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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3912

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: The first President.]

While the senators and representatives were being selected, Presidential electors were also chosen in all the eleven States except New York. The States exercised their constitutional discretion: in some the electors were chosen by the legislatures, in others by general ticket, and in others by districts. In one thing they agreed: when quorums of both houses were obtained, so that the votes could be counted, April 6, 1789, it was found that every elector had cast a ballot for George Washington. On April 30 he took the oath of office in Federal Hall on Wall Street, New York, and Maclay records for the benefit of posterity that "he was dressed in deep brown, with metal buttons with an eagle on them, white stockings, a bag, and sword." As the presidency was an entirely new office, there was much difficulty and some squabbling over the details of his place. The question of title was raised; and it was understood that Washington would have liked to be called "His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties." No action was taken, and the simple title of "Mr. President" was by common consent adopted.

[Sidenote: Executive departments.]

[Sidenote: Treasury Department.]

The duties of the President were clearly defined by the Constitution. It now became necessary to make some provision for subordinate executive officers. Here for the first time the importance of the legislation of the First Congress is visible. They had it in their power to put flesh and blood upon the dry bones of the Constitution: they might surround the President with a vigorous, active, and well-centred body of subordinates; or they might go back to the practice of the old Congress, and create executive officers who should be practically the servants of Congress. They resolved to trust the President. The first executive department to be established was the Department of Foreign A

ffairs, of which the name was a little latter changed to the Department of State. In due time Thomas Jefferson was appointed Secretary of State; among his successors have been John Marshall, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Martin Van Buren, Daniel Webster, John C. Calhoun, James Buchanan, and William H, Seward. The War Department bill passed August 7, and Henry Knox, who had been the head of the army under the old system, was reappointed. In establishing the Treasury Department a strong effort was made to create a Secretary of the Treasury as an agent of Congress rather than as the officer of the President. The details of the office were therefore carefully regulated by the statute, and specific duties were assigned to the Secretary. He was, however, appointed by the President, and the question was raised whether he was also removable by the President. The Senate insisted that the removal should not be valid without its approval; the House insisted that the President should be unrestrained by the casting vote of the Vice-President the latter system was adopted. The first Secretary of the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton.

[Sidenote: Relations with Congress.]

Then came the question of the relations of cabinet officers to Congress. Maclay records that on August 22, 1790, the President appeared in the Senate with Knox, and intimated that the Secretary of War would explain a proposed Indian treaty. The only remark that Knox seems to have made was: "Not till Saturday next;" but Maclay was convinced that he was there "to overawe the timid and neutral part of the Senate." With some displeasure, the Senate referred the matter to a committee. Hamilton desired an opportunity to address the House; but it was not accorded, nor does it appear that the privilege has ever been granted to any cabinet officer. Knox's speech is the nearest approach to the Parliamentary system which has been known in Congress.

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