George Washington Papers

To George Washington from George Mason, 23 December 1765

From George Mason

Gunston-Hall 23d Decemr 1765.


Inclosed is the Scheme I promised You for altering the Method of replevying Goods under Distress for Rent: I thought it necessary to explain fully the Land-lord’s Right by the common-Law, to shew that our Act of Assembly was a mere Matter of Indulgence, & that an Alteration of it now will be no Incroachment upon the Tenant:1 the first Part of it has very little to do with the Alteration proposed, & only inculcates a Doctrine I was always fond of promoting, & which I cou’d wish to see more generally adopted than it is like to be:2 the whole is indeed much longer than it might have been, but that You will excuse as a natural Effect of the very idle Life I am forced to lead.3 I beg You will alter such parts of it as either of You think exceptionable.4

If I had the Act of Assembly obliging our Vestry to pay for the Glebe &c. I wou’d prepare a Petition for Redress, & get it signed in Time.5

Wishing the Familys at Belvoir & Mount-Vernon all the Mirth & Happiness of the approaching Festival, I am Gentm. Yr most obdt Hble Sert

G. Mason

ALS, DLC:GW. George Mason (1725–1792) addressed the letter “To Colo. Geo: Fairfax & Colo. Geo. Washington.”

1The enclosed “Scheme” is in DLC:GW and is printed in Rutland, Mason Papers description begins Robert A. Rutland, ed. The Papers of George Mason, 1725–1792. 3 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1970. description ends , 1:61–65. Faced with the prospect of the closing of most of the Virginia courts as a consequence of the general determination not to use the stamped paper for legal transactions as required by the Stamp Act, Mason was calling for legislation that would prevent on the one hand a defaulting tenant’s goods being “imediatly exposed to Sale” and on the other “the Landlord” losing “his Rent.” This could be achieved, Mason argued, by allowing the tenant to appear before a single justice and upon presenting proper security obtain a three-month delay in the forced sale of his goods (ibid.).

2The “first Part” of Mason’s “Scheme” was an indictment of slavery as it existed in Virginia. It began: “The Policy of encouraging the Importation of free People & discouraging that of Slaves has never been duly considered in this Colony, or we shou’d not at this Day see one Half of our best Lands in most Parts of the Country remain unsetled, & the other cultivated with Slaves; not to mention the ill Effect such a Practice has upon the Morals & Manners of our People: one of the first Signs of the Decay, & perhaps the primary Cause of the Destruction of the most flourishing Government that ever existed was the Introduction of great Numbers of Slaves—an Evil very pathetically described by the Roman Historians—but ’tis not the present Intention to expose our Weakness by examining this Subject too freely” (ibid.). Mason wrote “I” both before and after “which.”

3Mason suffered from gout throughout his adult life.

4At the end of his proposal, Mason assured GW and Fairfax that “any little Errors or Deficiencys in this Scheme may be easily corrected in drawing up the Law” (ibid.). If it was Mason’s expectation that GW as one of the burgesses from Fairfax County would introduce a bill effecting Mason’s “Scheme,” as seems to be the case, it was not realized, for well before the assembly again met on 6 Nov. 1766 word had arrived in Virginia that the Stamp Act had been repealed in the preceding spring, making the proposed legislation unneeded.

5Mason is undoubtedly referring to the act passed in the October 1765 session of the legislature calling for the division of Truro Parish. This act provided for the money collected during the previous year in Truro for tithables to be equitably divided between the two parishes, including the money expended for the glebe and plate. See Vestry Elections in Truro and Fairfax Parishes, 25–28 Mar. and 22–25 July 1765, and notes, and 8 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 157–59. On 18 Nov. 1766 a petition was presented in the House of Burgesses asking that the part of the act passed in 1765 relating to the glebe and plate be repealed and a new act passed to enable Truro Parish to sell its glebe and plate, divide the sum received with Fairfax Parish, and purchase another glebe in a convenient part of the parish. The act passed on 25 November. See ibid., 202–3, and JHB, 1766–1769 description begins H. R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia. 13 vols. Richmond, 1905–15. description ends , 30, 38.

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