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    Description

    James K. Polk Autograph Letter Signed as President with Roger Taney Signed Statement as Chief Justice. One page of a bifolium, 7.75" x 9.75", Washington City; September 9, 1846. At top, President Polk appoints John Y. Mason, Secretary of the Navy, to serve temporarily as Attorney General of the Unites States: "You are hereby appointed and authorized to perform the duties of Attorney General of the United States, until an appointment shall be made to that office. / Very Respy. yr. obt. Servt. / James K. Polk".

    Chief Justice Roger Taney signs a statement written entirely in his hand, certifying that he has administered the oath of office to Mason. His statement reads: "This day John Y. Mason personally appeared before one Roger B. Taney, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and made oath that he will well & faithfully perform the duties of Attorney Genl. of the United States ad interim, and that he will support the Constitution of the United States. Given under my hand this 9th day of September 1846. / Roger B. Taney".

    President James Knox Polk's appointment of Mason as attorney general of the United States occurred during the first year of the War with Mexico. John Y. Mason (1799-1859) was born in Emporia, Virginia. His first public office was that of delegate to the Virginia House of Representatives (1823-1827). He then became a state senator (1827-1831) and a U.S. congressman (1831-1837). In March 1844, President John Tyler appointed Mason his fifth secretary of the Navy. Mason remained in that post until the end of the Tyler administration. When James K. Polk succeeded Tyler as president, he made Mason his attorney general. When George Bancroft, Polk's first secretary of the Navy, resigned in order to accept the post of minister to Great Britain, Mason was temporarily appointed secretary of the Navy. He served in that position from September 10, 1846 until March 7, 1849. In 1854, he became the U.S. envoy to France, a title he held until his death.

    What is interesting about this document is the date of the appointment. Polk appointed Mason his attorney general when he took office in March 1845, yet this appointment is September 9, 1846, more than a year after Mason assumed the cabinet post. One would have imagined that Mason would have taken the oath of office of attorney general before Chief Justice before his first day in office. On September 10, 1846, a day after this document is dated, Mason began his appointment at Polk's Secretary of the Navy, which meant that his days as attorney general would end when a suitable replacement was found. It appears that once Polk appointed him Secretary of the Navy, a temporary appointment as attorney general was necessary, as well as another oath before Taney. Mason was succeeded as attorney general on October 17, 1846, when Nathan Clifford (1803-1881) assumed the post. Clifford served in that capacity until March 1848.

    Condition: The document has the usual folds and creasing, resulting in a bit of buckling to surface. Light soiling and annotation in pencil on verso of integral blank.


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    6th Saturday 10:50 am CT
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