Lewis Cass
by R.D. Monroe, Ph.D.


Lewis Cass (1782-1866) was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, and attended Phillips Exeter Academy. He moved to Ohio, studied law, and set up a practice. He served a single term in the Ohio legislature. He joined the militia in the War of 1812, rising to the rank of major general of volunteers. He was appointed governor of Michigan territory in 1813, and remained in that position until Andrew Jackson tapped him to be secretary of war in 1831. Cass presided over Jackson's grim Indian removal policy. He was later minister to France and a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844. Michigan elected Cass to the U.S. Senate in 1845, where he was a generally reliable supporter of President James K. Polk. He ran for president again in 1848 on a popular sovereignty platform--Cass advocated allowing the people of the territories to decide whether to permit slavery. He was defeated by Whig candidate Zachary Taylor. He returned to the Senate in 1851 and served until his defeat in 1857. President James Buchanan appointed Cass secretary of state, and he served until Buchanan's weak leadership in the secession crisis prompted him to tender his resignation. He retired to Detroit where he died the year after the conclusion of the Civil War.