The Virginia Declaration of Rights 1776
- 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, whenever 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 public weal.
- That no man, or set of men, are entitled to exclusive
or separate emoluments or privileges from the community, but
in consideration of public services; which, not being
descendible, neither ought the offices of magistrate,
legislator, or judge be hereditary.
- That the legislative and executive powers of the state
should be separate and distinct from the judicative; 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
- 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 public uses
without their own consent or 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 favor, 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 judgement 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 any 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 offense 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 greatest bulwarks
of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
- That a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the
people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense
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 be 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.
- That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed 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 practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
Adopted unanimously June 12, 1776
Virginia Convention of Delegates
drafted by Mr. George Mason