LEWIS CASS is a curiously neglected historical figure. Born in 1782, he survived the Civil War and, during a career that spanned more than half a century, variously served as a prosecuting attorney, state legislator, federal marshal, army officer, territorial governor, secretary of war, minister to France, United States senator, and secretary of state.
Two comprehensive biographies of Cass written by William T. Young and William L. G. Smith were designed to drum up support for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1850s. Young, for instance, fawningly portrays Cass as "the first statesman of his country, scarcely less known and celebrated among the Great Powers of Europe, than in his own country, and wherever known commanding attention, esteem and respect." Despite limitations of analysis and scope, these works contain important source materials not conveniently assembled elsewhere.
Andrew C. McLaughlin was the other nineteenth-century biographer of Lewis Cass. His work was published in 1891 and revised eight years later as part of the American Statesman Series. Although McLaughlin provides a more judicious characterization of his subject than either Young or Smith, he confesses to being "somewhat hampered" by the lack of Cass's private papers.1
More recent studies of Cass have drawn upon the expanding collections of his correspondence, notably those of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan and the Burton Historical Collection of the Detroit Public Library. Nevertheless, it is a tedious and sometimes virtually impossible task to decipher the available documents. The problem, as Cass personally acknowledged, was the "miserable scrawl" in which he