The Sept. 29 Metro article “Confronting GMU’s history of slavery” did not tell the whole story. As one of George Mason’s descendants, I am proud of his many accomplishments, including authoring the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights , which later became the basis of the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. He wrote the Fairfax Resolves and Virginia’s constitution. I am also sorry he was a slave owner. Although he “consistently voiced his disapproval of slavery . . . his conduct was another matter.”

Mason was born in a slaveholding state to a slaveholding family, and he saw no easy way out of the institution. His objective on slavery was to not allow it to spread to non-slave states, thereby limiting the damage. Mason walked out of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, refusing to sign the Constitution because there was no Bill of Rights, and he wanted to end the slave trade. Peter Wallenstein opined that “perhaps we can come to terms with his legacy — with how far we have come, how much we have gained, whether because of him or despite him, and, too, with how much we may have lost. Surely there is much of Mason that we cherish, wish to keep, and can readily celebrate.”

Although Mason’s writings are unparalleled, any judgment of him as a man must be viewed in the same light as Washington, Jefferson, Madison and other prominent slaveholders. These men had misgivings about slavery, but none disentangled from it. There were no simple solutions.

Townsend A. "Van" Van Fleet, Alexandria

AD
AD