Lewis Cass
22nd United States Secretary of State
In office
March 6, 1857 – December 14, 1860
PresidentJames Buchanan
Preceded byWilliam Marcy
Succeeded byJeremiah Black
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
December 4, 1854 – December 5, 1854
Preceded byDavid Atchison
Succeeded byJesse Bright
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
March 4, 1849 – March 3, 1857
Preceded byThomas Fitzgerald
Succeeded byZachariah Chandler
In office
March 4, 1845 – May 29, 1848
Preceded byAugustus Porter
Succeeded byThomas Fitzgerald
United States Ambassador to France
In office
December 1, 1836 – November 12, 1842
PresidentAndrew Jackson
Preceded byEdward Livingston
Succeeded byWilliam King
14th United States Secretary of War
In office
August 1, 1831 – October 4, 1836
PresidentAndrew Jackson
Preceded byRoger B. Taney (Acting)
Succeeded byJoel Poinsett
2nd Governor of the Michigan Territory
In office
October 13, 1813 – August 1, 1831
Appointed byJames Madison
Preceded byWilliam Hull
Succeeded byGeorge Porter
Personal details
Born(1782-10-09)October 9, 1782
Exeter, New Hampshire, U.S.
DiedJune 17, 1866(1866-06-17) (aged 83)
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Eliza Spencer
(m. 1806; her death 1853)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1812–1814
RankBrigadier General
Battles/warsWar of 1812

Lewis Cass (October 9, 1782 – June 17, 1866) was an American military officer, politician, and statesman. He represented Michigan in the United States Senate and served in the Cabinets of two U.S. Presidents, Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan. He was also the 1848 Democratic presidential nominee and a leading spokesman for the Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, which held that the people in each territory should decide whether to permit slavery.

Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, he attended Phillips Exeter Academy before establishing a legal practice in Zanesville, Ohio. After serving in the Ohio House of Representatives, he was appointed as a U.S. Marshal. Cass also joined the Freemasons and would eventually co-found the Grand Lodge of Michigan. He fought at the Battle of the Thames in the War of 1812 and was appointed to govern Michigan Territory in 1813. He negotiated treaties with Native Americans to open land for American settlement and led a survey expedition into the northwest part of the territory.

Cass resigned as governor in 1831 to accept appointment as Secretary of War under Andrew Jackson. As Secretary of War, he helped implement Jackson's policy of Indian removal. After serving as ambassador to France from 1836 to 1842, he unsuccessfully sought the presidential nomination at the 1844 Democratic National Convention; a deadlock between supporters of Cass and former President Martin Van Buren ended with the nomination of James K. Polk. In 1845, the Michigan Legislature elected Cass to the Senate, where he served until 1848. Cass's nomination at the 1848 Democratic National Convention precipitated a split in the party, as Cass's advocacy for popular sovereignty alienated the anti-slavery wing of the party. Van Buren led the Free Soil Party's presidential ticket and appealed to many anti-slavery Democrats, possibly contributing to the victory of Whig nominee Zachary Taylor.

Cass returned to the Senate in 1849 and continued to serve until 1857, when he accepted appointment as the Secretary of State. He unsuccessfully sought to buy land from Mexico and sympathized with American filibusters in Latin America. Cass resigned from the Cabinet in December 1860 in protest of Buchanan's handling of the threatened secession of several Southern states. Since his death in 1866, he has been commemorated in various ways, including with a statue in the National Statuary Hall.

Early life

Cass was born on October 9, 1782 in Exeter, New Hampshire, just after the end of the American Revolutionary War. His parents were Molly (née Gilman) Cass and Major Jonathan Cass, a Revolutionary War veteran who fought under General George Washington at Bunker Hill.[1]

He attended the private Phillips Exeter Academy. 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. Cass studied law with Return J. Meigs Jr., was admitted to the bar, and began a practice in Zanesville.


In 1806, Cass was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives. The following year, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Cass as the U.S. Marshal for Ohio.[2]

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.[3] He achieved his Fellow Craft 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.[3] 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.[3]

War of 1812

When the War of 1812 began against the United Kingdom, 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 on September 29 with several Native American tribes of the region, under which they ceded large amounts of territory to the United States.[4] This helped open up areas of Michigan to settlement by 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.

Secretary of War

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.[1]

U.S. Minister to France

Lewis Cass

At the end of his term, President Jackson appointed Cass to succeed Edward Livingston as the U.S. Minister to France on October 4, 1836. He presented his credentials on December 1, 1836 and served until he left his post on November 12, 1842 when he was succeeded by William R. King, who later became the 13th Vice President of the United States under President Franklin Pierce.

Presidential ambitions and U.S. Senate

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.

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.[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 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 legislature 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.

U.S. Secretary of State

On March 6, 1857, President James Buchanan appointed Cass to serve as Secretary of State.[4] 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.[7] Cass attempted to buy more land from Mexico, but faced opposition from both Mexico and congressional leaders. He also negotiated a final settlement to the Clayton–Bulwer Treaty, limiting U.S. and British control of Latin American countries.[2]

Cass resigned on December 14, 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.[8]

Personal life

On May 26, 1806, Cass married Elizabeth Spencer (1786–1853), the daughter of Dr. Joseph Spencer Jr. and Deborah (née Seldon) Spencer.[4] Her paternal grandfather was Joseph Spencer, a Continental Congressman who was a major general in the Continental Army.[9] Lewis and Elizabeth were the parents of seven children, five of whom lived past infancy:[10]

Cass died on June 17, 1866 in Detroit, Michigan. He is buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Detroit, Michigan.


Through his daughter Matilda, he was the grandfather of Elizabeth Cass Ledyard (wife of Francis Wayland Goddard);[12] Henry Brockholst Ledyard Jr. (who was president of the Michigan Central Railroad);[13][14] Susan Livingston Ledyard (wife of Hamilton Bullock Tompkins);[15] Lewis Cass Ledyard (a prominent lawyer with Carter Ledyard & Milburn who was the personal counsel of J. Pierpont Morgan);[16][17] and Matilda Spancer Ledyard.[18]

Cass's great-great grandson, Republican Thomas Cass Ballenger, represented North Carolina's 10th Congressional District from 1986 to 2005.[19]


Lewis Cass Legacy Society logo

Other honors and memberships

Cass was elected a member of the American Antiquarian Society in 1820.[22]


  • Cass, Lewis (1840). France, its King, Court and Government. New York: Wiley and Putnam.

See also


  1. ^ a b "Lewis Cass - People - Department History". history.state.gov. Office of the Historian, Bureau of Public Affairs United States Department of State. Retrieved 23 June 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Biographies of the Secretaries of State: Lewis Cass (1782–1866)". Office of the Historian. U.S. State Department. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
  3. ^ a b c "Past Grand Masters - 1810 Lewis Cass". Grand Lodge of Ohio. Archived from the original on 2016-09-21. Retrieved 2012-12-21. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ 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.
  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 (1996), pp. 266–67
  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 Archived 2015-06-17 at the Wayback Machine
  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. ^ Whittelsey, Charles Barney. "Historical Sketch of Joseph Spencer - Sons of the American Revolution, Connecticut". www.connecticutsar.org. Historian Society of the Sons of the Revolution in the State of Connecticut. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
  10. ^ Burton, Clarence Monroe; et al. (1922). The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701–1922. 2. Detroit, MI: S. J. Publishing Company. p. 1367.
  11. ^ a b c d e f g The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, p. 1367.
  12. ^ Island, National Society of the Colonial Dames of America Rhode (1897). First record book of the Society of Colonial Dames in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations: Ending August 31, 1896. Snow & Farnham, printers. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  13. ^ Clarence Monroe Burton; William Stocking; Gordon K. Miller (1922), The city of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922; Volume 4, The S. J. Clarke publishing company, pp. 5–6
  14. ^ "Ledyard Given Quiet Funeral," Detroit Free Press, May 28, 1921, pg. 11.
  15. ^ Tompkins, Hamilton Bullock (1877). Biographical Record of the Class of 1865, of Hamilton College. Hamilton College. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  16. ^ Psi Upsilon (1932), The diamond of Psi Upsilon, 18, Psi Upsilon Fraternity, pp. 170–171
  17. ^ Marquis, Albert Nelson (1911). Who's Who in America | A Biographical Directory of Notable Living Men and Women of The United States | Vol VI 1910-1911. London: A. N. Marquis & Co. p. 1134. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  18. ^ Ledyard, Henry. "Guide to the Henry Ledyard collection 1726-1899 and undated (bulk 1840-1859)" (PDF). library.brown.edu. Redwood Library and Athenaeum. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  19. ^ United States Congress (2005). Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774–2005. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. p. 604. ISBN 978-0-16-073176-1.
  20. ^ The History of Miami County, Ohio: Containing a History of the County; Its Cities, Towns, Etc. Windmill Publications. 1880. p. 396.
  21. ^ Kenny, Hamill (1945). West Virginia Place Names: Their Origin and Meaning, Including the Nomenclature of the Streams and Mountains. Piedmont, WV: The Place Name Press. p. 159.
  22. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory


  • United States Congress. "Lewis Cass (id: C000233)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
  • Klunder, Willard Carl (1996). Lewis Cass and the Politics of Moderation, Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-536-5, ISBN 978-0-87338-536-7
  • Klunder, Willard Carl. "Lewis Cass, Stephen Douglas, and Popular Sovereignty: The Demise of Democratic Party Unity," in Politics and Culture of the Civil War Era ed by Daniel J. McDonough and Kenneth W. Noe, (2006) pp. 129–53
  • Klunder, Willard Carl (1991). "The Seeds of Popular Sovereignty: Governor Lewis Cass and Michigan Territory". Michigan Historical Review. 17 (1): 64–81. JSTOR 20173254.
  • Silbey, Joel H. Party Over Section: The Rough and Ready Presidential Election of 1848 (2009), 205 pp.
  • Bell, William Gardner (1992). "Lewis Cass". Secretaries of War and Secretaries of the Army. United States Army Center of Military History. CMH pub 70-12.
  • Elmwood Cemetery Biography
  • Cleland, Charles E. "Rites of Conquest: The History and Culture of Michigan's Native Americans". University of Michigan Press (1992).

External links

  • Lewis Cass papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan.
  • Lewis Cass at Find a Grave