Our Nation’s First Presidential Cabinet

As president-elect Trump considers who he will choose to fill his cabinet, I thought it might be useful to look at the men who comprised our nation’s first presidential cabinet.

Today, the president’s cabinet includes includes the Vice President and the heads of 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Attorney General.

George Washington cabinet, by contrast, included just four original members: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Below I have included a brief biographical sketch of each cabinet secretary.

(1) Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson

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Thomas Jefferson, after attending my alma mater the College of William & Mary, practiced law and served in local government as a magistrate, county lieutenant, and member of the House of Burgesses. He also served as a member of the Continental Congress and was chosen in 1776 to draft the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson left Congress in 1776 and served in the Virginia legislature. He was elected governor and served in the office from 1779 to 1781. Following his governorship, Jefferson wrote his famous Notes on the State of Virginia. In 1784, he returned to public service by serving first a trade commissioner in France and then as Benjamin Franklin’s successor as minister to France. After serving as Secretary of State during President Washington’s administration, Jefferson went on to serve as Vice President under John Adams and then President of the United States. He sold his collection of books to the government, which formed the nucleus of the collection of the Library of Congress. At the age of 75, he founded the University of Virginia.

(2) Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton

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Alexander Hamilton, born in Nevis, British West Indies, left school at King’s College (later renamed Columbia) in 1774 to begin a career in politics. That same year, he wrote “A Full Vindication of the Measures of Congress,” defending the Continental Congress’ proposal to embargo trade with Great Britain. In 1776, after the Revolutionary War began, Hamilton was commissioned as a captain in the Continental Army. In 1777, he accepted a position on General George Washington’s staff. He served admirably throughout the war. After the war’s conclusion, Hamilton passed the New York bar and practiced law in New York City. In 1787, Hamilton served as a New York delegate to the Constitutional Convention, where he advocated for the creation of a stronger central government. Along with James Madison and John Jay, Hamilton wrote “The Federalist,” a collection of 85 essays on the origins, purpose, and design of the United States Constitution. Hamilton wrote 51 of the essays. He served in New York’s ratifying convention and was instrumental in securing ratification of the new Constitution in the state. As the nation’s first Treasury secretary, Hamilton crafted a monetary policy that saved the nation from financial ruin. He was responsible for creating the First Bank of the United States, and his Report on Manufactures promoted commercial and industrial development in the new nation.

(3) Secretary of War Henry Knox

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Henry Knox began his life as a bookbinder. During the Revolutionary war he served as General Washington’s chief of artillery and eventually rose to the rank of Major General. During the war, his most notable accomplishments include leading the expedition to transfer captured British cannon from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, directing Washington’s famous crossing of the Delaware River, and take charge of the placement of the artillery at Yorktown. He served as secretary of war under the Articles of Confederation before serving as Washington’s Secretary of War under the new Constitution.

(4) Attorney General Edmund Randolph

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Edmund Randolph studied at the College of William & Mary and studied law under his father’s tutelage. During the Revolutionary War, Randolph served as aide-de-camp to General Washington, and also attended the convention that adopted Virginia’s first state constitution in 1776 (he was the convention’s youngest member at the age of 23). He served as mayor of Williamsburg, Va, and Virginia’s attorney general. In 1779, he was elected to the Continental Congress, and in 1786 became the Governor of Virginia. He attended the Annapolis Convention in 1786, and was a delegate from Virginia during the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He presented the Virginia Plan on behalf of the Virginia delegation. Despite his support of Virginia Plan, he ultimately declined to sign the Constitution. By the time of the Virginia ratifying Convention, Randolph supported the Constitution and worked to secure its ratification in his state. He stated his reason for his switch as “The accession of eight states reduced our deliberations to the single question of Union or no Union.” He served as attorney general under President Washington until Jefferson resigned as Secretary of States, at which point Randolph assumed the role of Secretary of State.

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