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Quiet George Mason had been among the five most frequent speakers at the Constitutional Convention and one after another of his leading ideas had made its mark; but when, refusing to endorse a constitution lacking a bill of rights or ban on slave trade, he walked out of the East Chamber, ""history. . . seems to have let (him) slip into the oblivion reserved for men who move against the direction of the time."" Occasional magniloquence notwithstanding, this resuscitation is most welcome. Precisely conveyed is not only the development of his ideas (from the early reading of Locke to the realization that e.g. ""I feed my slaves well and keep their cabins in repair, but even I -- how seldom do I think of them as men!"") but their historic context: in plain clothing of American manufacture the delegates assemble to hear read Mason's Fairfax Resolves, ""the first great document in American history,"" asserting the right of the colonies to govern themselves and proposing, until satisfied, a virtual ban on import from and export to Britain. All is not idealism: earlier the author, attributing the start of the French and Indian War to the self-interest of the Ohio Company's owners (among whom was Mason), reflects that other parts of the worldwide struggle may also have been undertaken ""for the benefit of individuals"" (""This raises a big question about the nature of all wars""). She has, at the outset, astutely represented Mason as a bridge between the property-oriented pioneers and their offspring whose leisure allowed of efforts on behalf of society: thus his allegiance is divided, his actions not always consistent. The analysis of Constitutional issues is notably lucid -- as, in its way, is the account of tobacco culture: the aggregate is a portrayal that informs while it impresses.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1971
Publisher: Crowell-Collier