James Murray Mason

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For his brother, see Murray Mason.
James Murray Mason
JMMason.jpg
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
January 21, 1847 – March 28, 1861
Preceded by Isaac S. Pennybacker
Succeeded by Waitman T. Willey
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 6, 1857 – March 4, 1857
Preceded by Jesse D. Bright
Succeeded by Thomas J. Rusk
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia's 15th district
In office
March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1839
Preceded by Edward Lucas
Succeeded by William Lucas
Personal details
Born (1798-11-03)November 3, 1798
Analostan Island, D.C., U.S.
Died April 28, 1871(1871-04-28) (aged 72)
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Eliza Margaretta Chew
Alma mater University of Pennsylvania, College of William and Mary (law)
Profession Politician, Lawyer

James Murray Mason (November 3, 1798 – April 28, 1871)[1][2] was a United States Representative and United States Senator from Virginia. He was a grandson of George Mason and represented the Confederate States of America as appointed commissioner of the Confederacy to the United Kingdom and France between 1861 and 1865 during the American Civil War.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born on Anacostine Island (now Theodore Roosevelt Island) in the District of Columbia, and was a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania (1818), receiving a law degree from the College of William and Mary in 1820.

Political career[edit]

He practiced law in Virginia and was a delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention in 1829, and a member of the State house of delegates. A Jackson Democrat, he was elected to the Twenty-fifth United States Congress in 1836.

In 1847 he was elected to the Senate after the death of Isaac S. Pennybacker, and was reelected in 1850 and 1856. Mason famously read aloud the dying Senator John C. Calhoun's final speech to the Senate, on March 4, 1850, which warned of disunion and dire consequences if the North did not guarantee the South permanently equal representation in Congress. Complaining of personal liberty laws that "Although the loss of property is felt, the loss of honor is felt still more,"[3] Mason also drafted the (second) Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, enacted on September 18, 1850 as a part of the Compromise Measures of that year. Mason represented the majority view in leading the Senate committee which investigated the John Brown raid on Harper's Ferry of October 1859. (Thus the document published as the U.S. Congress, Senate Select Commission on the Harper's Ferry Invasion (June 15, 1860) is often referred to as the Mason Report.) Mason was President pro tempore of the Senate during the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-fifth Congresses but was expelled from the Senate in 1861 for support of the Confederacy.

While traveling to his post as Confederate envoy to Britain and France, on the British mail steamer RMS Trent, the ship was stopped by USS San Jacinto on November 8, 1861. Mason and John Slidell were confined in Fort Warren, Boston Harbor, precipitating the Trent Affair that threatened to bring Britain into open war with the United States of America.

The Northern public erupted with a huge display of triumphalism at this dramatic capture, and even the cool-headed Lincoln was swept along in the celebratory spirit. But when he and his cabinet studied the likely consequences of a war with Britain, their enthusiasm waned. After some careful diplomatic exchanges, they admitted that the capture had been conducted contrary to maritime law, and that private citizens could not be classified as ‘enemy despatches’. Slidell and Mason were released, and war was averted. The two diplomats set sail for England again on January 1, 1862. Mason represented the Confederacy there until April 1865. One of his first acts in London was to raise the issue of Union blockades.[4]

Until 1868 he lived in Canada, and then returned to the Clarens Estate near Alexandria, Virginia. He died at Clarens on 28 April 1871, age 72.[1][2] and was interred in the churchyard of Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia.[1][2]

James M. Mason, photograph by Mathew Brady

Marriage and children[edit]

Mason married Eliza Margaretta Chew (1798–1874) on 25 July 1822 at Cliveden in Germantown, Pennsylvania.[1][2] The couple had eight children:[1]

  • Anna Maria Mason Ambler (31 January 1825 – 17 August 1863)[1]
  • Benjamin Chew Mason (1826–1847)[1]
  • Catharine Chew Mason Dorsey (24 March 1828 – 28 April 1893)[1]
  • George Mason (16 April 1830 – 3 February 1895)[1]
  • Virginia Mason (12 December 1833 – 11 October 1920)[1]
  • Eliza Ida Oswald Mason (10 August 1836 – 16 December 1885)[1]
  • James Murray Mason, Jr. (24 August 1839 – 10 January 1923)[1]
  • John A. Mason (17 November 1841 – 6 June 1925)[1]

Relations[edit]

James Murray Mason was a grandson of George Mason (1725–1792); nephew of George Mason V (1753–1796);[1][2] grandnephew of Thomson Mason (1733–1785);[1][2] first cousin once removed of Stevens Thomson Mason (1760–1803) and John Thomson Mason (1765–1824);[1][2] son of John Mason (1766–1849) and Anna Maria Murray Mason (1776–1857);[1][2] first cousin of Thomson Francis Mason (1785–1838), George Mason VI (1786–1834), and Richard Barnes Mason (1797–1850);[1][2] second cousin of Armistead Thomson Mason (1787–1819), John Thomson Mason (1787–1850), and John Thomson Mason, Jr. (1815–1873);[1][2] second cousin once removed of Stevens Thomson Mason (1811–1843);[1][2] and first cousin thrice removed of Charles O'Conor Goolrick.[1][2]

Ancestry[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Gunston Hall. "James Murray Mason". Gunston Hall. Retrieved 2009-03-07. [dead link]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l The Political Graveyard (June 16, 2008). "Mason family of Virginia". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved 2009-03-07. 
  3. ^ James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Bantam Books, 1989), p. 79.
  4. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 193. 

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Edward Lucas
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 15th congressional district

March 4, 1837 – March 4, 1839
Succeeded by
William Lucas
United States Senate
Preceded by
Isaac S. Pennybacker
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Virginia
January 21, 1847 – March 28, 1861
Served alongside: William S. Archer and Robert M. T. Hunter
Succeeded by
Waitman T. Willey
Political offices
Preceded by
Jesse D. Bright
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
January 6, 1857 – March 4, 1857
Succeeded by
Thomas J. Rusk