Deadline Now: Don Faber
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Deadline Now: Don Faber

Friday, January 11, 2013 at 8:30 p.m.

In 1831, Stevens T. Mason was named Secretary of the Michigan Territory at the tender age of 19. The youngest presidential appointee in American history, Mason quickly stamped his persona on Michigan life in large letters.

Author Don Faber has written an acclaimed biography of Mason, called The Boy Governor. Faber is Jack Lessenberry's guest on this edition of "Deadline Now."

On the web: www.press.umich.edu

Here are Jack Lessenberry's Final Thoughts for this edition of "Deadline Now:"

Like most kids who grew up in Michigan, I’d learned in elementary school that our first governor was Stevens T. Mason and that he was the youngest governor in American history.

But I don’t remember learning much else about him. Later, I became vaguely aware that he died young, and was buried somewhere in downtown Detroit. 

But that was where my knowledge stopped. Two and a half years ago, however, Mason burst back into the state’s conscious for an initially embarrassing reason. They were renovating Capitol Park, the site of Michigan’s first statehouse back when he was governor.

Mason, who died in eighteen forty one had been buried there since 1905, when his body had been brought back from a tomb in New York state. Once before, they’d had to move his body to make way for a bus station. This time, they couldn’t find his remains.

After a couple days, they finally did. 

Tom Mason’s skeleton, mostly intact, had been lovingly stitched to a mattress in his coffin. Don Faber and I both had the awesome experience of being allowed to view his bones.

Even before that, my interest in Michigan’s first governor had been awakened by Faber’s earlier book, the Toledo War. Granted, times were very different in the 1839s, when Tom Mason had the temerity to face down Andrew Jackson, his patron and one of the nation’s strongest early presidents.

But what he attempted and succeeded in doing is still nothing short of amazing. Think about it: A 19-year-old somewhat aristocratic kid from Virginia succeed in winning over the rough frontiersmen of Michigan territory to become their first governor.

Later, of course, everything went sour when the Panic of 1837 hit. The state had borrowed heavily to finance much-needed internal improvements, like roads, and couldn’t repay its debts. Mason declined to run for re-election, and left the state.

You might blame his economic miscalculations on his youth and inexperience. But in the nearly two centuries since, many much older politicians have suffered much the same fate.

Last year on October 26, my wife and I and a friend had lunch in downtown Detroit, and walked over afterwards to pay tribute to our first governor on his two hundred and first birthday.

Nobody can know, of course. But my guess is that Tom Mason would have liked that, and liked knowing he was still remembered. 

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