Virginia Convention sent delegates to the First Continental Congress, and when it passed a similar embargo, George Mason’s influence could be seen on the larger political stage. Mason wrote the very influential Virginia Declaration of Rights as well as the state’s first Constitution. He was mistrustful of those supporting big government after the War for Independence, and although he contributed much to the writing of the Constitution, he did not sign it. Among the reasons he opposed the Constitution as it stood, were the lack of a bill of rights, the fact it did not immediately end the importation of slaves, and his fear the North would dominate the South with tariffs. James Madison would introduce a bill of rights in the first Congress, but the slave trade would not end immediately and Mason would be disappointed that a supermajority was not required for trade and economic legislation. Mason, like many other Founders, was also concerned about state sovereignty.
The Constitution would not have been ratified had the states not believed the new government was their servant, and they the source of sovereignty. North Carolina and Rhode Island were not invaded after failing to ratify the Constitution, nor did they invade any of their neighboring states which had seceded from the Articles of Confederation and acceded to the Constitution. Unfortunately, a few decades later, 1861 would see just such an invasion.
The Founders were statesmen, jealous of their liberty and protective of the rights they had won. They saw government as a necessary evil, but also something which must be limited. The prophet Jeremiah told us “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick.” For the Founders, man was a fallen creature and could not rule himself, so how could he rule others? Therefore, Jefferson and others believed he must be bound by the chains of the Constitution.
The Founders were familiar with the sentiment, later stated by Lord Acton in a letter to Bishop Creighton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
A similar quote, often erroneously attributed to George Washington, that “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force; like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master,” was a sentiment embraced by most of our Founding Fathers. Lord Acton goes so far as to say that “Authority that does not exist for Liberty is not authority but force.”
Opposed to this skeptical view of government as guardian of liberty and rights was the view of government as a means of extracting money and favours. Crass politicians, corrupt men, stock jobbers and bankers- John Taylor of Caroline believed that those who made money by pushing paper were parasites, as opposed to those who produced something desirable. Men seeking to use government to gain advantages and money, for themselves and their supporters, led to the rise of parties.
The curse of parties is their lust for power, enabling them to use the government, with or without the Constitution, to procure money and power. The development of a commercial/industrial economy in the North and an agrarian economy in the South, led parties to become more regional. The balance of power in Congress began to shift, with the North beginning to achieve a majority. The Bostonian lust for money, and the belief that they were chosen to remake the world in their image, became a dangerous combination that threatened the political order. No longer were the states united in pursuing the principles of the Founding Fathers.
Tariffs began rising in the 1820’s, becoming more unjust with time. This caused the South to be unfairly burdened with paying higher tariffs if they imported finished goods, or higher prices if they bought those same goods from the North. A great transfer of wealth was under way, from the South to the North. Other issues besides the plundering of the South separated the two regions: slavery and the proper role of the general government chief among them. With these issues unresolved, a crisis was reached. The North refused compromise, and its reaction to Southern secession was barbaric invasion.
A war of devastation followed with wanton destruction of private as well as governmental property. A brutal “Reconstruction” that was economic, societal, and political followed. Corruption and military occupation continued the destruction of the South. The republic of the Founders lay in ashes, with a Northern dominated mercantile empire rising in its place. The fear of many of the Founders had come to pass. Not only was America made to suffer, but liberty suffered around the world when the South lost it war for independence. The great British historian, Lord Acton, in a letter to Robert E. Lee after the war, stated: “Therefore I deemed that you were fighting the battles of our liberty, our progress, and our civilization: and I mourn for the stake which was lost at Richmond more deeply than I rejoice over that which was won at Waterloo.”
It has often been stated, by different people, that democracies cannot be long lived. Once one group discovers they can vote themselves benefits at the expense of others, the seeds of destruction are sown. The eventual result is despotism. In Tyranny Unmasked, John Taylor of Caroline stated, “Ambition and avarice are the passions which produce civilized tyranny.”
This tyranny today reigns all around us. Large segments of our government, media, and academia are united in a battle to destroy our traditional civilization…..the civilization which has given the world a tradition of liberty and self government. Evidence of our fall is all around us: flags, statues, monuments are being torn down by mobs, often while police look on. Not only are niceties not observed, neither are legalities. First is was Confederate statues- Silent Sam, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and many more. These are men considered great Americans, by those North and South, and by those around the world. Now it can be any historical figure- Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Father Junipero Serra…fill in the blank with the next victim of the ignorant social injustice crowd. History is being rewritten to provide cover for these crimes.
Politicians, not known for their morality, encourage this destruction. They have no principles, and simply stick their fingers in the air to see which way the wind blows. Money, power and votes are their stock and trade. We see politicians make a promise, only to have them discard it when the going gets tough. Not something most of the Founders would understand. We would do well to remember that ‘lies are from the pit of hell, and smell like smoke.’
Government policy has given us broken homes and broken families. We have not only economic poverty, but poverty of the soul. The desire to work hard and believe you can have a better life has been replaced with the long odds of accepting victimhood status and demanding a handout. We are not allowed to have heroes, especially traditional ones, as they would upset the general government’s victimhood narrative. Babies are not safe, in or out of the womb. Christians are under attack, as well as families. We send our children to school, where we used to recite Bible verses; now the schools confiscate Bibles and ridicule students. In the past, tar and feathering would not be out of the question for a teacher who committed such an atrocity… at least in the South. No wonder society seems to be falling apart around us. A nation of lies cannot long survive.
We not only can’t balance a federal budget, we do not have a budget, though one is mandated by the Constitution. It is ironic that millions of Americans balance their family budget, while their representatives will not balance their national one. Unfortunately, far too many Americans follow their governments lead and borrow money to pay their bills, rather than make the hard decision to live within their means. The Bible has warnings against going down this road, as individuals or a nation.
Our universities are bastions of diversity, just not diversity of opinion. The free exchange of ideas is frowned upon. The greatest tragedy is that today the vast majority of people do not know the simple facts of our history. They go through a sad charade, thinking we live in the same country as Washington, Mason, Madison and Jefferson. They see no irony in calling their capital Washington, D.C., though Washington would surely lead another revolution against such corruption and cowardice. We have elected officials who refuse to do their duty, and calmly let unelected paper pushers usurp power which is not theirs to weild. Thousands of these bureaucrats do absolutely no work, but take the money of hard working Americans. John Taylor of Caroline’s feared unelected bureaucrats and the commercial/banking interests would be our demise. We now have that paper aristocracy which he feared… and it is running our government.
The Abbeville Institute’s symbol, the palmetto tree, has roots which run deep in the Southern soil of tradition. This tradition gave rise to the republic of the Founders. It moved Western, Christian civilization into new territory. Then this tradition ran into modernity, in all its ugly facets-progressivism, political correctness, relativism, and the misnamed social justice movement, to name a few.
This tradition, the permanent things, the product of those living close to the soil, is being uprooted. It is being uprooted by a force that has no mind, no heart, no soul.
Standing with George Mason, one would have seen his gardens, the fields and forests stretching down to the Potomac. One could not see, a few miles up that river, what would become the federal city, sprawling like Babylon along the river as it flowed from the mountains to the sea. The foul smell of waste, corruption, and decay better describe what it would become. Among their gardens, Washington at Mount Vernon, and Mason, at Gunston Hall, the sages and their families would smell the flowers and the boxwood. They could not conceive of what would become of the republic they bequeathed to America.
Recently I talked with Dr. James Kibler, and commenting on these gardens, he said, “The boxwood are the glory of Gunston Hall.” I remember visiting Gunston Hall with my family in the mid 1960s. Our family had come from farmer stock, and were agrarian minded. The boxwood were as much the highlight of the visit as talk of the Bill of Rights. Now the boxwood have fallen on hard times and the decision has been made to dig them up. Experts believe that at 230 years old, the plants may be at the end of their natural life. The boxwood was planted amidst such hope as the Colonies won their independence, and went about the process of protecting their hard won liberties. Perhaps the boxwood just does not understand how a country with so much promise could go so far astray. Nor would George Mason.