Cass, Lewis

Born: 1782-10-09 Exeter, New Hampshire

Died: 1866-06-17 Detroit, Michigan

Lewis Cass graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1799 and briefly taught in Delaware. He then moved to Marietta, Ohio, and studied law before opening a practice in Zanesville. In 1806, he married Elizabeth Spencer, with whom he had five children. That same year, Cass won election to the Ohio General Assembly as a Jeffersonian Republican. He also earned appointment as federal marshal for Ohio. Cass volunteered during the War of 1812 and acted as colonel of the Third Ohio Regiment. By the end of the war, he had reached the rank of brigadier general. James Madison appointed him governor of the Michigan Territory in 1813 and he remained in that office until 1831. That year, Andrew Jackson selected Cass as secretary of war. In that capacity Cass, along with his other duties, was directly involved in supervising Jackson’s Indian Removal policy. In 1836, Jackson appointed Cass minister to France and Cass remained in that office until 1842, when he resigned over his opposition to the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. He was a strong candidate for the 1844 Democratic presidential nomination and won election to the U.S. Senate the following year. An expansionist, Cass encouraged President James K. Polk and others in pushing against England and Mexico over Oregon and Texas, respectively, and adhered to a popular sovereignty position during the sectional crisis. He won the 1848 Democratic presidential nomination but lost to Zachary Taylor due to Martin Van Buren’s Free Soil third-party candidacy. Cass remained in the Senate until 1857, where he served as president pro tempore for a single day: December 4, 1854. Because President Franklin Pierce had no vice president after Vice President William R. King’s death in April 1853, this technically made Cass—as the president pro tempore of the Senate—acting vice president of the United States for that day. In 1852, Cass nearly earned the Democratic presidential nomination. After his senate career, Cass served as James Buchanan’s secretary of state and supported John C. Breckinridge’s 1860 presidential campaign. He encouraged Buchanan to take a strong stance against the secessionists in the winter of 1860 and resigned over Buchanan’s unwillingness to act decisively.

Joel H. Silbey, "Cass, Lewis," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 4:546-47; Willard C. Klunder, Lewis Cass and the Politics of Moderation (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1996); Andrew C. McLaughlin, Lewis Cass (Boston, MA: Houghton, Mifflin, 1891); U.S. Senate Journal. 1854. 33rd Cong., 2nd Sess., 5-6; Biographical Directory of the American Congress 1774-1996 (Alexandria, VA: CQ Staff Directories, 1997), 1338; U.S. Const. art. I, § 3.