James Murray Mason
James Murray Mason was the grandson of American ‘Founding Father’ George Mason, commonly referred to as the ‘Father of the Bill of Rights’. The younger Mason enjoyed his own political career, serving 14 years in the United States Senate until 1861 when his native state of Virginia seceded from the Union and joined the Confederacy.
In November of that year, Mason was assigned to replace William Yancey as Confederate Emissary to London. Enroute to Southampton, England, aboard the British mail steamer Trent, he was arrested alongside the Southern Emissary to Paris, John Slidell, by US Marines who illegally stopped and boarded the Trent in international waters. The incident angered nearly all parts of British society, and the Lincoln administration opted for the release of the two Confederate commissioners rather than risk Britain’s entering the war on the side of the South.
In spite of Mason’s role in drafting the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850, he was far better received in the British aristocratic social circles, even being invited to give a speech at Mansion House by the Lord Mayor of the City of London. He was less successful, however, in persuading Viscount Palmerston and Lord John Russell in intervening on behalf of the South or to grant recognition.
The Confederate Government eventually recalled Mason from London, owing to the Palmerston Government’s unwillingness to aid the South’s diplomatic and military efforts. He eventually returned to Virginia after the war, dying in Alexandria in 1871.