James Murray Mason, Commissioner to Great Britain and France, Confederate States of America


James Murray Mason (1798–1871) was a United States senator and a Confederate diplomat, best remembered for drafting the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law and for his involvement in the Trent affair, which in 1861 nearly brought war between the United States and Great Britain. Born in Georgetown, District of Columbia, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1818 and from the law department of the College of William and Mary two years later. He practiced law for a time in Winchester, Virginia, before pursuing a career in politics. Mason served in the U.S. Congress from 1837 to 1839 and in the Senate from 1847 to 1861. With the outbreak of the Civil War, he was chosen to represent the Confederacy in England. He was on his way to Europe on the British mail steamer Trent when the ship was intercepted by U.S. naval forces. Mason and fellow passenger John Slidell were detained for a time, at Fort Warren in Boston harbor, but eventually were released and allowed to continue their journey. Once in London, he worked to gain British recognition of the Confederate States of America and organized sympathizers into the “Confederate lobby.” Despite small advances, Mason was never able to able to achieve formal recognition by a European power of the Confederacy as an independent state. After the war he fled with his family to Montreal, Canada. He eventually moved back to Alexandria, Virginia, where he died. The image is from an album of mostly Civil War-era portraits by the famous American photographer Matthew Brady (circa 1823‒96) that belonged to Emperor Pedro II of Brazil (1825‒91), a collector of photography as well as a photographer himself. The album was a gift to the emperor from Edward Anthony (1818‒88), another early American photographer who, in partnership with his brother, owned a company that in the 1850s became the leading seller of photographic supplies in the United States. Dom Pedro may have acquired the album during a trip to the United States in 1876 when he, along with President Ulysses S. Grant, opened the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Brady was born in upstate New York, the son of immigrants from Ireland. Best known for his photographs documenting the battles of the American Civil War, he began his career in 1844 when he opened a daguerreotype portrait studio at the corner of Broadway and Fulton Streets in New York City. Over the course of the next several decades, Brady produced portraits of leading American public figures, many of which were published as engravings in magazines and newspapers. In 1858 he opened a branch in Washington, DC. The album, which also contains a small number of non-photographic prints, is part of the Thereza Christina Maria Collection at the National Library of Brazil. The collection is composed of 21,742 photos assembled by Emperor Pedro II throughout his life and donated by him to the national library. The collection covers a wide variety of subjects. It documents the achievements of Brazil and Brazilians in the 19th century and also includes many photographs of Europe, Africa, and North America.

Last updated: March 30, 2016