A Student of History

November 5, 2006

Review of New Founder Biography

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 1:15 pm

George Mason, Forgotten Founder 

Jonathan Yardley’s review of a new biography of George Mason appears here, in the WP book section of Nov. 5th. 

Image of George Mason

Historians of the colonial and revolutionary periods know him well, but the general public does not. Though in his time Mason was esteemed as highly as his fellow Virginians Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, he never held elective office higher than a seat in his state’s legislature. And though he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and played an important part in writing that essential document, he ultimately (albeit unsuccessfully) urged that Virginia refuse to endorse it. He believed that, absent a bill of rights, the proposed Constitution did not sufficiently safeguard minority rights, and he feared that the central, federal government it sought to establish would be too powerful and offer too much temptation to corruption. Though it was widely understood at the time that this position was based on principle rather than mere crankiness, it denied him admission to the pantheon of Founding Fathers (though in fact he was one) and ushered him into comparative oblivion.

Mason’s home, by the way, is Gunston Hall, a restored plantation house now open to the public just south of Mt. Vernon, off Rt. 1.

central passage

November 4, 2006

Churches & Preservation

Filed under: Historic Preservation — John Maass @ 1:53 am

Newsweek has a brief but nicely done article here, entitled “A Sacred Mission: The uphill battle to save our old houses of worship.”  A snip:

This week, the 200-year-old neoclassical Baltimore Basilica will reopen its weighty oak doors after a two-year, $32 million face-lift. The restoration of America’s first Roman Catholic cathedral is a triumph for preservationists, both for its history and design: it’s considered the masterpiece of architect Benjamin Latrobe, best known for his work on the U.S. Capitol. After a dingy decline, the Basilica’s lofty interior has been refashioned according to Latrobe’s elegantly simple intentions, especially the restoration of skylights set high in the spectacular dome, which admit a heavenly light into the sanctuary below. But this successful makeover—paid for by private donations—highlights a real crisis: the hundreds of crumbling historic churches and synagogues across the country, whose shrinking congregations can’t keep up—let alone restore—their decaying buildings.

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