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Presidential Messages And Cabinets

( Originally Published 1908 )

NO STORY of the White House would be complete without some mention of the President's official family, the Cabinet. And as the members of the Cabinet are the President's official advisers, and, therefore, have much to do with the messages of the Chief Executive, a few facts of interest relating to Presidential messages and proclamations are included in this chapter.

At the White House a room has always been set aside for the exclusive use of the members of the Cabinet and hence its name, Cabinet Room. In this room all Cabinet meetings have been held since John Adams first took possession of the original President's House. The room has not always been the same one, for with each administration some change has been made, until, before the restoration of the White House in 1902, it might have been said that nearly every room in the mansion had served at some time or other as the meeting place of the Cabinet. Such meetings have for many administrations been held usually on the mornings of Tuesday and Friday of each week when the President was in Washington.

To the Cabinet Room at the White House have come many men of highest distinction in the country's history. The Secretaries of State alone include several very great men each of whom afterward became President of the United States, as, for example, Thomas Jefferson (under Washington) ; James Madison (under Jefferson) ; James Monroe (under Madison) ; John Quincy Adams (under Monroe) ; Martin Van Buren (under Jackson), and James Buchanan (under Polk). Other distinguished Secretaries of State include John Hay (under McKinley) ; Daniel Webster (under W. H. Harrison) ; John C. Calhoun (under Tyler), and James G. Blaine (under Garfield).

In the Cabinet Room with President Roosevelt

The Cabinet Room in the present White House, located in what is known as the Temporary Executive Offices, is a large room in the east side of the office building. It is connected with the President's private office by means of sliding doors. Large as the room is, it is nearly filled with merely the furniture necessary to the comfortable conduct of the Cabinet meetings, such as a huge table and a dozen or more chairs. On each of nine of those chairs is a silver name plate and the men who fill the nine chairs assigned to Mr. Roosevelt's Cabinet are as follows:

Secretary of State—Elihu Root, of New York. Secretary of the Treasury—George B. Cortelyou, of New York. Secretary of War—Luke E. Wright, of Tennessee. Attorney-General—Charles J. Bonaparte, of Maryland. Postmaster-General—George von L. Meyer, of Massachusetts. Secretary of the Navy—Victor H. Metcalf, of California. Secretary of Interior-James R. Garfield, of Ohio. Secretary of Agriculture—James Wilson, of Iowa. Secretary of Commerce and Labor—Oscar S. Strauss.

In addition to these official advisers, Mr. Roosevelt has unofficial advisers among whom are three or four young men prominent in the work of the administration, including the few who play tennis with the President. From this fact has been evolved what has become known as the "Tennis Court Cabinet," consisting of Mr. Gifford Pinchot, United States Forester ; Assistant Secretary of State Robert Bacon, and Secretary of the Interior Garfield (a son of the martyred President, James A. Garfield).

Just how President Roosevelt receives callers in the Cabinet Room where, it should be added, prominent visitors to the White House are received, is told by Mr. William Bayard Hale. in the New York Times:

"Here, in the cabinet room, those who call to see the President are usually received by him, from 10 A.M. to 1:30 P.M. Between ten and twelve senators and representatives have the entrée without the need of an appointment. Others must make an appointment with Secretary Loeb. Sometimes a score of people will be in the Cabinet room at one time, and the President goes from one to another, making the circle of the room half a dozen times in a morning, always speaking with great animation, gesturing freely, and in fact talking `with his whole being, mouth, eyes, forehead, cheeks and neck all taking their mobile parts'. He stands for the most part as rigid as a soldier on parade, chin in, chest out, the line from the back of the head falling straight as a plumb line to the heels. `Never for a moment while he is on his feet does that line so much as waver, that neck unbend'. When the President sits, it may be on the divan or on the Cabinet table, he is very much at his ease, and half the time one foot is curled up under him. Curiously, whenever he tucks one foot under him his visitor is very likely to do the same thing.

"A hundred times a day the President will laugh, and when he laughs he does it with the same energy with which he talks. It is usually a roar of laughter, and it comes nearly every five minutes. His face grows red with merriment, his eyes nearly close, his utterance becomes choked and sputtery and falsetto, and sometimes he doubles up with the paroxysm. You don't smile with Mr. Roosevelt ; you shout with laughter with him, and then you shout again while he tries to cork up more laugh and sputters ; `Come gentlemen, let us be serious'."

Cleveland's Official Family

The attitude of President Cleveland toward the members of his Cabinet is told by Mr. Hillary A. Herbert, who was Secretary of the Navy at the time. Mr. Herbert informs us that:

"Mr. Cleveland's demeanor toward his Cabinet was always kind and deferential. I look back upon the Cabinet meetings as among the most pleasant of the many pleasant hours of my public life. They were exceedingly informal. Usually, when business was not pressing, the Cabinet exchanged social ondits of the day, and even a good story was told by one or another of those present. Mr. Cleveland himself not only appreciated a good story, but frequently had one of his own to tell. When he had questions of importance to put before the Cabinet he stated them in an informal way and remarked that he wanted to take the views of the gentlemen present. Such members of the Cabinet as desired to do so expressed their opinions.

"As a rule, Mr. Cleveland did not give his own judgment in putting questions before the Cabinet, though sometimes he did. Other members of the Cabinet will remember that it was often the case that Mr. Cleveland changed his mind after he had proposed a question for discussion. He never took a formal vote. But frequently he required every one of his advisers to give his opinion. A method which he pursued was to call a member by name : `Mr. Secretary Morton', he would exclaim, `what have you to say about this'? Obtaining Mr. Morton's view. He would pass to the next member. According to my recollection he had a regular rule of rotation in this. Very often he asked first the opinion of the member of the Cabinet within whose jurisdiction the question under discussion came. Now and then he would say that Mr. So-and-So thinks, thus about this question. `What do you other gentlemen think' ?"

Andrew Jackson's "Kitchen Cabinet"

The most remarkable of all the Cabinets of the Presidents were those formed and reformed under President Andrew Jackson. The word Cabinet, in "Old Hickory's" time was not used in the singular, because, during his administration, he called together and dismissed some five or six different bodies of the kind. Andrew Jackson was a President who insisted upon having his own way, and when a Cabinet Minister did not thoroughly agree with his ideas he dismissed that man and called another to take his place. During his term at the White House, therefore, President Jackson had five different Secretaries of the Treasury, four different Secretaries of State, three Secretaries of War, three Attorney-Generals and two Postmaster-Generals.

Even then it is said that President Jackson did not rely solely on the counsels of his official advisers, but consulted on many occasions a number of his friends who were not in official life. From this habit of his came the term "Kitchen Cabinet," applied to the group of men, including the famous Amos Kendall (one of Jackson's Postmasters-General), who were known as the President's unofficial counsellors.



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