Lewis Cass and the Politics of Moderation

By Willard Carl Klunder | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

LEWIS CASS scribbled an affectionate letter to his young grandson during the summer of 1858. "My dear Child," wrote the seventy-five-year-old secretary of state, "I send you five dollars for piscatory purposes. Every one to his taste. Fishing is not to mine. Dr. Johnson defined a fishing rod to be a pole, with a hook and line at one end, and a fool at the other."1 Political opponents at times thought Lewis Cass the fool, but all would agree that for more than half a century he lacked the leisure time to spend fishing, even had he so wished. Cass's life spanned the period of American history from the Revolution through the Civil War. From the time of his election as a prosecuting attorney in 1804, he almost continuously held some public office. Cass received his first federal appointment from President Thomas Jefferson, and he remained in the political arena past Abraham Lincoln's election.

Lewis Cass was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy and trained as a lawyer. He served as a general officer during the War of 1812 and was included in General William Hull's ignominious surrender of Detroit. Appointed governor of Michigan Territory in 1813, Cass held that post for eighteen years as Michigan grew to the brink of statehood. In 1831, he was selected as Andrew Jackson's secretary of war, an office he resigned five years later to become United States minister to France. He returned to America in 1842, after quarreling with the secretary of state over the Webster-Ashburton Treaty. Cass was a disappointed aspirant for the Democratic presidential nomination of 1844, but the following year the Michigan legislature sent him to the United States Senate. He remained a member of that body until 1857, resigning briefly after his

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