The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: With a Life of the Author - Vol. 1

By John Adams; Charles Francis Adams | Go to book overview

CHAPTER X.
THE PRESIDENCY.

The obstacles which General Washington encountered in the attempt to reconstruct his cabinet during his second term of office have been already alluded to. After offering the chief post to five or six statesmen, always with the same ill-success, he was compelled at last to settle down upon the individual as the permanent officer, whom he had at first selected merely for the moment. This person was Colonel Timothy Pickering, of Massachusetts. In like manner, the earlier retirement of Mr. Hamilton from the treasury had been followed by a similar embarrassment, out of which the President had been relieved only by advancing Oliver Wolcott, Jr., of Connecticut, from the post of comptroller, which he had held for several years. So, too, in the case of General Knox, who declined to remain Secretary of War, the President, after vain attempts to enlist abler men, had been forced to pitch upon James McHenry, of Maryland, as the only person who could be persuaded to serve. Mr. McHenry, it is true, was an estimable man, but Washington himself, when afterwards excusing the original appointment on the ground that he had had Hobson's choice, agreed with other federalists in admitting that the selection had by no means been such as to give real aid to an administration.1 The weakness of this combination, so long as the imposing presence of Washington was felt in the foreground, a representative of the whole people, was of comparatively little importance. But the moment that he retired from the field, giving place to a successor who had no similar basis of popular confidence to stand upon,

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1
The authorities to sustain the text are collected in a note in vol. ix. p. 51. There is, however, a letter of Mr. Hamilton to President Washington, not mentioned there, which gives a complete view of the difficulties in the way of reorganizing the cabinet at this period. Works of A. Hamilton, vol. vi. pp. 61-63.

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