Virginia Bill of Rights
Even before Congress
declared independence, the process of creating new governments was well
under way. Meeting in what they called a "full and free convention," the
"representatives of the good people of Virginia" voted this declaration
of rights. It was, the convention declared, to serve as the "basis and
foundation of government." The declaration was drafted by George Mason-though
Patrick Henry wrote the article on religious freedom.
- That all men are by nature equally free and independent and
have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of
society, they cannot by any compact deprive or divest their posterity;
namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring
and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.
- 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.
- 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 maladministration; and that when any government shall be
found inadequate or contrary to these purposes, a majority of the community
hath an indubitable, unalienable and indefeasible right to reform, alter
or abolish it, in such manner as shall be judged most conducive to the
- 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, neither ought the offices of magistrate, legislator
or judge to be hereditary.
- That the legislative
and executive powers of the state should be separate and distinct from
the judiciary; 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, in which all,
or any part of the former members to be again eligible or ineligible, as
the laws shall direct.
- 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, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property
for publick uses, without their own consent, of that of their representatives
so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner,
assented for the public good.
- 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.
- 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 and 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.
- That excessive
bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and
unusual punishments inflicted.
- That general
warrants, whereby an officer or messenger may be commanded to search suspected
places without evidence of a fact committed, or to seize any person or
persons not named, or whose offence is not particularly described and supported
by evidence, are grievous and oppressive, and ought not to be granted.
- 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.
- That the freedom
of the press is one of the great bulwarks of liberty, and can never be
restrained but by despotick governments.
- 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.
- That the people
have a right to uniform government; and, therefore, that no government
separate from, or independent of the government of Virginia, ought to be
erected or established within the limits thereof.
- That no free
government, or the blessings 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. 16. 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 all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion,
according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty
of all to practise Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each