COUNTIES: Cumberland, Perry
Alexander Mahon, born 1782, grew up one of eight children born to David and Sarah Dougherty Mahon of Peters Township, Cumberland County (near Shippensburg); graduated from Dickinson College in 1805; established his home in Carlisle; read law under Thomas Duncan; and was admitted to the Cumberland and Perry County bars in 1808 and 1821 respectively. He married Mary Fisher of Carlisle, August 31, 1815, rearing several daughters, one (Fanny) who married Henry Buehler, Democratic state party leader and grandson of Governor George Wolf. In 1820, he became a trustee of Dickinson College, a position he held through 1827. During the latter year, Mahon participated in a trustee revolt at the college. The senator, Edward James, and Rednard Conyngham, all Episcopalians and of “lettered tastes and liberal feelings,” resigned as trustees, protesting what some perceived as Presbyterian George Duffield’s “religious intolerance.” In 1820 Cumberland and Perry County voters chose Alex as their Sixth District senator. He served William Marks as Chair of the Education Committee, assuming the reigns as Speaker in 1825, succeeding interim Senate chief Burnside.
Alexander’s supported important improvement measures, including “An Act incorporating the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company (1825),” a bill that helped the Commonwealth compete more effectively with the already completed Erie Canal. At the same time, he voted against the Pennsylvania Canal bill on sectional lines, since many southeastern (excluding Philadelphia) and central Pennsylvanians benefitted from a Baltimore terminus, as the C&O provided.
Mahon backed a resolution pursuant to the Monroe Doctrine, authorizing the appointment of a Panamanian diplomatic delegation to discuss an official alliance with the recently liberated South American Republics: its objective, to “familiarize our government with the views and resources of a people rising in the majesty of their strength in scale of national importance.” While Mahon’s calendar included a strengthened fugitive slave act - sheltering free Commonwealth African Americans against interstate kidnappers and affording greater protection against unscrupulous Pennsylvanians who might sell fugitive slaves – within, or out of state, the 1826 bill nevertheless reinforced its state comity with Southern slave interests; promising return of runaways.
The Senator supported the 1824 Tod textile tariff (the Harrisburg Plan) and the 1828 “Tariff of Abominations.” After seven years in the upper house – three as Speaker – joint caucus elected Mahon, state treasurer. Receiving the honor on January 8, 1828, the former Speaker moved to Harrisburg and served the post through 1835. Considered “a man of great oratorical power,” Mahon earned respect as one of the most able attorneys in the state. He died of a lingering illness in Harrisburg, completely blind, on December 9, 1855.
Will Book H: 209/11, 15 Feb. 1812/ 20 October 1813, Cumberland County Courthouse; History of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (Chicago: Warner, Beers, and Co., 1886), 155; Conway P. Wing, History of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia: James D. Scott, 1879), 165; Charles Coleman Sellers, A History of Dickinson College (Carlisle: Dickinson College, 1973), 182; also: William A. Hunter, “Substitute for Truth: Hazard’s Provincial Correspondence,” Pennsylvania History, v. 29 (1962) n. 84, 278-290; SJ, February 6, 1826, 298-299; SJ, March 22, 1826, 491; American Volunteer (Carlisle), December 27, 1855; also: “Archibald Mahon and His Descendants,” Family File, Cumberland County Historical Society.