Mason, James Murray

Life Span
Full name
James Murray Mason
Place of Birth
Burial Place
Birth Date Certainty
Death Date Certainty
Sectional choice
Slave State
University of Pennsylvania
William & Mary
Attorney or Judge
Political Parties
Confederate government (1861-65)
US Senate
US House of Representatives
State legislature

James Murray Mason (American National Biography)

Unlike most political leaders from the Upper South, Mason strongly believed that slaveholders' rights could not be protected within the Union and supported the radical secessionist leadership of the South. In Mason's view, the industrializing North, corrupted by banking interests, threatened the southern way of life. A strict constructionist, he was the author of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and believed slavery should be expanded into the territories without restrictions. In 1850 he refused to join Robert Toombs, Howell Cobb, William L. Yancey, and other southern moderates and instead allied himself with Robert Barnwell Rhett and other obstructionists, who refused any concessions to the antislavery element in Congress in the interest of a compromise on the issue of slavery in the territories. By that time Mason did not wish to preserve a Union that rejected southern values and leadership, and he was prepared to secede from the Union. In 1856 he was similarly outspoken in his commitment to lead Virginia out of the Union if the newly formed Republican party was successful in electing John C. Frémont as president.
Charles M. Hubbard, "Mason, James Murray," American National Biography Online, February 2000,

James Murray Mason (Congressional Biographical Directory)

MASON, James Murray, a Representative and a Senator from Virginia; born on Analostan Island, Fairfax County, Va. (now Theodore Roosevelt Island, Washington, D.C.), November 3, 1798; studied under a private tutor and at an academy at Georgetown, D.C.; graduated from the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in 1818 and from the law department of William and Mary College at Williamsburg in 1820; admitted to the bar and practiced in Winchester, Va., in 1820 and 1821; delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention in 1829; member, State house of delegates 1826-1832, with the exception of 1827-1828; presidential elector on the Democratic ticket in 1832; elected as a Jackson Democrat to the Twenty-fifth Congress (March 4, 1837-March 3, 1839); elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1847 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Isaac S. Pennybacker; reelected in 1850 and 1856 and served from January 21, 1847, until March 28, 1861, when he withdrew; served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Thirty-fourth and Thirty-fifth Congresses; expelled from the Senate in 1861 for support of the rebellion; chairman, Committee on Claims (Thirtieth Congress), Committee on the District of Columbia (Thirty-first Congress), Committee on Foreign Relations (Thirty-second through Thirty-sixth Congresses), Committee on Naval Affairs (Thirty-second Congress); delegate from Virginia to the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy; appointed commissioner of the Confederacy to Great Britain and France and while on his way to his post was taken from the British mail steamer Trent November 8, 1861, and confined in Fort Warren, Boston Harbor; released in January 1862; proceeded to London and represented the Confederacy until its downfall in April 1865; resided in Canada after the close of the war until 1868, when he returned to Virginia; died at “Clarens,” near the city of Alexandria, Va, April 28, 1871; interment in Christ Church Episcopal Cemetery, Alexandria, Va.
"Mason, James Murray," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 to Present,
Date Event
The Senate of the United States opens a week long special session in Washington, DC
- The Senate of the United States is sitting in a week long special session in Washington, DC
The Senate of the United States ends its week long special session in Washington, DC
U.S. Senate votes unanimously for a committee to investigate the Harpers Ferry Raid
Thaddeus Hyatt arrives in Washington but defies the Senate Harpers Ferry Committee
Senate Committee investigating Harpers Ferry issues warrant for arrest of Frank Sanborn
The U.S. Senate orders arrest of Thaddeus Hyatt for failure to appear before Harpers Ferry Committee
The U.S. Senate imprisons Thaddeus Hyatt for failure to appear before Harpers Ferry Committee
After more than three months, the U.S. Senate releases Thaddeus Hyatt from the Washington Jail
Confederate diplomats James Mason and John Slidell slip through the Charleston blockade bound for Europe
Confederate diplomats James Mason and John Slidell sail from Havana for Europe aboard a British ship
A U.S. warship intercepts and boards a British mail ship off Cuba to arrest Confederate diplomats
In Liverpool, the news of the interception and seizure of Mason and Slidell reaches England
In the Trent Affair, the British Foreign Secretary demands an apology and release of Mason and Slidell
The United States releases the Confederate commissioners Mason and Slidell into British custody
The news of the release of Slidell and Mason reaches the British Isles
The Confederate commissioners Mason and Slidell finally arrive in England
Mason affair results in severe embarrassment for Moncure Conway
Date Title
New York Times, “Governor Walker in Washington,” December 15, 1857
(Concord) New Hampshire Statesman, “Douglas in the Senate,” March 6, 1858
Milwaukee (WI) Sentinel, “Who are the Agitators?,” December 16, 1858
New York Times, “The Amistad Case,” December 17, 1858
New York Herald, “Some of Our Diplomatic and Consular Deficiencies,” January 19, 1859
New York Times, “The Political Future,” February 26, 1859
Carlisle (PA) American Volunteer, "Trial of Brown, the Insurgent," November 3, 1859
San Francisco (CA) Evening Bulletin, “The New Crusade against the Union,” December 29, 1859
Chicago (IL) Press and Tribune, “The Harper’s Ferry Inquisition,” February 15, 1860
Boston (MA) Advertiser, “Mr. Hyatt’s Case,” February 29, 1860
Ripley (OH) Bee, “The John Brown Investigation,” July 5, 1860
Lowell (MA) Citizen & News, "Who Are For Disunion?," August 8, 1860
Chicago (IL) Tribune, “Bad For Virginia,” February 20, 1861
Charles Wilkes, USN to Gideon Welles, Final Report on the seizure of Mason and Slidell, November 16, 1861
New York Herald, “Mason and Slidell,” November 17, 1861
President Jefferson Davis, Message to the Confederate Congress, November 18, 1861
Memorandum by Alexander T. Galt, Canadian diplomat, describing interview with Abraham Lincoln, December 5, 1861
New York Herald, "Settlement of the Trent Difficulty," December 29, 1861
Raleigh (NC) Register, “Mr. Vallandingham’s Speech,” January 18, 1862
Chicago Style Entry Link
Sutherland, Keith A. "The Senate Investigates Harpers Ferry." Prologue 8, no. 4 (1976): 193-207. view record
How to Cite This Page: "Mason, James Murray," House Divided: The Civil War Research Engine at Dickinson College,