The President’s Cabinet: Some Historical Perspective

cabinetAs Donald Trump selects the members of his cabinet it is worth putting this group of presidential advisers into some historical context.  Lindsay Chervinsky, a doctoral candidate at the University of California at Davis, is finishing her dissertation on George Washington’s cabinet–the first cabinet in the United States.

Here is a taste of her recent piece at Quill: “Advising the President.”

…After his inauguration on April 30, 1789, President George Washington utilized the options provided by the Constitution. On August 22, 1789, Washington visited the Senate to discuss an upcoming summit between representatives from the federal government, the Carolinas, and the Cherokee and Creek nations. Prior to the meeting, he submitted the current treaties with other Native nations for the Senate’s review. On August 22, Washington delivered a statement and then presented questions for the Senate to answer. The Senators sat in uncomfortable silence for several minutes before recommending that the issue be referred to a committee for further discussion. Accustomed to efficient councils of war during the Revolution, Washington was furious. He protested that the delay defeated the purpose of his visit—to obtain prompt, meaningful advice. Washington did return a few days later for the Senate’s recommendation, but he concluded that the legislative body was too large to provide the timely advice needed in diplomacy.

Washington also requested written opinions from the department secretaries almost immediately after taking office. He quickly discovered, however, that many of the issues facing the government could not be dispatched through correspondence and required in-person conversation. In April 1793, war between England and France threatened to engulf the United States. Faced with unprecedented foreign policy decisions, Washington summoned frequent cabinet meetings for the first time. After establishing a policy of neutrality, Washington embraced the cabinet as a central component of the executive branch and continued to convene regular meetings. The creation of the cabinet in 1793 effectively marked Washington’s rejection of the advisory options outlined in Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution.

Read the entire piece here.