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The Boy Governor

Stevens T. Mason and the Birth of Michigan Politics

Don Faber

Publication Year: 2012

In 1831, Stevens T. Mason was named Secretary of the Michigan Territory at the tender age of 19, two years before he could even vote. The youngest presidential appointee in American history, Mason quickly stamped his persona on Michigan life in large letters. After championing the territory's successful push for statehood without congressional authorization, he would defend his new state's border in open defiance of the country's political elite and then orchestrate its expansion through the annexation of the Upper Peninsula---all before his official election as Michigan's first governor at age 24, the youngest chief executive in any state's history. The Boy Governor tells the complete story of this dominant political figure in Michigan's early development. Capturing Mason's youthful idealism and visionary accomplishments, including his advocacy for a strong state university and legislating for the creation of the Soo Locks, this biography renders a vivid portrait of Michigan's first governor---his conflicts, his desires, and his sense of patriotism. This book will appeal to anyone with a love of American history and interest in the many, larger-than-life personalities that battled on the political stage during the Jacksonian era.

Published by: University of Michigan Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-v

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pp. vii-viii

Every author is indebted to the people who made his or her work easier on a book’s journey to publication. I am among those standing in appreciation of the archivists, reference librarians, curators of graphic materials, and other experts who are so knowledgeable. For me, the thank-yous begin and end at home. The William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan in my hometown...


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pp. ix

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pp. 1-3

He flared like a comet across the skies of Michigan in the decade 1830–40. The young man who left an enormous imprint on his adopted state was dead already at age thirty-one. As was said at his death, he was “a statesman of enlarged views.” ...

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1. The Early Years

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pp. 5-19

When it came to colonial pedigree, the Masons of Virginia stood second to none. Masons served Virginia and the new nation in a variety of ways that brought honor on the family name. By the time Stevens Thomson Mason—or Tom, as he was familiarly called—was born in 1811, the family enjoyed an immense popularity in the Old Dominion. ...

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2. The Michigan Frontier

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pp. 20-35

The frontier settlement first seen by Stevens T. Mason in 1830 was the seat of government of the Michigan Territory. Michigan achieved territorial status under legislation signed by President Thomas Jefferson on January 11, 1805. Detroit was founded in 1701 by Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, a French explorer and colonial administrator. Much farther to the north, Sault Ste. Marie...

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3. Mason—Boy in Charge

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pp. 36-47

When George Porter of Pennsylvania officially took office as governor of the Michigan Territory on September 22, 1831, he found his chair warmed by an underage acting governor who had successfully weathered the protest meetings against his appointment as secretary. Although he was yet another Jackson appointee and therefore anathema to the Whig faction, Porter appeared to...

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4. Statehood and the Toledo War

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pp. 48-74

Michigan’s campaign for statehood played out against a transformed national landscape. Sweeping changes were abroad in the land, unleashed by the election of Jackson. Conflicting views on liberty and power were accompanied by the growing sense of connectedness that attaches to the role of political parties. Although a frontier territory, Michigan was not immune to public opinion...

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5. Building a State

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pp. 75-89

When Michigan began functioning as a state on November 2, 1835, its timing was good in one respect. Wonder of wonders, the U.S. Treasury would soon be reporting a surplus, and the monies were going to be distributed among the states. The lure of lucre was a powerful stimulus for Michigan politicians to act, so when the First Convention of Assent surprised everybody by rejecting the...

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6. The Financial Panic of 1837

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pp. 90-101

The storm that broke over Stevens T. Mason’s head in 1837 was national in character, but the great undertow of financial disturbances that swept Michigan out to sea was also one of its own doing. The surge of optimism over hard-purchased statehood was understandable, but the program of public works the state mapped out for itself, although breathtaking in scope, was far beyond the...

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7. The Patriot War

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pp. 102-110

Michigan’s exposed position on the western frontier left it vulnerable to Indian attack and to mischief from the British. The latter had maintained a strong presence in the Great Lakes because of their forts and the fur trade. In addition, the British found it useful to buy the friendship of the Indian tribes in making trouble against the Americans. ...

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8. The Five-Million-Dollar Loan

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pp. 111-120

If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, Michigan laid down a superhighway in 1837. Along the way, there was enough intrigue, low comedy, high drama, and dirty politics to fill a good-sized novel. There was even a trunkful of cash from which some money came up missing. The story of the five-million- dollar loan and Governor Mason’s role in the saga would be talked about for...

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9. Wildcat Banks, Failed Railroads,and Filled-in Canals

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pp. 121-137

Two outstanding events in 1838 do not hint at the extraordinary difficulties that were to follow for the young state. Both involved transportation. Both took place in that exuberance of optimism that marked Michigan’s early years under the Boy Governor. ...

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10. Final Disheartenment

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pp. 138-156

The Boy Governor’s downward trajectory and fall into disgrace could be dated to his reelection in 1837, when he squeaked out a victory of a few hundred voters over Charles C. Trowbridge. His considerable appeal and independent feistiness seemed to have lost their charm with his people. If the achievement of statehood and his spirited prosecution of the Toledo War were the apex of...

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11. Death and Remembrance

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pp. 157-177

There is a life-size portrait of Stevens T. Mason hanging in the House of Representatives at the state capitol in Lansing. Attributed to Alvin Smith in 1837, when Mason was campaigning for reelection, the painting is a remarkable likeness of Michigan’s first governor as contemporary accounts describe him. The portrait was first on view in the old state capitol in Detroit and was presented...

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pp. 178-179

Acclaimed in some segments of the eastern press for challenging President Jackson and standing up to the venerable Robert Lucas of Ohio, Stevens T. Mason was just as quickly disowned as a popular hero when Michigan’s economy plunged. He suffered the fate of all politicians who, having achieved some measure of success, are rejected when times and political fortunes turn against...


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pp. 181-198


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pp. 199-205

E-ISBN-13: 9780472028788
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472051588

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012