A Biography of George Mason 1725-1792
Public LifeWhat first drew Mason into public life was involvement as an officer in the Ohio Company, a group of local land speculators that included his friend and neighbor, George Washington. At the time, British royal policy prohibited settlement west of the Appalachians, and the Ohio Company lobbied to open the West for settlement. When war broke out on the frontier, Mason acted as supply agent for troops commanded by Washington. This service in the French and Indian War earned Mason the rank of colonel in the Virginia Militia, although he never served in the field.
It was oppressive British tax policies that got Mason involved in the political arena. New and steeper taxes imposed by the ministers of George III led to Mason's writing in 1766 an open letter "To the Committee of Merchants in London" that was published in the London Public Ledger. Later, when taxation grew even harsher, Mason became involved in the inter-colonial Committees of Correspondence and the drafting of nonimportation resolves that were boycotts of British products.
In the midst of this burgeoning conflict, Mason's wife died in 1773 after a lingering illness. Her death at age 39 left Mason with nine children to raise as well as a plantation to run, yet he continued his anti-taxation efforts. In July 1774, Mason and Patrick Henry spent the night at Mount Vernon, where Mason wrote the Fairfax Resolves, a statement of the colonists' position. The next day, Washington left to carry the document to the Virginia House of Burgesses and the Continental Congress.
When Washington was named Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, Mason was prevailed upon to take his friend's seat in the Virginia Legislature. What he first saw of what he called the "parties and factions which prevailed" did little to allay his suspicions of government service. He wrote Washington that "I was never in so disagreeable a situation, and almost despaired of a cause which I saw so ill conducted. Mere vexation and disgust threw me into such an ill state of health that before the convention rose, I was sometimes near fainting in the House." However, he did concede that "after some weeks, the babblers were pretty well silenced [and] a few weighty members began to take the lead."
Mason continued to serve reluctantly in the Assembly, although he regularly arrived late for sessions, on one occasion giving as an excuse a bad reaction to a smallpox inoculation. However, once he arrived, no other legislator was as prolific, respected, or thorough.
At the time of the Revolution, Virginia was basically instituting a new government, as were all the Colonies, and Mason had a hand in every major facet. During one session, John Augustine Washington, brother of George, wrote to Richard Henry Lee,
"I have not yet heard particularly what our Assembly are about; but it is said it will be a short session, unless Colonel Mason who is not yet got down, should carve out more business for them than they have yet thought of."Mason's fiscal acumen also was widely respected. George Washington wrote:
"It is much to be wished that a remedy could be applied to the depreciation of our currency. I know of no person better qualified to do this than Colonel Mason and shall be very happy to hear that he has taken it in hand."