Growth of the president’s cabinet since 1789

One way to gauge the growth of the federal government over the years is to look at the makeup of the president’s cabinet. Under George Washington, there were only four cabinet positions – secretary of state; secretary of the treasury; secretary of war; and the attorney general.

Today, as you’ll see in the table below, there are 15 official cabinet positions established by statute. (At the bottom of the table, there’s a scroll bar to let you see entries not immediately visible on your screen. To focus on a specific president, just type his name in the search box above the table.) In addition, the following posts are considered to be cabinet-level positions, meaning that these individuals are considered to be top advisers to the president: vice president; chief of staff; director of the Office of Management and Budget; administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; the U.S. trade representative; the ambassador to the United Nations; the chairperson of the Council of Economic Advisers; and the administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Do you see the growth of the cabinet as an indication of a more complex world, an indication of an overreaching government, a little of both, or something else entirely? Let me know.

 PresidentStateTreasuryWar*Attorney GeneralNavy*Postmaster General**InteriorAgricultureCommerce***LaborDefenseHealth, Education & Welfare****Housing & Urban DevelopmentTransportationEnergyEducationVeterans AffairsHomeland Security
1G. WashingtonXXXX
2J. AdamsXXXXX
3T. JeffersonXXXXX
4J. MadisonXXXXX
5J. MonroeXXXXX
6J.Q. AdamsXXXXX
7A. JacksonXXXXXX
8M. Van BurenXXXXXX
9W.H. HarrisonXXXXXX
10J. TylerXXXXXX
11J. PolkXXXXXX
12Z. TaylorXXXXXXX
13M. FillmoreXXXXXXX
14F. PierceXXXXXXX
15J. BuchananXXXXXXX
16A. LincolnXXXXXXX
17A. JohnsonXXXXXXX
18U.S. GrantXXXXXXX
19R. HayesXXXXXX
20J. GarfieldXXXXXXX
21C. ArthurXXXXXXX
22G. ClevelandXXXXXXXX
23B. HarrisonXXXXXXXX
24G. Cleveland (2nd Term)XXXXXXXX
25W. McKinleyXXXXXXXX
26T. RooseveltXXXXXXXXX
27W. TaftXXXXXXXXX
28W. WilsonXXXXXXXXXX
29W. HardingXXXXXXXXXX
30C. CoolidgeXXXXXXXXXX
31H. HooverXXXXXXXXXX
32F.D. RooseveltXXXXXXXXXX
33H. TrumanXXXXXXXXXXX
34D. EisenhowerXXXXXXXXXX
35J. KennedyXXXXXXXXXX
36L. JohnsonXXXXXXXXXXXX
37R. NixonXXXXXXXXXXXX
38G. FordXXXXXXXXXXX
39J. CarterXXXXXXXXXXXXX
40R. ReaganXXXXXXXXXXXXX
41G.H.W. BushXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
42W. ClintonXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
43G.W. BushXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
44B. ObamaXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
* Departments of War and Navy were incorporated into Defense in 1947
**Postmaster General ceased being a cabinet post in 1971
***Commerce was called Commerce & Labor under T. Roosevelt and W. Taft
****Health, Education & Welfare became Health and Human Services in 1979 when the Education Department was established

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One Response to Growth of the president’s cabinet since 1789

  1. Bruce Mainprice says:

    It my studied opinion that the reason for the massive expansion of the president’s cabinet occurred via the ideological shift of the power of the presidency and the role of our central government spawned by the rise of the Progressive Movement in the 1880’s and the explosion of the U.S. economy powered by the Industrial Revolution and the writings of Hegel and subsequently, Marx and their view on exploitation and government efficiency. Presidents T. Roosevelt and W. Wilson reconstructed these ideologies to expand the reach of their powers, as they believed, to allow the federal government to address the needs of the citizens which they clearly believed the states were less equipped to deal with. In order to accomplish this they needed several tools that were heretofore not available. These were the 16th amendment (Income tax) to insure an efficient way to raise government revenue; the 17th amendment (Direct election of senators) to reduce the power of the states and to some extent take away the “consent of the governed” and lastly the establishment of the Federal Reserve Bank which effect created a National Bank which the Fed had wanted since Hamilton was Sec. of the Treasury. This last was the fait accompli as it allowed the Fed to borrow money at will. Thus the geographical expansion and the industrial revolution made the growth of presidential powers inevitable. To sum up, the found principles of the constitutional framers was discarded by president’s T. Roosevelt and W. Wilson for what they saw as expediency. Subsequent presidents have used their precedent to create the massive overreach we have today.

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