Commentary
8:47 am
Fri February 11, 2011

Michigander: The Backstory

I realize there are a few other things going on today, such as the mess in Egypt, and the aftermath of President Obama’s historic trip to Marquette, where they gave him a Stormy Kromer hat.

There’s also a major story the media missed last night. Governor Rick Snyder spoke briefly at a Michigan State University political leadership forum in Livonia, remarks that included a sensational announcement.

Mr. Snyder said he would remain in office until the Lions appear in the Super Bowl. Which means he pretty much declared himself governor for life. The Lions last won a world championship the year I entered kindergarten, a year before Governor Snyder was born.

Maybe that’s an approach Hosni Mubarak should have tried, telling his people that the second the Lions won, he’d be history.

Anyway. I need to get on to the really important story of the day, which is the new poll by Resch Strategies that showed that by a margin of fifty-eight percent to twelve percent, citizens of this state prefer to call ourselves Michiganders, not Michiganians.

Well, of course we do. But I have to say our reporting of this story left out something important, which is why this is so.

The term Michigander was actually coined by Abraham Lincoln, who was, in addition to his greatness, by far the funniest politician of his day.  Here’s how it happened.

The date was July 27, 1848. Lincoln was a freshman congressman from Illinois who was both pretty obscure and a lame duck, since he wasn’t even going to be renominated.

Lewis Cass, on the other hand, was a big deal who was the Democratic nominee for President that year. Lincoln was a loyal member of the Whig party and an opponent of the Mexican War.

Cass, who had once been a general, supported the war, and Lincoln made a speech attacking him and his fellow Democrats. He  accused them of trying to tie the tail of a great military reputation “onto the great Michigander,“ meaning Cass.

The name stuck. For one thing, Cass was in his mid-sixties, considerably stout and, I have to say, sort of looked like an old mean goose. Go look at a picture of him if you don’t believe me. Cass, who had been favored, lost that election, thought that was more due to the fact that he was running against an authentic military hero, Zachary Taylor, than to Lincoln’s witty slur.  There’s also sort of a Michigan curse in presidential elections: He was the first of three Michiganders nominated for President. The other two, Thomas Dewey and Gerald Ford, also lost.

Dewey lost twice. But the name Michigander caught on.  The story did have a semi-happy ending. Cass went on to become Secretary of State when the Democrats got back in power.

When James Buchanan refused to take a strong stand against secession, Cass resigned. He went back to Detroit and worked hard to raise troops to put down the rebellion. Though he was old enough to be Lincoln’s father, he survived him by a year.

I was born close to where Cass lies buried, and an autographed picture of him is framed over the desk where I‘m writing these words. Michiganders, after all, should stay loyal to their flock.