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title:“Protest against the Creation of a Fairfax-Loudoun District to Choose a Representative in Congress”
authors:George Mason
date written:1791-1-24

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last updated:Jan. 22, 2013, 7:59 a.m. UTC
retrieved:Feb. 6, 2023, 11:50 a.m. UTC

Mason, George. "Letter to Choose a Representative in Congress." The Papers of George Mason. Vol. 3. Ed. A Rutland. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1970. 1219-23. Print.
Manuscript, College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.

Protest against the Creation of a Fairfax-Loudoun District to Choose a Representative in Congress (January 24, 1791)

[post 24 January 1791]
The essential Difference between the Citizens of a free Country, and the Subjects of arbitrary or despotic Governments, or in other Words, between Freemen and Slaves, consists principally in this. That the Citizens of a free Country chuse the Men who are to make Laws for them, and are therefore governed by no Laws, but such [as] are made by Men of their own chusing in whom they can confide, who are amenable to them; and if they abuse their Trust, can be turned out, at the next Election. But the Subjects of arbitrary Governments, having no such Right of Suffrage, in electing their own Law-makers, are governed by Laws made by Men, whom they do not chuse, who therefore are not amenable to them, over whom they have no Controul, in whom they have no Confidence, with whom they have no common Interest, or fellow-feeling; and whose Interest and Views may be, and frequently will be, in direct Contrast and Opposition to the Rights and Interest of the Bulk of the People. Hence Proceed partial and unjust Laws, Oppression, and every Species of Tyranny. From these Premises it is evident, that this Right of Suffrage, in the Choice of their own Law-makers, is the Foundations and Support of all the other Rights and Privileges of Freemen. And whenever they shall be deprived of it, all their other Rights and Privileges must soon moulder away, and tumble to the Ground. Whenever it shall be impaired or weakened, all the other Rights and Privileges of a free People will be impaired or weakened, in the same Proportion. And whenever, under any Pretence whatever, the Substance of this fundamental and precious Right of Suffrage shall be so far undermined, or invalidated, as to leave the Name or Shadow of it only to the People, or to any particular Part of the People; from thence forward, such People will possess only the Name and Shadow of Liberty; which without the Substance, is not worth preserving.
It is surely therefore the Duty of Freemen—a Duty which they owe to themselves, to their Country, to their Children, and to Generations yet unborn—to watch over, and guard this sacred and inestimable Right of Suffrage; and with manly Firmness, to resist the smallest Attempt of Invasion, or Encroachment on it; for every Encroachment will grow into a Precedent for some other Encroachment.
There is great Cause to apprehend, that at the next Session of the Virginia Assembly, an Attempt will be made, to deprive the People of Fairfax County of their Right of Suffrage, in chusing Members of Congress; or which amounts to nearly the same thing, to take from them the Substance, and leave them only the Name and Shadow of chusing.
When the new Constitution for the general Government of the United States of America was first formed, Virginia was entitled to send only ten Members to the House of Representatives in Congress. The whole State of Virginia was therefore laid off into only ten Districts; each of which chose one Member. Kentucky being one the those ten Districts, chose one of the said ten Members. The six Countys of King George, Stafford, Prince William, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Fauquier, composed another of those ten Districts, for chusing one of the said ten Members. But by the Census, or Enumeration of all the Inhabitants of the United States, taken last Year, the Number of Members in the House of Representatives, from almost every State in the Union, will be greatly encreased. From Virginia the Number will be more than doubled, and consequently the Number of the former Districts must be more than doubled also, and the Size and Extent of them lessened in the same Proportion: for at the next Election, some time in the Course of next Winter, Virginia, instead of sending nine Members (exclusive of Kentucky) to the House of Representatives in Congress, will be entitled to send twenty one Members, exclusive of Kentucky. And for this Purpose, when our Assembly meets next October, Virginia (exclusive of Kentucky) will be arranged, or laid off into twenty one Districts; each of which to chuse one Member. The five Countys of Stafford, Prince William, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Fauquier (leaving out the County of King George, to be added to some of the lower Countys) will now form two compleat Districts: and it will be attempted to make Fairfax and Loudoun compose one of these two Districts; and Stafford, Prince William, and Fauquier, compose the other District; by which Means, the Substance of the Right of Suffrage, in electing Members of Congress, will be taken from the People of Fairfax, and the Name or Shadow only left them: for the Voters in Loudoun County being near three times the number of the Voters in Fairfax; while that local Attachment and Partiality continues to influence the Bulk of Mankind, which ever has influenced them, and ever will influence them, while human Nature continues what it now is, and always has been; a Candidate in Fairfax (let him be ever so good a Man) will have no chance of succeeding against one in Loudoun: the comparitive Merits of the candidates will be sacrificed to local Attachment; and the People in Fairfax will, in Reality, have little more Hand in electing their nominal Representatives in Congress, than they have in electing the Representaves of Maryland, or Pensylvania. And this Act of Injustice and Oppression will be further agravated, in eight or nine Years; for when the Town of Alexandria, and that Part of the federal District of ten Miles Square, which lies on this Side of Potomack River, are taken out of the Jurisdiction of Virginia, Loudoun County, which now has near three Votes to our one, will then have near six Votes to our one; and the People of Fairfax will not find it worth their while to give their Votes, or attend the Elections of Members of Congress. What the People of Fairfax County h[ave done ?] to deserve this injurious Treatment, and Forfeiture of their dearest Rights and Privileges, let the Contrivers of this nefarious project declare.*
It is said (perhaps untruly) that some of the People in Alexandria, and within the federal District, are in Favour of this Scheme. Such of them as are Men of liberal Minds, can hardly be presumed to be so: but they stand on very different Ground from the People of the County; for they will sacrifice only a tempora[l]y Interest, of short Duration; as in eight or nine Years (Perhaps sooner) they will be taken out of the Jurisdiction of Virginia; but to the People in every other part of the County, the Sacrifice will not be temporary, but permanent.
If the three small Countys of Stafford, Prince William, and Fairfax compose one compleat District, and the two large Countys of Loudoun and Fauquier compose another compleat District, as of Right they ought to do, the Countys in each respective District will have nearly an equal Number of Voters, and will be a fair Match for each other. The People in each County will then have, not in Name only, but in Substance and Reality, an equal Right of Suffrage, in electing Members of Congress: a Candidate in either County will have a fair Trial with a Candidate in another County; and the comparitive Merits of the Candidates will generally prevail against local Attachment and Prejudice.
It is notorious, that for these very Reasons, when in the Formation of the Virginia Government, in the Year 1776, the four and twenty Districts were arraigned for the Election of Senators, the Countys of Prince William and Fairfax were formed into one District, and the Countys of Loudoun and Fauquier into another District; and still continue so. And surely the same Reasons hold at least equally strong, in the choice of Members of Congress; whose Powers, since the Establishment of the new federal Constitution, are much greater, and more important, than those which now remain to the State Legislatures. And as there is just Ground to believe that the Arrangement of Districts, which will be made next Fall, will hardly ever be materially altered, it is of the utmost Consequence, that they shou'd be fairly and justly made; and not with a view of serving any temporary, local Party-Job whatever.
  • *Whatever may be the Pretence, the real Motive (here at least) for endeavouring to join Fairfax County in the District with Loudoun, is to secure the Election of Mr. Richard Bland Lee; which his Friends apprehend may be rendered precarious, by placing Loudoun in the same District with Fauquier. This Apprehension seems to be ill founded; but if it was ever so well founded, and if Mr. Lee was the best Man in the United States, nothing can be more absurd and wicked, than to sacrifice the Rights of the People to the Views or Interest of an Individual. And a Candidate for Fairfax County, by adopting this iniquitous Scheme, will give the most indisputable Proof of [his] being unworthy of public Trust.
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