Date of Award

5-2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

History

Advisor

Anderson, Paul C

Committee Member

Andrew, Jr. , Rod

Committee Member

Burns , James

Abstract

Most studies of antebellum Virginia politician James Murray Mason examine his post-Senate career as Confederate ambassador to England. Those that do explore his tenure as a senator and, earlier, state politician, misinterpret his ideology and portray him as a proslavery demagogue. Perhaps most troubling, few delve into the political context of Virginia, and the forces and tensions present in the Commonwealth during this period. This study seeks to question this historiographical trend by asking a question basic to any understanding of Mason's career: What was the foundation of James M. Mason's political ideology, and how did he balance it as a representative of a state with a large slaveholding and nonslaveholding population? This paper analyzes Mason's tenure as a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly and as a representative in the U.S. Congress, and places his rhetoric in the context of early antebellum Virginia. It considers such factors as an entrenched aristocracy in state government, slavery, and internal improvement projects. What emerges during his time as a state politician was an ideological foundation that espoused equality for all white Virginians, nonslaveholders and slaveholders alike. Next, the paper studies Mason's career in the Senate. Using his speeches and actions, this paper illustrates that while Mason altered his rhetoric as a senator, his ideological foundation remained constant. The ascendancy of the Republican Party and election of Abraham Lincoln threatened Mason's conception of a government that balanced the forces of property and political power. Accordingly, Mason advocated secession as a proper remedy.

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