Lewis Cass papers  1774-1924
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Biography

Lewis Cass (1782-1866) was a lawyer, officer in the War of 1812, governor of Michigan, United States senator, secretary of war, secretary of state, and Democratic presidential candidate. Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, to Jonathan Cass and Mary Gillman, he was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy. He taught for a brief period in Wilmington, Delaware, before relocating to Zanesville, Ohio. There he studied law with Governor Meigs and opened a private practice in 1802. He was made prosecuting attorney of Muskingum County in 1804 and in 1806 was elected to the Ohio legislature. That same year he married Elizabeth Spencer (1786-1853); they had 4 daughters and 1 son.

Cass was active in the Democratic Party; his strong support for Thomas Jefferson led to his appointment as United States marshal for the district of Ohio. At the outbreak of the War of 1812, he enlisted as a colonel in the 3rd Ohio Infantry under General William Hull. He was present when Hull surrendered Detroit, and later wrote a report critical of Hull's performance and testified at the court martial proceedings. On March 20, 1813, he was promoted to brigadier general, and contributed substantially to the American victory in the Battle of the Thames the following year.

After his military victories in 1813, Cass was appointed military and civil governor of Michigan Territory, a position he held from 1813-1831. As governor, Cass was instrumental in formulating a government policy toward Native Americans in the west, and was a central figure in promoting removal as a general policy. He treated with Native American tribes at Fort Meigs on September 29, 1817, gaining parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan for the US government, and signed a treaty with numerous tribes at Prairie du Chien in 1825. Andrew Jackson appointed Cass as secretary of war in 1831 and United States envoy to France in 1836, but his outspoken anglophobia led to a disagreement with Secretary of State Daniel Webster and prompted his resignation in 1842. Cass was elected senator from Michigan in 1845 and was reelected in 1851. He won the Democratic Party nomination for president in 1848, but lost to the Whig candidate Zachery Taylor. As a senator, Cass approved of the Compromise of 1850 and opposed the Wilmot Proviso, believing that states should decide the slavery question for themselves. Cass joined the Buchanan cabinet as secretary of state in 1857, but, with the growing threat of South Carolina's secession, Cass became convinced that only military force could save the Union. He resigned from the cabinet in December 1860, when Buchanan refused to fortify the federal garrisons at Charleston. He left Washington for Detroit in February 1861 and spent his final years engaged in scholarly pursuits and speaking in favor of the Union. He died in 1866. See additional descriptive data for a timeline of Cass' career.