Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Cass, Lewis

Lewis Cass is one of Detroit’s most renowned politicians. He served as territorial governor for 18 years and later shared the national political stage with such titans as John Calhoun, Henry Clay, and Daniel Webster. He served as a U.S. senator, secretary of war, envoy to France, secretary of state, and was a presidential candidate three times, earning the democratic nomination in 1848.

Cass was born in New Hampshire in 1782. After graduating from Exeter Academy and a stint as a teacher in Wilmington, Delaware, he followed his family to Ohio. There, he studied law, became a member of the state house of representatives, was appointed United States marshal for the district of Ohio and enlisted in the United States Army during the War of 1812. Concluding the war as a brigadier general and governor of Michigan Territory in Detroit, Cass became an outspoken advocate for Michigan. He co-founded the Historical Society of Michigan, penned the state motto and designed the Great Seal.

Following his years as territorial governor, Cass had a long and successful career in Washington as a senator and in the cabinets of two presidents. As national events moved toward open conflict and a civil war, Cass took a strong stance on preserving the Union, ultimately resigning his position as secretary of state when he and President James Buchanan could not resolve their differences on slavery and secession.

Cass returned to Detroit in 1861 after the election of Abraham Lincoln. Throughout the Civil War, he strongly supported the Union cause. After an illustrious career, Lewis Cass died in 1866 and was buried in Elmwood Cemetery. He is one of two Michigan leaders in the National Statuary Hall Collection at the U.S. Capitol.

 


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Lewis Cass Lithograph, 1858

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