Mason’s Namesake: Stevens T. Mason


Image courtesy of The Gutenberg Project of the University of Michigan, all rights reserved.

Although not born a Michigander, Stevens T. Mason is forever enshrined in Michigan’s history as one, for he led the struggle of Michiganders to turn the Michigan Territory into a state. He was born in 1811 to a Virginian family with a rich history stretching back to the colonial period, and raised in Kentucky (Baker). Two years after President Andrew Jackson began to serve his first term in 1828, Stevens’ father, John Mason, won appointment as secretary of the Michigan Territory, and brought the Mason family to Michigan. At the time, Stevens was 18 years old.
The following year, with the departure of both his father and the Michigan Territory Governor Lewis Cass to other parts of the U.S, a now 19 Stevens was appointed by President Jackson to succeed his father. Despite the controversial nature of the appointment (due to his youth amongst other things), Stevens embraced his position. Echoing his father’s experience with Lewis Cass being away from the state during his family’s first winter in Detroit, Stevens often had to fill in for the next Governor of the Michigan Territory, George B. Porter. The death of the Porter in 1834 left Stevens as acting Territory Governor for much of the period of Michigan’s struggle to become a state (Baker).
Stevens led the struggle for statehood in earnest, asking the legislative council to call for a constitutional convention in 1835 (Baker). His determination to have Michigan join the Union knew no limits, save for what consumed much of the struggle for statehood, an area of land between the Michigan Territory and the state of Ohio, known as the Toledo Strip. This land, which in the end be contested between Michiganders and Ohioans for over 30 years, was fought for vigorously by Mason, even though it hampered efforts to be recognized by Congress. His rivalry with Ohio’s State Governor Robert Lucas over the Toledo strip led to what became known as the “Toledo War” (Baker). Mason himself late into the worsening situation between Michigan and Ohio, participated in leading a small army of Michiganders (numbers unknown) to the city of Toledo, despite being unknowingly fired earlier by President Jackson for his previous actions and refusal to compromise (Baker). Despite losing in the end the “Toledo War,” Stevens’ popularity amongst Michiganders led to his election as State Governor prior to Michigan’s admittance to the Union (Baker). As Governor of a non-state still, he remained at first unwilling to compromise with Congress’s demands in order to achieve statehood, but in the end called upon Michiganders to decide for themselves whether to overturn their own previous rejection of Congress’s final offer for compromise and immediate statehood. Stevens finally achieved his life’s goal on January 26, 1837, when President Jackson signed the bill making Michigan the 26th state into law.
Despite having achieved statehood for Michigan, Stevens T. Mason continued to serve Michigan for two more years. He appointed (what would be the nation’s first state) superintendent of public instruction, Benjamin Pierce, and supported Michigan’s development of public education and the establishment of the University of Michigan (Baker). He also pushed for the internal improvement of the state, the development of canals and railroads across the state. The financial circumstances of these projects culminated in a political fiasco for the Governor though, and he did not seek reelection in 1839, leaving the state soon after for New York City, where he later died on January 4, 1843 (Baker). His remains were first interned there, before being brought to Detroit in 1905. His remains would be reburied several times over the years, and at one point he laid in state in the capital, being only the third of Michigan’s governors to do so.
In the city of Mason itself to which his last name adorns, one would be hard pressed to not find at least one business bearing Mason in its name on many of the streets of the central town and surrounding areas. Naturally the local public school system is named after him, and also the middle and high schools. Besides being the namesake of the city of Mason, his name adorns an unconnected county in Michigan, halls at both Michigan State University and the University of Michigan, and building in the capital. His name also ascribes various schools across the state, including a high school in Erie Township, elementary schools in Grosse Pointe Woods and Detroit, and a middle school in Waterford Township.

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