Profiles in Courage: Season 1, Episode 25

George Mason (2 May 1965)

TV Episode  -   -  Biography | Drama | History
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Hellinger
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Wythe
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Arthur Franz ...
John Graham ...
Thomas Mathews
...
Governor Randolph
Laurence Naismith ...
John Raglin ...
Wheeler
...
Peckham (as Herbert Voland)
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2 May 1965 (USA)  »

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The real father of the Bill of Rights
2 November 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Laurence Naismith was on many programs in the 1960s through the 1990s,and is best remembered (perhaps) for playing Captain Edward J. Smith of the R.M.S. Titanic in the 1958 film A NIGHT TO REMEMBER. He was a good journeyman actor, in all types of roles. I even recall him in an episode of TWELVE O'CLOCK HIGH as a German agent and assassin.

He is playing the role of George Mason. WHO HE? He was the forgotten Virginian founding father who left one of the biggest imprints in American life.

Mason had been heavily involved in the debates leading to the American Revolution, and in the national debates involving the Federal Constitution. Actually, he was very unimpressed by the final 1787 Constitution, and refused to back it. It passed in Virginia (with some difficulties) because of his opposition.

What was the cause of this opposition? Mason felt that while the balance of powers approach of the document was interesting - even commendable - it was not enough. It split the Federal government into three branches to check each other's powers. It also tried to divide power between the states and the Federal branches to protect local government rights. Again, well and good as far as it went. But Mason felt the document said zilch about the rights of the citizens.

Actually he was not alone in this (which was why he nearly derailed Virginia ratifying the Constitution). Patrick Henry had been offered a chance to participate in the Philadelphia Convention, but (as he colorfully put it), he smelt a rat! Thomas Jefferson was our Minister to France, and was kept informed by his pal James Madison about the new Constitution and the reception it got here. Although Madison was already regarded as "The Father of the Constitution", he was not fully happy about the final document either. But it had to be passed as the start of the process.

So Virginia did ratify, and eventually 11 of the states (ending with New York State) ratified (the hold outs were North Carolina and Rhode Island, though the latter ratified soon after New York did, and Rhode Island came in in 1790.

Mason now urged Madison to put in what the convention left out: a set of amendments guaranteeing rights to the citizens. It took two years of work, involving Mason, Madison, Henry, John Dickenson (our old acquaintance from the movie 1776 - he was also into guaranteeing rights of individuals in the Federal Constitution), and then in 1791 the "Bill of Rights" (the first ten amendments of the Constitution) were passed. They are Mason's monument.

He wasn't totally happy though. Mason was upset about slavery, and would free his own slaves. He tried to get an anti-slavery amendment into the Constitution, but even Madison was opposed to the attempt. It was his only failure in his work.


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