People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do.
Lewis Cass

When you think of mid-19th century American politics, certain names flutter to the top:

John C. Calhoun.

Henry Clay.

Abraham Lincoln.

Lewis Cass?

Ok, so maybe he wasn't known for his fiery rhetoric, his stubborn indignation, or his noble stature. Yet upon his death in 1866, one could easily have claimed that very few people had accomplished as much as he had: teacher, lawyer, Congressman, brigadier general, governor, ambassador, Senator, and Presidential candidate.

Lewis Cass was born October 9, 1782 in Exeter, New Hampshire to Jonathan Cass, a craftsman who had served under Washington during the American Revolution. As a teenager, he became fast friends with another 19th century notable, Daniel Webster. At 17, he began teaching in Wilmington, Delaware, and at 18, he decided to make it completely on his own, moving to the newly formed state of Ohio. In 1806, he was elected to the state Legislature (the same year he married Elizabeth Spencer). That year Cass also served on the committee which eventually condemned Aaron Burr for treasonous activities. Cass's tenacity and his rapport with President Jefferson was rewarded in 1807, when he was named the state's United States Marshal, a position he served as until 1812. He opened a law firm in Marietta in 1808, which he kept afloat until 1812, when he enlisted in the army being formed to fight the invading British.

In 15 months, Cass rose from second lieutenant to colonel, and at the end of the war he was a brigadier general. He was commended 6 times for bravery in the course of battle; let it never be said Lewis was a coward. Cass was a major contributor to the American effort to defend its northern borders from British invaders in Canada. After the war, Cass was handed the rather overwhelming job of governor of the newly formed Michigan Territory. Unlike many of the other governors and territorial leaders, Cass's relations with the Native American tribes in the area were remarkably good. He also amassed a personal fortune at the time by building mines and timber mills throughout the territory.

Continuing in this post until 1831, Cass was rewarded for his exemplary service by serving under Andrew Jackson as secretary of war from 1831 until 1836. After Jackson's tenure as President ended, Cass thought his days as a public servant were limited. Instead, he was sent off to Paris to serve as the United States minister to France.

He returned from his duties in France in 1842, and again settled down to a retired life in Michigan. However, he was cajoled into running for the United States Senate in 1845, where he won handily. He served as a strong Democratic candidate, often speaking out forcefully against tariffs and protectionism.

By 1848, the Senator from Michigan had made enough friends to run for President. While he faced little competition within the party, Cass faced considerable sorts of it in the form of Whig candidate Zachary Taylor. Taylor was a much more contemporary military hero (having served in the Mexican-American War) and also owned slaves. Cass did not own slaves himself, but felt it was up to the new territories to decide whether they wanted slavery or not. To protest this, a group of Northerners who opposed slavery formed the Free Soil Party and nominated Martin Van Buren. The party stole away votes from Cass, and when the smoke had cleared, Taylor had won the Presidency. It was Cass's only political defeat.

Cass continued as a Senator for 9 more years, until he was asked to serve as James Buchanan's secretary of state. He did so, but soon grew disgusted with Buchanan's constant appeasing tactics of the belligerent Southern states. He resigned in 1860 after protesting the decision not to reinforce the Charleston forts. He continued to support the Union both financially and morally until the end of the war, even inciting a riot in Michigan with his pro-war rhetoric in 1861.

Lewis Cass passed away July 17, 1866 at his home in Detroit, Michigan. Although in recent years his legacy has faded from many memories, his weight and power during his day will never be diminished.

A very detailed biography can be found at Ozymandias ...

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