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John Young Mason
United States Minister to France

In office
October 10, 1853 – October 3, 1859
Appointed by Franklin Pierce
Preceded by William Cabell Rives
Succeeded by John Bigelow
16th and 18th United States Secretary of the Navy

In office
March 26, 1844 – March 4, 1845
President John Tyler
Preceded by Thomas W. Gilmer
Succeeded by George Bancroft

In office
September 10, 1846 – March 4, 1849
President James K. Polk
Preceded by George Bancroft
Succeeded by William B. Preston
18th United States Attorney General

In office
March 5, 1845 – October 16, 1846
President James K. Polk
Preceded by John Nelson
Succeeded by Nathan Clifford
Judge of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

In office
March 3, 1841 – March 23, 1844
Appointed by Martin van Buren
Preceded by Peter Vivian Daniel
Succeeded by James Dandridge Halyburton
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
March 4, 1831 – January 11, 1837
Preceded by James Trezvant
Succeeded by Francis E. Rives
Member of the Virginia Senate from Isle of Wight, Prince George, Southampton, Surry and Sussex Counties

In office
Preceded by District established
Succeeded by Francis E. Rives
Member of the Virginia Senate from Isle of Wight, Prince George, Southampton, Surry, Sussex and Greensville Counties

In office
1826 – 1829
Preceded by Edmund Ruffin
Succeeded by District abolished
Member of the Virginia House of Delegates from Southampton County

In office
1823 – 1825
Alongside Henry Briggs, Carr Bowers
Personal details
Born (1799-04-18)April 18, 1799
Greensville County, Virginia
Died October 3, 1859(1859-10-03) (aged 60)
Paris France
Resting place Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
Political party Democrat (after 1833)
Other political
Jacksonian (before 1833)
Spouse(s) Mary Ann Fort Mason
Alma mater University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Tapping Reeve Law School
Profession Politician, Lawyer, Judge, Planter

John Young Mason (April 18, 1799 – October 3, 1859) was an American politician, diplomat, and United States federal judge.

Early life, education, and career

Born in Hicksford, Greensville County, Virginia, Mason attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he was a member of Philanthropic Assembly. Mason graduated in 1816, and then read law at Tapping Reeve Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut to be admitted to the Southampton County, Virginia, bar in 1819. He had a private law practice in Southampton County from 1821 to 1831.

He married Mary Ann Fort, the daughter of a prominent land-owner, in 1821 and became a planter himself, as well as continuing as a lawyer. He owned Fortsville located near Grizzard, Sussex County, Virginia.[1]

Political activities

He served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1823 to 1827 and a in the Virginia State Senate from 1827 to 1831, was a delegate to the state constitutional of 1829-1830, and from 1831 to 1837 served in the United States House of Representatives (the 22nd, 23rd and 24th United States Congresses), chairing the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1835 to 1836. During this time, he was an active supporter of most elements of Andrew Jackson's presidency, but was also a staunch advocate of states' rights. Jackson approved the appointment of George H. Thomas to the U.S. Military Academy in 1836 on his recommendation. Mason later served as a delegate to the Virginia constitutional convention of 1850.

Federal judicial service

On February 26, 1841, Mason was nominated by President Martin Van Buren to a seat on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia vacated by the elevation of Peter Vivian Daniel to the Supreme Court of the United States. Mason was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 2, 1841, and received his commission the following day. He resigned from the bench on March 23, 1844, to take a cabinet post.

Cabinet service

Mason was the U.S. Secretary of the Navy from 1844 to 1845 in President John Tyler's Cabinet and then U.S. Attorney General and then again Secretary of the Navy from 1846 to 1849, succeeding George Bancroft, under President James K. Polk.

The period of Mason's service as Navy Secretary was marked by intense Congressional pressure for economy, requiring the decommissioning of the Navy's ships of the line and making it difficult to maintain a continuous naval presence on foreign stations. The construction of floating drydocks for several Navy Yards, the simplification of the Navy's ordnance system, an expansion of the Navy's scientific endeavors and the formalization of status of the naval engineers also marked Mason's first term as Secretary.

His second term was marked by efforts to sustain the Navy's combat forces in the Gulf of Mexico and along the far-distant Pacific coast, the beginning of construction of new steamers and an effort to obtain potential warships thorough the subsidization of civilian mail steamships. The latter was an early, and ultimately unsuccessful, experiment in public-private partnership.

Electoral history


Mason was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives with 57.88% of the vote, defeating Independent Richard Eppes.


Mason was re-elected unopposed.


Mason was re-elected with 72.13% of the vote, defeating Whig John Urquehart.

Later life

He was in private legal practice from 1849 to 1854 and served as President of the Virginia Constitutional Convention of 1851 and from 1853, until his death in Paris, France in 1859, the U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary to France. In this capacity he attracted attention by wearing at the court of Napoleon III a simple diplomatic uniform (for this he was rebuked by U.S. Secretary of State William L. Marcy, who had ordered American ministers to wear a plain civilian costume), and by joining with James Buchanan and Pierre Soulé, ministers to Great Britain and Spain respectively, in drawing up (October 1854) the famous Ostend Manifesto. In politics he was a typical Virginian of the old school, a states rights Democrat, upholding slavery and hating abolitionism.

After his death in Paris, his remains were conveyed to the United States and interred in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia.

USS Mason (DD-191) from 1920 to 1940, was named in honor of Secretary of the Navy John Y. Mason.

John Y. Mason's Home historical marker


  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. Encyclopædia Britannica Cambridge University Press 
  • John Y. Mason at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • John Y. Mason at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.

Further reading

  • Williams, Frances Leigh (1967). "The Heritage and Preparation of a Statesman, John Young Mason, 1799-1859". pp. 305–330. JSTOR 4247323. 

External links

  • John Y. Mason at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
James Trezvant
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Virginia's 2nd congressional district

1831 – 1837
Succeeded by
Francis E. Rives
Government offices
Preceded by
Thomas W. Gilmer
United States Secretary of the Navy
1844 – 1845
Succeeded by
George Bancroft
Preceded by
George Bancroft
United States Secretary of the Navy
1846 – 1849
Succeeded by
William B. Preston
Legal offices
Preceded by
John Nelson
U.S. Attorney General
Served under: James K. Polk

1845 – 1846
Succeeded by
Nathan Clifford
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William C. Rives
United States Minister to France
1853 – 1859
Succeeded by
Charles J. Faulkner

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