Appointed by President James Buchanan
Lewis Cass was born at Exeter, New Hampshire, on October 9, 1782, the first of six children to Jonathan and Mary Gilman Cass. The Casses were a family of moderately prosperous farmers, whereas the more affluent Gilmans sent several family members to the Continental Congress. Jonathan Cass enlisted as a private soldier in the patriot ranks following the clash at Lexington and Concord, and he saw action in the northern and middle states, rising to the rank of captain.
Lewis Cass's political moderation and social conservatism were shaped by his father. Jonathan Cass was an ardent Federalist who supported Alexander Hamilton's fiscal policies and, as marshal for the New Hampshire district, took a strong stand in maintaining order when riots erupted in Exeter at the time of Shays' rebellion. The elder Cass instilled in his son a sense of nationalism, but he was less successful in imbuing Lewis with lasting Federalist principles.
Lewis Cass was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, under the able tutelage of Benjamin Abbott, and his classmates included a rather awkward Daniel Webster. Lewis was a headstrong, robust youth who demonstrated leadership in organizing fellow students into a military company, the Washington Whites, which he commanded and drilled. Upon leaving Phillips Exeter at the age of 17, Lewis joined his family in Wilmington, Delaware, where he taught Latin at a local academy. His sojourn at Wilmington proved to be a learning experience for the young teacher, as Lewis was first exposed to the institution of slavery. Delaware was a border state in which slaves were relatively well treated, leading Lewis to discern little difference between the bondsmen and free blacks struggling to eke out livelihoods. In short, Lewis Cass developed no moral abhorrence to slavery and would view the issue solely as a constitutional question.
Lewis's brief teaching career ended as his father left the army after receiving a grant of bounty land near Zanesville, Ohio. The Cass family arrived at Marietta in October 1800, and Lewis commenced to read law in the office of Return Jonathan Meigs, later governor of Ohio. After aiding his father in building a cabin and clear-