On Wednesday, October 27, 2010, at 1:00 pm, the remains of Governor Mason were re-interred at Capitol Park in a ceremony with remarks by Senator Carl Levin, State Senator Jason Allen, former State Representative Steve Bieda, and historians Kerry Chartkoff, Donald Faber, and David Janssen.
Come to the Park on Thursday, October 25, 2012, from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., for an event commemorating the birthday of Stevens T. Mason, including salutations at Mason's grave with Amy Elliott Bragg, author of "Hidden History of Detroit," champagne toast at Sky Bar, and discussions with Don Faber, author of "Boy Governor: Stevens T. Mason and the Birth of Michigan Politics," and Jack Dempsey, author of "Michigan and the Civil War: A Great and Bloody Sacrifice."
Stevens Thomson Mason (October 27, 1811 – January 4, 1843), was the territorial governor of the Michigan Territory, and later the first Governor of the state of Michigan. Mason guided the Michigan Territory into statehood. He was first appointed acting Territorial Secretary at the age of 19, then became acting Territorial Governor in 1834 at the age of 22. He was elected governor of the state of Michigan at age 24 in 1835, and served until 1840. Mason is the youngest state governor in American history.
Early life in Virginia and Kentucky
Mason was born near Leesburg in Loudoun County, Virginia, into a politically powerful family.His great-grandfather, Thomson Mason (1730–1785) was chief justice of the Virginia supreme court and brother of George Mason (1725–1792), who took part in the Constitutional Convention. His grandfather, Stevens Thomson Mason, was a U.S. Senator from Virginia. His uncle, Armistead Thomson Mason (1787–1819), was also a U.S. Senator from Virginia. His uncles by marriage, Benjamin Howard (1760–1814) and William Taylor Barry (1784–1835), were both in the Kentucky house of representatives and were U.S. Representatives from Kentucky. Howard was Governor of Louisiana (Missouri) Territory, 1810–12 and Governor of Missouri Territory, 1812–13. Barry served as U.S. Senator from Kentucky, 1814–16 and then had a long career in a number of Kentucky government positions, and ultimately became Postmaster General, 1829–35.
In 1812, Mason’s father, John Thomson Mason (1787–1850), left the Mason family stronghold in Virginia to make his fortune in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1817, President James Monroe appointed the elder Mason as United States marshal. Mason was appointed Secretary of Michigan Territory and superintendent of Indian affairs in 1830 by President Andrew Jackson. He held those appointments until 1831, when President Jackson sent Mason on a mission to Mexico. To fill his post as Secretary of Michigan Territory, President Jackson appointed John's son Stevens. John Mason went on to become an important figure in the Texas Revolution.
Life and politics in Michigan Territory
In 1831, President Jackson sent his father on a mission to Mexico and named Stevens to replace his father as Secretary, at the age of nineteen before he could even vote. At about the same time, Governor Lewis Cass became Jackson’s Secretary of War. George Bryan Porter was named to replace him, but he was frequently absent and Mason was for all practical purposes the acting governor during this time, leading to his nickname of the "Boy Governor."
Mason was influential in petitioning for Michigan statehood. When the first petition in 1832 was not acted upon, Mason commissioned a territorial census. When the census was completed in 1834, it determined that 86,000 people lived in the lower peninsula, more than the 60,000 required for statehood by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. A dispute over the Toledo Strip, claimed by both Michigan and Ohio, led to the Toledo War. President Jackson appointed Benjamin Chew Howard of Baltimore, and Richard Rush of Philadelphia to serve on a commission to arbitrate the dispute but could not persuade Mason to back down. Not wanting to alienate political support in Ohio, President Jackson removed Mason from office in 1835 and appointed John S. (“Little Jack”) Horner as his replacement.
First governor of the state of Michigan
Although replaced by Horner, Mason was still popular in Michigan. Voters approved a constitution in October 1835 and elected Mason as Governor. However, the U.S. Congress refused to recognize Michigan as a state until the dispute with Ohio was resolved.
In 1836, Mason agreed to a compromise reached by the U.S. Congress and agreed to cede the disputed land to Ohio in exchange for the western two-thirds of the Upper Peninsula (Michigan already included the eastern third). A convention in September 1836 refused to go along, but Mason prevailed in a second convention in December 1836. On January 26, 1837, Michigan was admitted to the Union.
In 1835 Mason had implemented an internal improvement program, which included development of three railroads and two canals (one of which was the Clinton-Kalamazoo Canal). Mason was re-elected in 1837, but the state’s economy soon began to suffer from the effects of the Panic of 1837. Earlier in 1837, Mason had negotiated to fund the internal improvement program through the sale of $5,000,000 in bonds. This arrangement fell apart in 1837 and following bankruptcies by both the company building the canal and the bank backing the loans, the state was left with over $2,000,000 in bad debt. During his business trips to New York to finance his internal improvement program, Mason had met Julia Phelps. He married her on November 1, 1838.
Rather than risking a contentious campaign and the possibility of an embarrassing defeat in the elections of 1839, Mason instead decided to give up politics and attempt a private law practice.
Retirement and death in New York
In 1841, Mason left Michigan for New York City, where his wealthy father-in-law, Thaddeus Phelps lived. Mason tried to establish a law practice there, but struggled to build a clientele. He caught pneumonia in the winter of 1842 and died at the age of thirty-one during the night of January 4, 1843.
Mason was initially interred at New York Marble Cemetery, but on June 4, 1905, his remains were brought from New York to Detroit, accompanied by his sister Emily Mason, then age 92; his daughter, Mrs. Dorothy Mason Wright; three grandsons; and several grand-nephews and great-grandchildren. Services were conducted by Rev. David M. Cooper, who had known Mason as Governor, 70 years earlier. Other notable attendees included then Governor, Fred M. Warner, and the mayor of Detroit, George P. Codd. His remains were interred at Capitol Park, the site of the old Michigan Capitol. Later, a bronze monument was erected over the grave.
Among his other accomplishments, Mason created an educational system and located the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.