Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Lewis Cass (1857–1860): Secretary of State

Lewis Cass was born in 1782 in Exeter, New Hampshire. After attending Exeter Academy, he moved with his parents first to Delaware, where he taught school in 1899, and then to the Northwest Territory, where he read the law and began to practice.

After settling in Zanesville, Ohio, Cass became prosecutor of Muskingum County in 1804. Two years later, he served as a Jeffersonian Republican in the Ohio legislature. From 1807 to 1812, Cass was the United States Marshal for Ohio, a post he held before participating in the War of 1812 first as a colonel and ultimately as a brigadier general. After stints with General William Hull and General William Henry Harrison, he served as a military administrator for Michigan and Upper Canada before President James Madison made him territorial governor of Michigan in 1813.

Cass held this position until 1831, when Andrew Jackson asked Cass to become his secretary of war following a raft of cabinet resignations stemming from the "Eaton Affair." He served until Jackson nominated him as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to France in 1836. Cass resigned this position in 1842 and returned to his law practice; within two years, he was in the United States Congress as a senator from Michigan.

Cass remained in Congress from 1845 until 1848, when the Democrats nominated him as their candidate for President of the United States. He lost that election to General Zachary Taylor. Following his defeat, Cass was reelected to the Senate and served in Congress until 1857, when he became President James Buchanan's secretary of state, a post he resigned in 1860. Lewis Cass died in 1866.