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Precedents Set by George Washington

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GP210 – American Government I

Week 7 – Assignment – Precedents Set by George Washington

George Washington was aware that many of his actions would be regarded as precedents. Here are three precedents that Washington established:

  1. Washington created the first Presidential Cabinet. Who was on the Cabinet, and what Departments did they represent? Who is on the Cabinet today, and what Departments do they represent?
  2. Washington was the first President to leave office after two terms. Is that precedent still followed today? Why or why not?
  3. Washington was the first to establish foreign policy, and issued the Proclamation of Neutrality. What situation did this proclamation address? What agency advises the President on foreign policy today? What is the role of this agency?

Our country’s first president, George Washington, served his two-term presidency from April 30, 1789 – March 4, 1797. Being the first president of the United States, he knew that he had the ability to shape what would follow, oftentimes stating that he walk on un-trodden ground (Stockwell, n.d. para 3). One precedent that he set was the creation of the Presidential Cabinet. The Cabinet is responsible for advising the President on any subject he may require relating to the duties of each member’s respective office (Cabinet, 2012, para 1). During George Washington’s presidency there were five departments that were represented, not including the Vice President. Listed chronologically, the members of each department during Washington’s presidency were:

  • Vice President: John Adams
  • Secretary of State: John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Edmund Randolph, Timothy Pickering
  • Secretary of the Treasury: Alexander Hamilton, Oliver Wolcott Jr.
  • Secretary of War: Henry Knox, Timothy Pickering, James McHenry
  • Attorney General: Edmund Randolph, William Bradford, Charles Lee
  • Postmaster General: Samuel Osgood, Timothy Pickering, Joseph Habersham

Today, the number of Cabinet departments has grown from five to fifteen. Under President Barack Obama, the current Cabinet departments and members are:

  • Vice President: Joseph R. Biden
  • Department of State: Secretary John Kerry
  • Department of the Treasury: Secretary Jack Lew
  • Department of Defense: Secretary Chuck Hagel
  • Department of Justice: Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr.
  • Department of the Interior: Secretary Kenneth L. Salazar
  • Department of Agriculture: Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack
  • Department of Commerce: Acting Secretary Rebecca Blank
  • Department of Labor: Acting Secretary Seth D. Harris
  • Department of Health and Human Services: Secretary Kathleen Sebelius
  • Department of Housing and Urban Development: Secretary Shaun L.S. Donovan
  • Department of Transportation: Secretary Ray LaHood
  • Department of Energy: Secretary Steven Chu
  • Department of Education: Secretary Arne Duncan
  • Department of Veterans Affairs: Secretary Eric K. Shinseki
  • Department of Homeland Security: Secretary Janet A. Napolitano

Another precedent that George Washington had set was the two-term limit of presidency. Although, his reasoning for only serving eight years wasn’t because of a law that was in place but more so because of personal reasons, such as wanting to return to his estate and escape the pressures of the job. This precedent is still followed to this day; however, there is one exception. Until 1940, the two-term limit for the President was more like an “unwritten rule” as there was no official term limits set for the President. At that time, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had won a third term in 1940 as well as a fourth term in 1944 which caused Congress to pass Amendment XXII, which would officially limit an elected president to two terms in office (Monk, n.d., para 2-3). The reasoning behind the two-term limit though is interesting, as it was put into place in order to separate the United States from England and not to give the perception or impression that the country is ruled as a monarchy.



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