Washington and his colleagues; a chronicle of the rise and fall of federalism eBook

Henry Jones Ford
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 165 pages of information about Washington and his colleagues; a chronicle of the rise and fall of federalism.
the duties of their respective offices.”  This provision does not contemplate a body that should be consultative by its normal character.  The prevailing opinion at the time the Constitution was framed was that the consultative function would be exercised by the Senate, which together with the President would form the Administration.  Upon this ground, Mason of Virginia refused to sign the report of the constitutional convention.  It was owing to practical experience and not to the language of the Constitution that the President was soon repelled from using the Senate as his privy council and was thrown back upon the aid of the heads of the executive departments, who were thus drawn close to him as his Cabinet.[Footnote:  In this formative process the Postmaster-General was left outside in Washington’s time, since his functions were purely of a business nature, not directly affected by the issues on which Washington desired advice.  The Postmaster-General did not become a member of the Cabinet until 1829.]

The inchoate character of the Cabinet for a considerable period explains what might otherwise seem to be an anomaly,—­the delay of Jefferson in occupying his post.  He did not arrive until March 21, 1790, when Washington had been in office nearly a year.  But this situation occasioned no remark.  The notion that the heads of the departments formed a cabinet, taking office with the President and reflecting his personal choice as his advisers, was not developed until long after Washington’s administration, although the Cabinet itself, as a distinct feature of the system of government, dates from his first term.  The importance which the Cabinet soon acquired is evidence that, even under a written constitution, institutions owe more to circumstances than to intentions.  The Constitution of the United States is no exception to the rule that the true constitution of a country is the actual distribution of power, written provisions being efficacious only in the way and to the extent that they affect such distribution in practice.  Hence results may differ widely from the expectations with which those provisions are introduced.  A constitution is essentially a growth and never merely a contrivance.



While Washington was bearing with military fortitude the rigors and annoyances of the imitation court in which he was confined, Congress reached decisions that had a vast effect in determining the actual character of the government.  The first business in order of course was the raising of revenue, for the treasury was empty, and payments of interest due on the French and Spanish loans were years behind.  Madison attacked this problem before Washington arrived in New York to take the oath of office.  On April 8 he introduced in the House a resolution which aimed only at giving immediate effect to a scheme of duties and imposts that had been approved generally by the States in 1783.  On the very next day debate upon this resolution began in the committee of the whole, for there was then no system of standing committees to intervene between the House and its business.  The debate soon broadened out far beyond the lines of the original scheme, and in it the student finds lucidly presented the issues of public policy that have accompanied tariff debates ever since.

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Washington and his colleagues; a chronicle of the rise and fall of federalism from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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