Lewis Cass
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Lewis Cass

Lewis Cass American politician

American politician
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American politician
Countries United States of America
Occupations Politician Diplomat
Type Politics
Gender male
Birth 9 October 1782 (Exeter)
Death 17 June 1866 (Detroit)
The details

Lewis Cass (October 9, 1782 – June 17, 1866) was an American military officer, politician, and statesman: he was longtime governor of the Michigan Territory (1813–1831), Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson, and Secretary of State under President James Buchanan. During his long political career, Cass served as an American ambassador to France, and as a U.S. Senator representing Michigan. A Mason from his years as a young man in Ohio, Cass was co-founder of the Grand Lodge of Michigan and its first Masonic Grand Master.
Cass was nationally known in the late antebellum period as a leading spokesman for the controversial Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty. It proposed allowing voters in the United States territories to determine whether to allow slavery in each jurisdiction rather than having Congress determine this. In 1848 Cass ran as a presidential candidate for the Democratic Party but lost to Zachary Taylor.

Early life, marriage and Freemasonry

Lewis Cass was born in 1782 in Exeter, New Hampshire, just after the end of the American Revolutionary War. He attended the private Phillips Exeter Academy. His parents were Major Jonathan Cass, a Revolutionary War veteran, and Molly Gilman. In 1800 the family moved to Marietta, Ohio, part of a wave of westward migration after the end of the war and defeat of Native Americans in the Northwest Indian War.

On May 26, 1806, Cass married Elizabeth Spencer. He joined the Freemasons, an increasingly popular fraternal organization in that period, being initiated as an Entered Apprentice in what is now American Union Lodge No.1 at Marietta on December 5, 1803. He achieved his Fellowcraft degree on April 2, 1804, and his Master Mason degree on May 7, 1804. On June 24, 1805, he was admitted as Charter member of Lodge of Amity 105 (now No.5), Zanesville. He served as the first Worshipful Master of Lodge of Amity in 1806.

Cass was one of the founders of the Grand Lodge of Ohio, representing Lodge of Amity at the first meeting on January 4, 1808. He was elected Deputy Grand Master on January 5, 1809, and Grand Master on January 3, 1810, January 8, 1811, and January 8, 1812. In 1807, he became the US Marshal for Ohio.

War of 1812

When the War of 1812 began against Great Britain, he took command of the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment. He became colonel of the 27th United States Infantry Regiment on February 20, 1813. Soon after, he was promoted to brigadier general in the Regular Army on March 12, 1813. Cass took part in the Battle of the Thames, a defeat of British Canadian forces. Cass resigned from the Army on May 1, 1814. Overall, the war closed in, essentially, a draw, but settled the boundary between Canada and the United States.

Territorial governor of Michigan

As a reward for his military service, Cass was appointed Governor of the Michigan Territory by President James Madison on October 29, 1813, serving until 1831. As he was frequently traveling on business, several territorial secretaries often acted as governor in his place. During this period, he helped negotiate and implement treaties with Native American tribes in Michigan, by which they ceded substantial amounts of land. Some were given small reservations in the territory.

In 1817, Cass was one of the two commissioners (along with Duncan McArthur), who negotiated the Treaty of Fort Meigs, which was signed September 29 with several Native American tribes of the region, under which they ceded large amounts of territory to the United States. This helped open up areas of Michigan to settlement by European Americans. That same year, Cass was named to serve as Secretary of War under President James Monroe, but he declined the honor.

In 1820, Cass led an expedition to the northwestern part of the Michigan Territory, in the Great Lakes region in today's northern Minnesota. Its purpose was to map the region and locate the source of the Mississippi River. The headwater of the great river was then unknown, resulting in an undefined border between the United States and British North America, which had been linked to the river. The Cass expedition erroneously identified what became known as Cass Lake as the Mississippi's source. It was not until 1832 that Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, the Cass expedition's geologist, identified nearby Lake Itasca as the headwater of the Mississippi.

Later political career

On August 1, 1831, Cass resigned as governor of the Michigan Territory to take the post of Secretary of War under President Andrew Jackson, a position he would hold until 1836. Cass was a central figure in implementing the Indian removal policy of the Jackson administration; Congress had passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. While it was directed chiefly against the Southeastern tribes, especially the Five Civilized Tribes, it also affected tribes in Ohio, Illinois and other areas east of the Mississippi River. Most were forced to Indian Territory in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma, but a number of bands negotiated being allowed to remain in Michigan.

Next, Cass was appointed minister to France, serving until 1842.

In the 1844 Democratic convention Cass stood as a candidate for the presidential nomination, losing on the 9th ballot to dark horse candidate James K. Polk.

Lewis Cass

Cass was elected by the state legislature to represent Michigan in the United States Senate, serving from 1845 to 1848. He served as chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs in the 30th Congress.

In 1848, he resigned from the Senate to run for president in the 1848 election. William Orlando Butler was selected as his running mate. Cass was a leading supporter of the doctrine of popular sovereignty, which held that the people who lived in a territory should decide whether to permit slavery there. His nomination caused a split in the Democratic Party, leading many antislavery Northern Democrats to join the Free Soil Party, which nominated former President Martin Van Buren.

After losing the election to Zachary Taylor, Cass was returned by the state house to the Senate, serving from 1849 to 1857. He was the first non-incumbent Democratic presidential candidate to lose an election and the first Democrat who was unsuccessful in his bid to succeed another Democrat as President. Apart from James Buchanan's election to succeed Franklin Pierce in 1856, subsequent Democrats who attempted election to succeed another Democrat as President all failed in their bid to do so.

From 1857 to 1860, Cass served as Secretary of State under President James Buchanan. While sympathetic to American filibusters in Central America, he was instrumental in having Commodore Hiram Paulding removed from command for his landing of Marines in Nicaragua and compelling the extradition of William Walker to the United States.

Cass resigned on December 13, 1860, because of what he considered Buchanan's failure to protect federal interests in the South and failure to mobilize the federal military, actions that might have averted the threatened secession of Southern states.

Cass died in 1866. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.


His daughter, Isabella Cass, married Theodorus Marinus Roest van Limburg (1806–1887), Dutch ambassador in the USA (1856–1868) and Foreign Minister (1868–1870).

His great-great grandson Cass Ballenger was a U.S. Representative from North Carolina.

Jen Cass, a Michigan-based attorney, activist and singer-songwriter, is Lewis Cass' great-great-great-grandniece.


Lewis Cass Legacy Society logo
  • A statue of Cass is one of the two that were submitted by Michigan to the National Statuary Hall collection in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. It stands in the National Statuary Hall room. (The other statue is of President Gerald Ford, the only U.S. president to come from Michigan.)
  • The Liberty ship S.S. Lewis Cass
  • He is the namesake of the village of Casstown, Ohio, and the community of Cassville, West Virginia. Also Cass City, Michigan and the Cass River that runs around the surrounding areas.
  • The Lewis Cass Legacy Society, which supports The Michigan Masonic Charitable Foundation, was named for his support of Michigan Freemasonry.
  • Bartow County, Georgia was originally named Cass County after Lewis Cass, but was changed in 1861 after Francis Bartow died as a Confederate war hero and due to Cass' alleged opposition to slavery, even though he was an advocate of states' rights via the doctrine of popular sovereignty.
  • Cass Technical High School in Detroit was named in honor of Lewis Cass.
  • Lewis Cass is the name sake of Cass County, Indiana, and Lewis Cass High School in Walton, Indiana.

Other honors and memberships

Elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1820.


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