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American President

A Reference Resource

John Y. Mason (1846–1849): Secretary of the Navy

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.