December 12, 1860: Secretary of State Lewis Cass Resigns

150 years ago the stage was being set for the Civil War.  The Buchanan administration sat paralyzed as the tide of secession was about to begin throughout the lower South.  One member of the administration was fed up by its inaction.  Lewis Cass was Secretary of State in the Buchanan cabinet.  He was the Grand Old Man of the Michigan Democrat Party.  A strong believer in Popular Sovereignty, a belief that the citizens of a territory should decide the slavery issue themselves, he had long been considered a doughface, a Northern politician who had Southern sympathies.

However, Cass, who was born during the Revolution, also had a deep love for the Union, and he was appalled by the refusal of Buchanan to take a firm military stand against the secessionists.  His letter of resignation:


The present alarming crisis in our National affairs has engaged your serious consideration, and in your recent message you have expressed to Congress, and through Congress to the Country, the views you have formed respecting the questions fraught with the most momentous consequences, which are now presented to the American people for solution. With the general principles laid down in that message, I fully concur, and I appreciate, with warm sympathy, its patriotic appeals and suggestions. What measures it is competent and proper for the Executive to adopt, under existing circumstances, is a subject which has received your most careful attention, and with the anxious hope, as I well know from having participated in the deliberations, that tranquility and good feeling may be speedily restored to this agitated and divided confederacy.

In some points, which I deem of vital importance, it has been my misfortune to differ from you.

It has been my decided opinion, which, for sometime past, I have urged at various meetings of the Cabinet that additional troops should be sent to reinforce the forts in the harbor of Charleston, with a view to their better defence should they be attacked, and that an armed vessel should likewise be ordered there, to aid if necessary, in the defence and also should it be required in the collection of the revenue, and it is yet my opinion that these measures should be adopted without the least delay. I have likewise urged the expediency of immediately removing the Custom House at Charleston to one of the forts in the port, and of making arrangements for the collection of the duties there by having a collector and other officers ready to act when necessary so that when the office may become vacant the proper authority may be there to collect the duties on the part of the United States. I continue to think that these arrangements should be immediately made. While the right and the responsibility of deciding belong to you, it is very desirable that at this perilous juncture there should be as far as possible unanimity in your Councils with a view to safe and efficient action.

I have therefore felt it my duty to tender you my resignation of the office of Secretary of State, and want your permission to retire from that official association with yourself and the members of your Cabinet which I have enjoyed during almost four years without the occurrence of a single incident to interrupt the personal intercourse which has so happily existed.

I cannot close this letter without bearing my testimony to the zealous and earnest devotion to the best interests of the Country with which during a term of unexampled trials and troubles you have sought to discharge the duties of your high station.

Thanking you for the kindness and confidence you have not ceased to manifest toward me, and with the expression of my warmest regard both for yourself and the gentlemen of your Cabinet, I am,

With great respect,

Your Obedient Servant.



Published in: on December 12, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 12, 1860: Secretary of State Lewis Cass Resigns  
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