Do you really know Lewis Cass?

Aug 11, 2014

Lewis Cass
Lewis Cass
Credit Wikimedia Commons

We’ve got Cass County, Cass City, Cassopolis, and Cass Tech High School in Detroit.

There's also Cass Lake, and many other cities, townships, and streets around the country all named after Lewis Cass, a towering figure in Michigan and the United States in the 19th century.

But most of us don't know much about Lewis Cass.

Historian Bill Loomis wrote a story published in the Detroit News titled "Lewis Cass, the titan of Michigan’s early years."

“His writing was not as fiery as lot of other people, so he wasn’t quoted often,” Loomis says. “He was also temperate; he didn’t drink, so he wasn’t a real sociable type of person.”

Cass was appointed governor of Michigan in 1814 and stayed in office for 18 years. He explored the northern U.S. and became an expert on Native Americans in what was then the Northwest Territory. Cass developed the first road system in Michigan, wrote the state motto (If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you"and designed the state seal.

Cass served under five presidents as secretary of war, secretary of state, brigadier general, minister to France, a friend of the king of France, head of Indian affairs, and was a presidential candidate in 1848 (he lost to Zachary Taylor).

Loomis says Cass was a moderate, and that caused him to lose the election. Cass was a northerner with sympathies for the south.

“He didn’t approve of slavery, but he said, ‘It’s there, we have to deal with it,’” Loomis says. “He did not like the abolitionists, but on the other hand, he did not like the radical southerners as well.”

*Listen to the full interview above.  

–Bre'Anna Tinsley, Michigan Radio Newsroom

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