Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
The Process of Government under Jefferson

The Process of Government under Jefferson

Noble E. Cunningham
Copyright Date: 1978
Pages: 374
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Process of Government under Jefferson
    Book Description:

    "Based on an exploration of the total mass of executive and legislative records for the years 1801-1809-something no other scholar has attempted-this thoroughly documented account describes the machinery and operation of the presidential office, the Cabinet, the departments, and other offices and commissions in the executive branch. It also explains the organization and processes of the national legislature. Cunningham has cleared away many errors and misconceptions, among them the claim that Jefferson was not interested in the normal process of day-to-day administration. In fact, Jefferson emerges as one of the most effective administrators ever to occupy the Presidency. This is an important and path-breaking study in administrative and legislative history." -Julian P. Boyd, Princeton University

    Originally published in 1978.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-6796-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Tables
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-2)
    Noble E. Cunningham Jr.
  5. I. A New Administration
    (pp. 3-26)

    Inauguration day was only two weeks away when on February 17, 1801, the House of Representatives, after nearly a week of balloting, elected Thomas Jefferson the third President of the United States. Not until then did Jefferson know that he would take office on March 4. Although the Republican victory in the presidential election of 1800 had been known since December, the tie between the two Republican candidates, Jefferson and Aaron Burr, had forced the election into the House of Representatives, where balloting had not begun until February 11. The Federalists in the House did not have the votes to...

  6. II. The President as Chief Executive
    (pp. 27-47)

    Jefferson believed that under president Adams the administration of the executive branch of the government had drifted in the direction of independent departments. Adams, he thought, had “parcelled out the government in fact among four independent heads, drawing sometimes in opposite directions.”¹ The new President criticized his predecessor for “long and habitual absences from the seat of government” that removed him from any share in the daily transaction of business. As President, Jefferson took steps to reverse the trend of Adams’s administration. In a “Circular to the heads of the departments,” sent in early November 1801, Jefferson assured his men...

  7. III. Presidential Decisionmaking
    (pp. 48-59)

    From the outset of his administration, jefferson included his Cabinet in the decisionmaking process. “The principles of removal, are to be settled finally when our administration collects about the last of April,” the President wrote in late March 1801;¹ but it was May 13 before all Cabinet members were in Washington and Jefferson was able “to settle our system of proceeding.”² On May 15 a Cabinet meeting was held with all members present, including Samuel Smith, who was temporarily performing the duties of Secretary of the Navy. The President laid before them a major problem. Reports indicated that in March...

  8. IV. The President’s Cabinet
    (pp. 60-71)

    The cabinet was the central mechanism of the policymaking structure of the presidency under Jefferson. The members of the Cabinet were not only the President’s chief administrative officials, they were also his major advisers. His closest political confidant was Secretary of State; his chief consultant on economic and financial matters was Secretary of the Treasury. A very accessible President, Jefferson sought out and received information and opinions from all over the country, but he had no friend or adviser outside his Cabinet to whom he turned in making the decisions of government.

    Believing that “those of the cabinet council of...

  9. V. The Making of the Annual Message
    (pp. 72-86)

    An examination of the process by which jefferson prepared his annual messages to Congress provides an excellent opportunity to observe the roles of the President and his Cabinet in the formulation of policy. A principal means of influencing and directing legislative action, the annual message was a major vehicle of executive policymaking. The address reported on the state of the Union, directed the Congress to the consideration of specific problems and questions, and presented recommendations for legislative action. The procedures that Jefferson worked out in preparing his first annual message were followed with only minor changes in each of his...

  10. VI. The Four Departments
    (pp. 87-133)

    The departments of state, the treasury, War, and the Navy constituted the central administrative apparatus of the national government during Jefferson’s presidency. Although organized much like a department, the General Post Office had a distinct status, and the Postmaster General was not a member of the President’s Cabinet. The Attorney General was a member of the Cabinet, but there was no department of justice, and the Attorney General had no administrative duties. The heads of the four departments were both Cabinet policymakers and working administrators. There were no assistant secretaries in any of the departments, and only the Treasury Department...

  11. VII. The Executive Complement
    (pp. 134-164)

    The act of congress creating the office of the Attorney General of the United States called for a person “learned in the law,” and prescribed the duties of that officer as being “to prosecute and conduct all suits in the Supreme Court in which the United States shall be concerned, and to give his advice and opinion upon questions of law when required by the President of the United States, or when requested by the heads of any of the departments, touching any matter that may concern their departments.”¹ These remained the Attorney General’s primary responsibilities throughout Jefferson’s administration. In...

  12. VIII. Appointments and Removals
    (pp. 165-187)

    “Nothing presents such difficulties of administration as offices,” Jefferson said before his first month as President had passed.¹ After three months, he insisted that “it is the business of removal and appointment which presents the serious difficulties. All others compared with these, are as nothing.”² After eight years he would leave the presidency believing that “the ordinary affairs of a nation offer little difficulty to a person of any experience, but the gift of office is the dreadful burthen which oppresses him.”³

    The change in administration that occurred for the first time when Jefferson took office raised new questions in...

  13. IX. Executive-Congressional Relations
    (pp. 188-213)

    The republican majority in congress looked to President Jefferson for direction, and, except during his final months in office after his successor had been elected, he supplied strong leadership. All major legislative programs originated in the executive branch. Jefferson’s annual and special messages presented numerous recommendations for action; and, while these messages contained only broad outlines, he privately communicated specific details to legislative leaders and members sympathetic to presidential proposals. At the same time, he respected the authority of Congress and in eight years as President never employed the veto, which he regarded as a device to be used only...

  14. X. The Anatomy of Congressional Committees
    (pp. 214-252)

    A member of the house of representatives observed in 1809 that “our practice is to send propositions to committees when they are not likely to pass.”¹ Although they were used in this way, the committees had more important roles and performed much of the work of Congress. While rarely the initiators of legislation, committees provided the means by which proposals were shaped into laws. They were also the principal information-gathering agencies of the legislature; numerous committee records testify to the diligent efforts of committees to obtain information before acting. If to some casual visitors attending the debates in Congress a...

  15. XI. A Deliberative Body
    (pp. 253-272)

    The house of representatives in 1801 was composed of 106 members; in 1803, following the new apportionment under the second census and the admission of Ohio as a state, the membership increased to 142. No further additions were made during Jefferson’s presidency. After the admission of Ohio, the Union embraced seventeen states, of which the most populous was Virginia with twenty-two members in the House of Representatives, followed by Pennsylvania with eighteen, and Massachusetts and New York, each with seventeen members. Each of the four Congresses under Jefferson contained a sizable number of new members, though the proportion was greatest...

  16. XII. Parties and Pressures in Congress
    (pp. 273-293)

    Neither the constitution nor the rules of either chamber of Congress recognized the existence of political parties, but by the time of Jefferson’s presidency, parties were actualities of political life and clearly visible in the operations of the national legislature. Following the Republican victories in the state and congressional elections of 1800 and 1801, control of both houses of Congress passed from Federalist to Republican hands at the opening of the Seventh Congress in December 1801. “We have a very commanding majority in the house of Representatives, and a safe majority in the Senate,” Jefferson observed in counting sixty-six Republicans...

  17. XIII. The Process of Petition
    (pp. 294-315)

    The role of petitions, often little recognized by historians, was an important element in the legislative process of the early Congresses. In the Jeffersonian Congresses much of the work of the standing committees of the House of Representatives resulted from petitions addressed to Congress and referred to committees for consideration and reports. The principal standing committees of a legislative character were, to a large extent, established as a result of the growing volume of petitions. The Committee of Claims originated entirely as a mechanism to handle petitions;¹ and this continued to be its function. An increasing number of petitions also...

  18. XIV. The Jeffersonian Experience
    (pp. 316-324)

    “Mr. jefferson is well calculated to pull down any political edifice and those will not be disappointed who have feared he would employ himself as industriously and indefatigably in taking to pieces stone by stone the national building as Washington employed himself in putting them together. Even the foundation will be razed in less than four years.”¹ Thus did one Virginia Federalist assess the prospects of Jefferson’s presidency early in 1802. But Jefferson did not tear down the edifice of government. Indeed, soon after taking office he wrote privately: “When we reflect how difficult it is to move or inflect...

    (pp. 325-327)
    (pp. 328-332)
  21. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 333-338)
  22. Index
    (pp. 339-358)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 359-359)