To Mr. ———— Brent? [or George Mercer: See the new information at the bottom of this letter]
MY DEAR SIR Virginia, Gunston-Hall, October 2d: 1778
It gave me great pleasure, upon Receipt of your Favour of the 23d. of April, by Mr. Digges, to hear that you are alive & well, in a Country where you can spend your Time agreeably; not having heard a word from you, or of you, for two Years before. I am much obliged by the friendly Concern you take in my domestic Affairs, & your kind Enquiry after my Family; great Alterations have happen'd in it. About four years ago I had the Misfortune to lose my Wife: to you, who knew her, & the happy Manner in which we lived, I will not attempt to describe my Feelings: I was scarce able to bear the first Shock; a Depression of Spirits, & setled Melancholly followed, from which I never expect, or desire to recover. I determined to spend the Remainder of my Days in privacy & Retirement with my Children, from whose Society alone I cou'd expect Comfort: some of them are now grown up to Men & Women; and I have the Satisfaction to see them free from Vices, good-natured, obliging & dutiful. They all still live with me, & remain single, except my second Daughter Sally; who is lately married to my Neighbour Mr. McCarty's Son. My eldest Daughter Nancy (who is blessed with her Mother's amiable Disposition) is Mistress of my Family, & manages my little domestic Matters, with a Degree of Prudence far above her Years. My eldest Son George engaged early in the American Cause, & was chosen Ensign of the first independent Company formed in Virginia, or indeed on the Continent, it was commanded by the Present General Washington as Captain, & consisted entirely of Gentlemen. In the Year 1775 he was appointed a Captain of Foot, in one of the first Minute-Regiments raised here, but was soon obliged to quit the Service, by a violent Rheumatic Disorder; which has followed him ever since, & I believe will force him to try the Climate of France or Italy. My other Boys have not yet finished their Education; as soon as they do, if the War continues they seem strongly inclined to take an active part.
In the Summer 75 I was much against my Inclination drag'd out of my Retirement, by the People of my County, & sent a Delegate to the General Convention at Richmond, where I was appointed a Member of the first Committee of Safety; & have since, at different times, been chosen a Member of the Privy Council, & of the American Congress; but have constantly declined acting in any other public character than that of an independent Representative of the People, in the House of Delegates; where I still remain, from a Consciousness of being able to do my Country more Service there than in any other Department; and have ever since, devoted most of my Time to public Business; to the no small Neglect & Injury of my private Fortune; but if I can only live to see the American Union firmly fixed, and free Governments well established in our western world, and can leave to my children but a Crust of Bread, & Liberty, I shall die satisfied; and say with the Psalmist "Lord now lettest thou thy Servant depart in Peace." To shew you that I have not been an idle Spectator of this great Contest, and to amuse you with the Sentiments of an old Friend upon an important Subject I inclose you a Copy of the first Draught of the Declaration of Rights, just as it was drawn by me, & presented to the Virginia Convention, where it received few Alterations; some of them I think not for the better; this was the first thing of the kind upon the Continent, and has been closely imitated by all the other States. There is a remarkable Sameness in all the Forms of Government throughout the American Union, except in the States of South Carolina & Pensylvania; the first having three Branches of Legislature, and the last only one; all the other States have two; this Difference has given general Disgust, and it is probable an Alteration will soon take Place, to assimilate these to the Constitutions of the other States. We have laid our new Government upon a broad Foundation, & have endeavoured to provide the most effectual Securties for the essential Rights of human nature, both in Civil and Religious liberty; the People become every Day more & more attach'd to it; and I trust that neither the Power of Great Britain, nor the Power of Hell will be able to prevail against it.
There never was an idler or a falser Notion than that which the British Ministry have imposed upon the Nation "that this great Revolution has been the Work of a Faction, of a Junto of ambitious Men against the Sense of the People of America." On the Contrary, nothing has been done without the Approbabtion of the People, who have indeed out run their Leaders; so that no capital Measure hath been adopted, until they called loudly for it: to any one who knows Mankind, there needs no greater Proof than the cordial Manner in which they have co-operated, and the Patience & Perseverance with which they have strugled under their Sufferings; which have been greater than you, at a Distance, can conceive, or I describe. Equally false is the Assertion that Independence was originally designed here; things have gone such Lengths, that it is a Matter of Moonshine to us, whether Independence was at first intended, or not; and therefore we may now be believed. The truth is, we have been forced into it, as the only means of self-preservation, to guard our Country & posterity from the greatest of all Evils, such another infernal Government (if it deserves the Name of Government) as the Provinces groaned under, in the latter Ages of the Roman Commonwealth. To talk of replacing us in the Situation of 1763, as we first asked, is to the last Degree absurd, & impossible; they obstinately refused it, while it was in their power, and now, that it is out of their Power, they offer it. Can they raise our Citys out of their Ashes? Can they replace, in Ease & Affluence, the thousands of Familys whom they have ruined? Can they restore the Husband to the widow, the Child to the Parent, or the Father to the Orphan? In a word, can they reanimate the Dead? Our Country has been made a scene of Desolation & Blood. Enormities & Cruelties have been committed here, which not only disgrace the British Name, but dishonour the human kind! We can never again trust a People who have thus used us. Human Nature revolts at the Idea! The Die is cast—the Rubicon is passed—and a Reconciliation with Great Britain, upon the Terms of returning to her Government is impossible.
No man was more warmly attach'd to the Hanover Family & the Whig Inter[e]st of England than I was, & few Men had stronger Prejudices in Favour of that Form of Government under which I was born & bred, or a greater Aversion to changing it; it was ever my Opinion that no good Man wou'd wish to try so dangerous an Experiment upon any speculative Notions whatsoever, without any absolute Necessity.
The ancient Poets, in their elegant manner of Expression have made a kind of Being of Necessity, and tell us that the Gods themselves are obliged to Yield to her.
When I was first a Member of the Convention, I exerted myself to prevent a Confiscation of the King's Quit-Rents; and altho' I was for putting the Country imediatly into a State of Defence, and preparing for the worst; yet as long as we had any well founded hopes of the Reconciliation, I opposed, to the utmost of my Power, all violent Measures, & such as might shut the Door to it; but when Reconciliation became a lost Hope, when unconditional Submission, or effectual Resistance, were the only Alternatives left us, when the last dutiful & humble petition from Congress received no other Answer than declaring us Rebels, and out of the King's protection, I from that Moment look'd forward to a Revolution & Independence, as the only means of Salvation; and will risque the last Penny of my Fortune, & the last Drop of my Blood upon the Issue: for to imagine that we cou'd resist the Efforts of Great Britain, still professing ourselves her Subjects, or support a defensive War against a powerful Nation, without the Reins of Government in the Hands of America (whatever our pretended Friends in Great Britain may say of it) is too childish & futile an Idea to enter into the Head of any Man of Sense. I am not singular in my Opinions; these are the Sentiments of more than nine tenths of the best men in America.
God has been pleased to bless our Endeavours, in a Just Cause, with Remarkable Success. To us upon the Spot, who have seen Step by Step, the progress of this great Contest, who know the defenceless State of America in the Beginning, & the numberless Difficultys we have had to struggle with, taking a retrospective view of what is passed, we seem to have been treading upon enchanted Ground. The Case is now altered, American prospects brighten, and appearances are strongly in our Favour: the British Ministry must, & will acknowledge us independent States, but (judging of the future by the past) if they act consistently, they will delay this, until mutual Injuries & Resentments are further agravated, until our growing Prejudices against Great Britain (are more firmly rooted, and until we become better reconciled to foreign manufactures and foreign manners. It will not require many years to accomplish this, and then the wisdom of the British councils will seize the auspicious moment to recognize the independence of America.
The present plan of the British ministry seems to be to corrupt and bribe the Congress; but in this, as they have in everything else, they will be disappointed; not that I imagine that there are no rotten members in so numerous a body of men. Among the twelve apostles there was a Judas—but they are too much in the power of the Assemblies of their respective States, and so thoroughly amenable to the people, that no man among them, who values his own life, dares to tamper; and upon this rock the safety of America is founded.
I have thus given you a long and faithful, and I fear you will think a tedious account of the political state of affairs here; my opportunities of knowing them are equal to most men's, and the natural anxiety you must have to be well informed of the situation of your native country, at so important a crisis, will apologize for the trouble.
We have had 200,000 acres of land laid off, marked and bounded in one survey for the Ohio [Company]) . . .
Source: 1 The Papers of George Mason, 433-437 (Robert A. Rutland ed. (1970).
The addressee of this letter is probably in error. Editor Robert A. Rutland goes into length about the letter and dismisses Kate Mason Rowland's assertion that it was to George Mercer. Although Rutland notes that John Mason later produced a copy and stated "Much of it Printed in Va. Hist. Mag. ii. 28" Robert Rutland apparently never tracked down that magazine which is now available. It confirms what Kate Mason Rowland stated as written by George Mason's grandson James Murray Mason (Son of John Mason) a Senator of the United States from Virginia See page 21. Clearly James Mason has the best insight of who this letter was written to: George Mercer a relative of the family (Son of John Mercer) and the infamous first Stamp Act Collector in Virginia. George Mercer was also a member of the Ohio Company which also fits the last notation written by George Mason's letter. George Mercer later went to live in the original Mason ancestral county of Staffordshire England and married there in 1767.