James Murray Mason

James Murray Mason (November 3, 1798 – April 28, 1871)[1][2] was a U.S. Representative and U.S. 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.

James Murray Mason
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
January 6, 1857 – March 4, 1857
Preceded byJesse D. Bright
Succeeded byThomas J. Rusk
United States Senator
from Virginia
In office
January 21, 1847 – March 28, 1861
Preceded byIsaac S. Pennybacker
Succeeded byWaitman T. Willey
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 15th district
In office
March 4, 1837 – March 3, 1839
Preceded byEdward Lucas
Succeeded byWilliam Lucas
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Frederick County
In office
Preceded byWilliam M. Barton
Succeeded byConstituency reorganized
In office
Preceded byGeorge Kiger
Succeeded byWilliam M. Barton
Personal details
Born(1798-11-03)November 3, 1798
Analostan Island, D.C., U.S.
DiedApril 28, 1871(1871-04-28) (aged 72)
Alexandria, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Eliza Margaretta Chew
Alma materUniversity of Pennsylvania, College of William and Mary (law)
ProfessionPolitician, Lawyer

In November 1861, Mason was among those captured by Federal troops during the Trent Affair while he was on a mission to England.

Early lifeEdit

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

Political careerEdit

He practiced law in Virginia and was a delegate to the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1829-1830 and a member of the House of Delegates. He was elected to the Twenty-fifth United States Congress in 1836 as a Jackson Democrat.

In 1847, he was elected to the Senate after the death of Isaac S. Pennybacker, and he was re-elected 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 permanently guarantee the South equal representation in Congress. He also complained of personal liberty laws: "Although the loss of property is felt, the loss of honor is felt still more."[3]

Mason wrote (drafted) the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, arguably the most hated and openly evaded Federal legislation in U.S. history. Mason also was the chair and wrote the report of the ad-hoc Senate committee that investigated John Brown's raid on Harpers Ferry. He also wrote its report, informally known as the Mason Report.[4]

Mason was President pro tempore of the Senate in 1857 but was expelled from the Senate in 1861 for support of the Confederate States.

While he was 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, which threatened to bring Britain into open war with the United States.

The US public erupted with a huge display of triumphalism at this dramatic capture. 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.[5]

When Union troops took Winchester, Virginia, because of Mason's role at the center of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, they destroyed Mason's house. They did so so thoroughly that "from turret to foundation stone, not one stone remains upon another; the negro houses, the out-buildings, the fences are all gone, and even the trees are many of them girdled".[6]

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

James M. Mason, photograph by Mathew Brady


Marriage and childrenEdit

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]

He 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] A first cousin 5 times removed was Betty Mason (1836-1899) first wife of Gen. Edward Porter Alexander.[7][8][9]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Lee, Michele (May 18, 2011). "James Murray Mason". Gunston Hall. Archived from the original on September 26, 2009. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Mason family of Virginia". The Political Graveyard. June 16, 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-07.
  3. ^ James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (New York: Bantam Books, 1989), p. 79.
  4. ^ Mason, James M.; Collamer, Jacob (June 15, 1860). Report [of] the Select committee of the Senate appointed to inquire into the late invasion and seizure of the public property at Harper's Ferry.
  5. ^ Appletons' annual cyclopaedia and register of important events of the year: 1862. New York: D. Appleton & Company. 1863. p. 193.
  6. ^ Beakes, George M. (March 25, 1863). "Letter from an army surgeon". Middletown Whig Press (Middletown, Orange County, New York). p. 1 – via newspaperarchive.com.
  7. ^ Mason genealogy
  8. ^ Stafford County family Group Sheets
  9. ^ Mason Genealogy

External linksEdit

U.S. 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
U.S. 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