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THE VIRGINIA DECLARATION OF RIGHTS (1776)
I 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.
II 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.
III 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.
IV 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.
V 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 shall direct.
VI 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.
VII 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.
VIII 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
IX That excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines
imposed; nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
X 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.
XI 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.
XII That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks
of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
XIII 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.
XIV 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
XV 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.
XVI 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, ll 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 June 12, 1776
Virginia Convention of Delegates
Drafted by Mr. George Mason