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John Y. Mason (1845–1846) - Attorney General

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John Mason was born in Emporia, Virginia, on April 18, 1799. He graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1816 and was accepted to the Virginia bar in 1819. Mason's first public office was that of delegate to the Virginia House of Representatives (1823-1827). He then became a state senator (1827-1831) and a U.S. congressman (1831-1837). In 1837, Mason became a judge for eastern Virginia. After the death of Thomas Gilmer, President John Tyler made Mason his fifth secretary of the Navy on March 26, 1844. Mason remained in that post until the end of the Tyler administration. President James K. Polk wanted to keep Mason in the cabinet and made him attorney general at the outset of his administration. When George Bancroft, Polk's first secretary of the Navy, resigned in order to accept the post of minister to Great Britain, Mason once again became secretary of the Navy. He served in that position from September 10, 1846, until March 7, 1849. In 1854, he became the U.S. envoy to France, a title he held until his death on October 3, 1859.

Citation Information

Consulting Editor

John C. Pinheiro

Professor Pinheiro is an associate professor of history and director of Catholic Studies at Aquinas College. He formerly served as a research assistant on the Correspondence of James K. Polk project at the University of Tennessee and as an assistant editor of The Papers of George Washington at the University of Virginia. His writings include:

Missionaries of Republicanism: A Religious History of the Mexican-American War (Oxford University Press, forthcoming, April 2014)

"James K. Polk as War President," in Joel Silbey, ed., A Companion to the Antebellum Presidents, 1837-1861 (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014)

Manifest Ambition: James K. Polk and Civil-Military Relations during the Mexican War (Praeger Security International, 2007)

The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, Vol. 12 (Co-Editor, University of Virginia Press, 2005)