Lewis Cass
Territorial Governor (1813 - 1831)

 Military service: US Army (General, War of 1812)
The American General and statesman Lewis Cass was born at Exeter, New Hampshire, on the 9th of October 1872. He was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, joined his father at Marietta, Ohio, about 1799, studied law there in the office of Return Jonathan Meigs (1765-1825), and was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty. Four years later he became a member of the Ohio legislature. During the War of 1812 he served under General William Hull, whose surrender at Detroit he strongly condemned, and under General William Henry Harrison, and rose from the rank of colonel of volunteers to be major-general of Ohio militia and finally to be a brigadier-general in the regular United States Army.  In 1813 he was appointed governor of the territory of Michigan, the area of which was much larger than that of the present state.  This position gave him the chief control of Indian affairs for the territory, which was then occupied almost entirely by natives, there being only 6000 white settlers. During the eighteen years in which he held this post he rendered valuable services to the territory and to the nation; he extinguished the Indian title to large tracts of land, instituted surveys, constructed roads, and explored the lakes and sources of the Mississippi river. His relations with the British authorities in Canada after the War of 18121 were at times very trying, as these officials persisted in searching American vessels on the Great Lakes and in arousing the hostility of the Indians of the territory against the American government. To those experiences was largely due to the antipathy for Great Britain manifested by him in his later career. Upon the reorganization of President Andrew Jackson's cabinet in 1831 he became Secretary of War, and held this office until 1836. It fell to him, therefore, to direct the conduct of the Black Hawk and Seminole wars. He sided with the president in his nullification controversy with South Carolina and in his removal of the Indians from Georgia, but not in his withdrawal of the government deposits from the United States Bank.

In 1836 General Cass was appointed minister to France, and became very popular with the French government and people.  In 1842, when the Quintuple Treaty was negotiated by representatives of England, France, Prussia and Austria for the suppression of the slave trade by the exercise of the search, Cass attacked it in a pamphlet entitled "An Examination of the Questions now in Discussion between the American and British Government Concerning the Right of Search", and presented to the French government a formal memorial which was probably instrumental in preventing the ratification of the treaty by France. In this same year the Webster-Ashburton treaty between Great Britain and the United States was concluded, and, as England did not thereby relinquish her claim of the right to search American vessels, Cass, after having taken such a decided stand in this controversy, felt himself in an awkward position, and resigned his post. His attitude on this question made him very popular in America, and he was a strong, but unsuccessful, candidate for the Democratic nomination for4 the Presidency in 1844.  From 1845 to 1848 and from 1849 to 1857 he was a member of the United States Senate, and in 1846 was a leader of those demanding the "re-annexation" of all the Oregon country south of 54 degrees 40 minutes or war with England, and was one of the fourteen who voted against the ratification of the compromise with England at the 49th parallel. He loyally supported James Knox Polk's administration during the Mexican War, opposed the Wilmot Proviso, and advocated the Compromise Measures of 1850 and the Kansas-Nebraska Bill of 1854. In his famous "Nicholson letter" of December 1847 he made was was probably the earliest enunciation of the doctrine of "popular sovereignty", namely, that the people of the territories should decide for themselves whether or not they should have slavery.

In 1848 he received the Democratic nomination for the Presidency, but owing to the defection of the so-called " Barnburners" he did not receive the united support of his party, and was defeated by the Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor. His name was again prominent before the Democratic convention of 1852, which, however, finally nominated Franklin Pierce. On account of his eminently conservative attitude on all questions concerning slavery, general Cass has been accused of pandering to the southern Democrats in order to further his political aspirations. His ideas of popular sovereignty, however, were not inconsistent with the vigorous Democratic spirit of the west, of which he was a typical representative, and it is not clear that he believed that the application of this principle would result in the extension of slavery. As the west became more radically opposed to slavery after the troubles in Kansas, Cass was soon out of sympathy with his section, and when the Republicans secured control of the legislature in 1857 they refused to return him to the Senate. President James Buchanan soon afterward made him Secretary of State, and in this position he at last had the satisfaction of obtaining from the British government an acknowledgment of the correctness of the American attitude with regard to the right of search (or "visitation", as Great Britain euphemistically termed it.)  In December 1860 he retired from the cabinet when the president refused to take a firmer attitude against succession by reinforcing Fort Sumter, and he remained in retirement until his death at Detroit, Michigan, on the 17th of June 1866. He wrote for the North American and the American Quarterly Reviews, and published Inquiries Concerning the History, Traditions and Languages of Indians Living Within the United States (1823), and France: Its King, Court and Government (1840).

  The Detroit Gazette October 10, 1821  - (Treaty of Chicago) states the return of Gov. Cass and Mr. Sibley, commissioners to treat with the Indians, with the gentlemen who attended at the treaty held in Chicago - having gained the object of the government by a cession from the Indians, on favorable terms, all of the country extending from the southern boundary of the Michigan territory to Grand River, and containing probably 5,000,000 acres of land. There were not less than 3,000 Indians present at the treaty, principally Potawatomies, Ottawas and Chippawas.

Contributed by Nancy Piper / Genealogy Illinois Trails County Host

Born: 9-Oct-1782, Exeter, NH
Died: 17-Jun-1866 Detroit, MI and is buried at Elmwood Cemetery, Detroit, MI

Lewis Cass of Detroit, was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, October 9, 1782. His ancestors were among the early pioneers of New Hampshire. HIs father, Major Jonathan Cass, joined the Patriot army the day after the skirmish at Lexington, and fought for the independence of the struggling colonies on the fields of Bunker Hill, Trenton, Princeton, Germantown, Saratoga, and Monmouth. Like all the men of the Revolution, Major Cass felt the importance of educating the generation that was to guide the fortunes of the new Republic, and spared no pains in preparing his son for the high career which his youthful genius and ambition seemed to promise. In the academy of Exeter, that venerable school in which so many great men have received their first literary impulses, he not only acquired a knowledge of the classical languages, but formed habits of study which rendered him a ripe scholar. After teaching school for some time in Delaware, where his father was stationed under General Wayne, he set out, in his nineteenth year, for the North-western Territory, to find a new home. He crossed the Alleghenies on foot, and found himself in the heart of a wilderness whose solitude was almost undisturbed.  The boy adventurer grew up with that Territory; and, in fifty years, saw it covered by five powerful States, and inhabited by five millions of people. He studied law with the late Governor Meigs, and was admitted to the bar in 1802. HIs success was rapid and decided, and in four years he was in the Legislature of Ohio, where he soon rose to distinction. The following year he was  appointed, by Jefferson, Marshall of Ohio, and continued to fill this office, with great ability, until the War of 1812. At this time he resigned his commission; and, at the head of the 3d Regiment of Ohio Volunteers, marched to the frontier. He was the first armed American to land on the Canada shore; and, had his early successes been followed up by General Hull, our armies would have been spared a year of humiliation.

When ordered by his General to give up his sword to a British officer, he broke it in despair and indignation. For his gallant services, he was appointed a Brigadier-General in the army of the United States. The brilliant victory of Commodore Perry having swept the enemy's fleet from Lake Erie, the American army, under General Harrison, in the autumn of 1813, landed once more in the enemy's country, determined to wipe out the disgrace of Hull's cowardly surrender. Driven from point to point by the victorious columns of Harrison, the British General at last took a strong position on the banks of the Thames, where he concentrated his tried battalions, with the bloody Tecumseh and his two thousand murderous savages. The triumph of our armies was complete; Proctor fled, and Tecumseh was slain. General Cass, who had contributed so much to render the campaign successful, had his full share of the perils, the heroism, and the glory of the day. In the dispatches of the commanding General, his name was associated with Perry's, who fought with him side by side. The victory of the Tames left General Cass the military guardian of Michigan, of which he became civil Governor. At the close of the war, he removed with his family to Detroit, where he commenced that long series of civil services which won for him the gratitude of the West. To his judicious counsels, persuasive eloquence, unwearied exertions, fearless adventures, and generous patriotism, that vast and powerful region owes much. In the year 1820, Mr. Calhoun, who was then Secretary of War, approved of an expedition which was proposed by Governor Cass, to explore the sources of the Mississippi, and established friendly intercourse with all the Indian tribes. His negotiations had begun in 1815, and they were continued under seven successive administrations. He was re-nominated on the expiration of his term of office, and each time was unanimously confirmed by the Senate, without a single remonstrance from the large territory over which he presided.

During this long period, he negotiated twenty-one treaties with the Indians of the North-west, and thus secured peace and prosperity to those brave but fading races, and undisturbed progress to their conquerors. In 1831 he was called, by General Jackson, to the position of Secretary of War. Of all the cabinet of that great man, Cass remained longest in office, and possessed Jackson's entire confidence. In 1836 he left the War Department for the mission to France. He was abundantly qualified for that high station; and, in the discharge of its duties, rendered signal service to his own country, and gained the respect and admiration of Europe. During this period, the Quintuple Treaty became the question of European cabinets. This was intended, by Great Britain, to impart to her assumed naval supremacy the sanction of the great Powers of the continent, thereby making a law for the ocean that would give her the right of searching or vessels at sea. Mr. Cass was determined to defeat the project. In 1842 he made a formal protest against the ratification of the treaty by France, and wrote a pamphlet on the "Right of Search," which was read by every statesman in Europe. The scheme of the British ministry was annihilated. During his mission, he visited the south of Europe and the eastern shores of the Mediterranean. At those shrines, which will forever be sacred to the scholar and Christian, -- the city of Romulus and the city of David, -- he found a few months of grateful repose. On his return to his native city, he met great tokens of regard from the nation he had represented, from institutions of science and learning, and the great West and its advancing millions. When the great patriot of the Hermitage felt that he was drawing neat his end, General Cass visited him at his home, and the parting scene was filled with the tenderness of a final separation. IN 1845 he was elected to the United States Senate, and for three years was one of its brightest ornaments.

During the days of trial, he stood firmly by the Constitution. With Clay, Webster, Houston, and other statesmen, who were worthy to have sat with our fathers around the early council fires of the Republic, he could not be tempted to give up to party what belongs to mankind. In May, 1848, on his nomination as a candidate for the Presidency, he resigned his position in the United States Senate. After the election of his opponent, General Taylor, to that office, the Legislature of his State, in 1849, re-elected him to the Senate for the unexpired portion of his original term of six years. When Mr. Buchanan became President, he invited General Cass to the head of the Department of State, which position he resigned in December, 1860. He devoted some attention to literary pursuits, and his writings, speeches, and State papers would make several volumes; among which one entitled, France; its King Court and Government, published in 1840. He died in Detroit, June 17, 1866; and will long be remembered as the most eminent and successful statesman of Michigan.

American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men with Portrait Illustrations on Steel, Vol. I-II 1878




Copyright © Genealogy Trails  

All Data on this Site is © Genealogy Trails, with rights reserved for original submitters.