The Cabinet


Every President attempts to secure a broad geographic base in his selections and to pay political debts to his party in one or more of his appointments. Some Presidents—Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy are notable examples—have chosen relatively strong, independentminded officers because as Chief Executives they delighted in the clash of ideas and generally considered themselves strong enough to carry any point of view. Others—like Richard Nixon—have deliberately chosen relatively colorless “team players” whose allegiance to the President is unquestioning.

  1. • To date five hundred and twenty-four men and three women have served in the Cabinet. The women are Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor to Franklin Roosevelt; Oveta Gulp Hobby, the first Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare under Dwight Eisenhower; and Carla Hills, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Ford.
  2. • The typical Cabinet officer is college-educated and between the ages of forty-eight and fifty-two at the time of his appointment. The oldest appointee was Lewis Cass as Secretary of State at age seventy-five to James Buchanan. Cordell Hull, Secretary of State to Franklin Roosevelt, holds the record for the longest continuous service in one post, nearly twelve years.
  3. • Only two blacks have held a Cabinet post: Robert C. Weaver, Secretary of HUD for Lyndon Johnson, and William T. Coleman, Jr., Secretary of Transportation for Gerald Ford.
  4. • Only two Secretaries of State have come from west of the Mississippi: William J. Bryan of Nebraska under Woodrow Wilson and Frank B. Kellogg of Minnesota under both Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover. Fortythree of fifty-four Secretaries of State—about four out of every five—have come from East Coast states.
  5. • Only five Secretaries of the Treasury have been from states west of the Mississippi; the most recent was John Connally from Texas. Thirty of sixty-one Secretaries of the Treasury have been from New England or the Middle Atlantic region; eleven of them, beginning with Alexander Hamilton, from New York.
  6. • Both the State Department and the Treasury have been dominated by lawyers. Forty-four of the sixtyone appointees to the Treasury have held law degrees; forty-six of fifty-four in State.
  7. • Nine men have served in three Presidential Cabinets. The most recent was Henry Stimson, Secretary of State to Herbert Hoover and Secretary of War to William Howard Taft and Franklin Roosevelt.
  8. • One man, Elliot L. Richardson, has served in four different Cabinet posts, as head of the Departments of Justice, Defense, Health, Education, and Welfare, and, as of December, 1975, Commerce.

The appointive power in Article 11, Section 2 of the Constitution is shared by the President and the Senate, but in general the Senate has accepted the President’s Cabinet choices with a minimum of controversy. Only eight appointments have been rejected to date—an astonishingly low figure of 1.5 per cent of all appointments.

  1. • Six of the eight rejections occurred in the nineteenth century. The first came during Andrew Jackson’s administration when the Senate refused to accept Roger B. Taney as Secretary of the Treasury in 1834 because of its controversy with the President over the rechartering of the Bank of the United States.
  2. • Four of the eight rejections fell to John Tyler in 1843-44 when the Whig-dominated Senate sought to punish him for his defection from Whig doctrines and his earlier use of the veto on certain bank legislation. During the same period the Senate rejected four of Tyler’s appointments to the Supreme Court.
  3. • Andrew Johnson’s attempt to reappoint former Attorney General Henry Stanbery, who had resigned his post to serve as Johnson’s counsel in the impeachment trial, was refused by the Senate in 1868.
  4. • The two appointees rejected in this century were Charles B. Warren as Calvin Coolidge’s Attorney General, because of a suspected tie to the sugar trust (1925), and Lewis L. Strauss as Dwight Elsenhower’s Secretary of Commerce, because of alleged “personal unsuitability” (1959). Strauss had earlier antagonized Senate Democrats during his service as director of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Beginning with Washington’s acceptance of Jefferson’s resignation in 1793, dismissals from the Cabinet, whether voluntary or forced, have been commonplace. The reasons for removal vary with each President, of course, but in general they represent a political division between the Secretary and the Chief Executive. It is a contest that the President always wins in the sense that his request for resignation cannot be challenged. Despite the effort of the Senate from time to time to involve itself in the removal process (holding that the power to appoint carries with it the power to remove), the Presidents have successfully resisted sharing that authority.