Lewis Cass

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Lewis Cass
Lewis Cass circa 1855.jpg
22nd United States Secretary of State
In office
March 6, 1857 – December 14, 1860
President James Buchanan
Preceded by William Marcy
Succeeded by Jeremiah Black
38th President pro tempore of the Senate
In office
December 4, 1854 – December 5, 1854
President Franklin Pierce
Preceded by David Atchison
Succeeded by Jesse Bright
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
March 4, 1849 – March 4, 1857
Preceded by Thomas Fitzgerald
Succeeded by Zachariah Chandler
In office
March 4, 1845 – May 29, 1848
Preceded by Augustus Porter
Succeeded by Thomas Fitzgerald
United States Ambassador to France
In office
October 4, 1836 – November 12, 1842
Appointed by Andrew Jackson
Preceded by Edward Livingston
Succeeded by William King
14th United States Secretary of War
In office
August 1, 1831 – October 4, 1836
President Andrew Jackson
Preceded by John Eaton
Succeeded by Joel Poinsett
2nd Territorial Governor of Michigan
In office
October 13, 1813 – August 1, 1831
(Military Governor from October 13 to October 29)
Appointed by James Madison
Preceded by William Hull
Succeeded by George Porter
Personal details
Born (1782-10-09)October 9, 1782
Exeter, New Hampshire, United States
Died June 17, 1866(1866-06-17) (aged 83)
Detroit, Michigan, United States
Political party Democratic Party
Spouse(s) Elizabeth "Eliza" Spencer Cass
Profession Lawyer
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1812–1814
Rank Brigadier General
Battles/wars War of 1812

Lewis Cass (October 9, 1782 – June 17, 1866) was an American military officer and politician. During his long political career, Cass served as a governor of the Michigan Territory, an American ambassador, a U.S. Senator representing Michigan, and co-founder as well as first Masonic Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Michigan. He was the losing nominee of the Democratic Party for president in 1848. Cass was nationally famous as a leading spokesman for the controversial Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, which would have allowed voters in the territories to determine whether to make slavery legal instead of having Congress decide.

Early life[edit]

Cass was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, where he attended Phillips Exeter Academy. His parents were Major Jonathan Cass and Molly Gilman. In 1800 he moved with his family to Marietta, Ohio. On May 26, 1806, he married Elizabeth Spencer.[1] He was initiated an Entered Apprentice of the Freemasons in what is now American Union Lodge No.1 at Marietta on December 5, 1803.[2] His Fellowcraft degree came on April 2, 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.[2] 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.[2] He later would co-found the Grand Lodge of Michigan, being elected as its first Grand Master on July 21, 1826.[3][4] He would serve as Grand Master of Michigan again in 1844.[2] In 1807, he became the US Marshal for Ohio. When the War of 1812 began, he took command of the 3rd Ohio Volunteer Regiment. Promoted to brigadier general in March 1813, he took part in the Battle of the Thames.

Territorial governor[edit]

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. However, he was frequently absent, and several territorial secretaries often acted as governor in his place.

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.[1] That same year, Cass was named to serve as Secretary of War under President James Monroe, but he declined the honor.

In 1820, he 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 source of the river was then unknown, which resulted in an undefined border between the United States and British North America. The Cass expedition erroneously identified Cass Lake as the Mississippi's source, and it was not until 1832 that the correct source was identified as nearby Lake Itasca by Henry Schoolcraft, who had been the Cass expedition's geologist.

Later political career[edit]

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 formulating and implementing the Indian removal policy of the Jackson administration. Next, Cass was appointed minister to France, a post he retained 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, who went on to win the presidential election.

Lewis Cass

Cass represented Michigan in the United States Senate 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. William Orlando Butler was his running mate.[5] 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.[6] His nomination caused a split in the Democratic party, leading many antislavery Democrats to join the Free Soil Party. He also supported the annexation of Texas.

After losing the election to Zachary Taylor, he returned to the Senate, serving from 1849 to 1857. He was the first non-incumbent Democratic presidential candidate to lose an election.

From 1857 to 1860, Cass served as Secretary of State under President James Buchanan.[1] He was sympathetic to American filibusterers and was instrumental in having Commodore Hiram Paulding removed from command for his landing of Marines in Nicaragua and compelling the removal of William Walker to the United States.[7] Cass resigned on December 13, 1860, because of 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.[8]

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

His daughter, Isabella Cass, was married to 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.

Michigan-based attorney, activist and singer-songwriter Jen Cass 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
  • The Lewis Cass Legacy Society, which supports The Michigan Masonic Charitable Foundation, was named for his support of Michigan Freemasonry.
  • Bartow County, GA was original 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.

Other honors and memberships[edit]

Elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1820.[9]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Heidler, David S., and Heidler, Jeanne T. (eds) (2004). Encyclopedia of the War of 1812, pp. 83-84. Naval Institute Press. ISBN 1-59114-362-4.
  2. ^ a b c d "Past Grand Masters - 1810 Lewis Cass". Grand Lodge of Ohio. Retrieved 2012-12-21. 
  3. ^ "Early American Freemasonry in Massachusetts and Ohio", Masonic Sourcebook
  4. ^ Conover, Jefferson S. (1896). Freemasonry in Michigan. Coldwater, Michigan: The Conover Engraving and Printing Company. pp. 113–122. 
  5. ^ Kleber, John E. (ed.) (1992). The Kentucky Encyclopedia, p. 146. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0-8131-1772-0, ISBN 978-0-8131-1772-0.
  6. ^ Klunder, Willard Carl (1996). Lewis Cass and the Politics of Moderation, pp. 266–67. Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-536-5, ISBN 978-0-87338-536-7.
  7. ^ Collier, Ellen C. (1993) "Instances of Use of United States Forces Abroad, 1798 - 1993" CRS Issue Brief Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, Washington DC
  8. ^ Cass's resignation statement, quoted in McLaughlin, Andrew Cunningham (1899) Lewis Cass Houghton, Mifflin, Boston, pp. 345–346, OCLC 4377268, (standard library edition, first edition was published in 1891)
  9. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]