Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Kaspar from Stillwater, MN. Kaspar Wonders, “What is the president's cabinet?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Kaspar!
In the wake of a presidential election, the news will often be filled with speculation and reports about the newly-elected president's Cabinet. But why is everyone so interested in the president's Cabinet? Exactly what's in there?
Is it filled with dishes like your cabinets at home? Does the presidential Cabinet hold the presidential water glasses? Or is it something else entirely?
The presidential Cabinet is actually a group of trusted advisors that represent the heads of several executive departments. Each newly-elected president nominates people for Cabinet positions, and those people must be confirmed by the Senate.
The presidential Cabinet started with the nation's first president, George Washington. Although a Cabinet isn't required by the Constitution or federal statute, Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution sets forth that the President "may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices."
President George Washington chose four people from different regions of the fledgling nation to advise him: Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph. Washington specifically wanted a balanced and diverse range of opinions to help guide his decisions.
The term Cabinet has been traced back to a reference made by James Madison, who referred to Washington's meetings with his advisors as "the president's cabinet." Historians believe this usage stems from a 17th-century term for a private room where advisors would meet. Today, of course, the presidential Cabinet refers to the collective group of presidential advisors.
Unlike Washington's four-person Cabinet, modern presidential Cabinets consist of 16 positions. In addition to the Vice President of the United States, the Cabinet also consists of the heads of the 15 executive departments.
These positions include the Attorney General and 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.
The White House Chief of Staff is also considered a Cabinet-level position, although it is not subject to confirmation by the Senate. Cabinet members serve as advisors to the President, who can dismiss them and reappoint others in their place at will.