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THE DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE.
ORIGIN AND ORGANIZATION OF THE DEPARTMENT.
The preamble to the Constitution lays down broadly two great aims of government—(1) the defense of the life, liberty, and property of the citizen, and (2) the promotion of his general welfare.
In the year following the adoption of the Constitution, three of the executive branches of Government, with Secretaries, were established: First, the Department of Foreign Affairs, by act approved July 27, 1789 (name changed to Department of State by act approved September 15, of the same year); second, the War Department, created by the act of August 7, 1789 (then embracing naval affairs); and third, the Treasury Department, established by act of September 2, 1789. Until the Department of Commerce (and Labor) was organized, in 1903, the Treasury Department was the principal agency of government through which a limited supervision of the commercial and industrial life of the nation was administered, and the designation sought to be given its chief officer in the constitutional convention was that of "Secretary of Commerce and Finance." 1
The record of events from the close of the Revolution to the constitutional convention at Philadelphia in J 787 shows that the desire to foster the commerce and trade of the States was the paramount and controlling argument which made the Union possible.
The constitutional convention of the thirteen States was the direct outcome of the Annapolis convention of five States, and this convention, in turn, was born of the Mount Vernon convention of delegates from the States of Virginia and Maryland, assembled to adjust and promote commerce and trade between those two States. The commissioners from Virginia and Maryland met at Alexandria, in the former State, in the spring of 1785, but General Washington extended to them the hospitality of his home, which they accepted, and the delegates—all prominent men of their day, and friends of Washington—conducted their deliberations at Mount Vernon, aided, no doubt, by the counsel of their host, whose interest in and knowledge of the subject under discussion had long been manifest, and who, two years later, presided at the constitutional convention at Philadelphia. The sole subject of this meeting at the home of Washington was the
commerce and trade between the two States; but in reality these men were enacting the prologue to what was to be in fact an indissoluble Union.
The Mount Vernon convention recommended that representatives be appointed annually to confer on the commercial and trade relations of the States. In considering this report, Maryland passed a resolution inviting Pennsylvania and Delaware to join in these annual conventions; while in the Virginia assembly, Madison penned a resolution appointing commissioners to meet such as should be delegated by the other States "to take into consideration the trade of the United States," and "to consider how far a uniform system in their commercial regulations may be necessary to their common interest and permanent harmony." 1
The immediate result of the conference on trade and commerce held at Mount Vernon was that in the following year, 1786, commissioners from five of the thirteen States assembled by appointment at Annapolis "to take into consideration the trade and commerce of the United States." In this convention, Hamilton drew up an address, which Madison and Randolph signed with him, recommending a general meeting of the States in a future convention, and an extension of the powers of their delegates to other objects than those of commerce, as in the course of their reflections on the subject they had been "induced to think that the power to regulate Trade is of such comprehensive extent and will enter so far into the General System of the Foederal Government, that to give it efficacy, and to obviate questions and doubts concerning its precise nature and limits, may require a correspondent adjustment of other Parts of the Foederal System."2
In the constitutional convention, August 20, 1787, Mr. Gouverneur Morris, seconded by Mr. Pinckney, submitted a proposal that there should be a council of state to '' assist the President in conducting the public affairs," the third member of this council to be a "Secretary of Commerce and Finance," whose duties were, in part, to "recommend such things as may in his judgment promote the commercial interests of the United States." This plan also provided for a Secretary of Domestic Affairs to have supervision of agriculture, manufactures, roads, and navigation.2 The Constitution, as adopted, makes no provision for a cabinet or council of state, but President Washington immediately invited the Secretaries of the three departments first mentioned, and the Attorney General, appointed under the act of September 24, 1789, to become members of his official family. The Department of Justice was established by the act approved June 22, 1870.
'Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography.
During the period between the close of the Federal convention and the ratification of the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton, writing on the subject of commerce, said:
The importance of the Union, in a commercial light, is one of those points about which there is least room to entertain a difference of opinion, and which has, in fact, commanded the most general assent of men who have any acquaintance with the subject. This applies as well to our intercourse with foreign countries as with each other.1
In 1788, the same year in which the above was written by Hamilton, Commodore John Paul Jones, in a letter to the Marquise de Lafayette concerning the Constitution, stated:
Had I the power I would create at least seven ministries in the primary organization of government under the Constitution. In addition to the four already agreed upon, I would ordain a Ministry of Marine, a Ministry of Home Affairs, and a General Post Office; and, as commerce must be our great reliance, it would not be amiss to create also as the eighth a Ministry of Commerce.2
The remarkable foresight of the great commodore enabled him to name the Cabinet very much as it is to-day, practically in the order in which it grew, agriculture being included by him in the Interior (Home) Department, where it actually was for a time. The labor interests, however, which have grown rapidly in importance in recent decades, are now also provided for in a separate department.
When the Constitution had been ratified by eleven States, and the Congress, under its authority to "regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several States," proceeded solemnly to treat the commerce and manufactures of the two remaining States in the same manner as those of any foreign country, it was from a sense of their commercial interests that they hastened to enroll themselves with their sister Commonwealths, although one of these two States had not even participated in the convention.
Thus, not only were the commercial and industrial interests of the States an important and controlling influence in bringing them into the Federal convention, but a realization of the commercial advantages of the Union induced the States to ratify the Constitution.
In his first annual address to Congress, President Washington said:
The advancement of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures by all proper means will not, I trust, need recommendation.
The first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, gave special consideration to the commerce and industries of the country, and his special reports on these subjects, in which he recommended that a board be established for promoting arts, agriculture, manufactures, and commerce, demonstrate that he considered this function of the Treasury Department one of primary importance.
1 Federalist. 'Original manuscript in archives of Congressional Library.
Hastened by impending war with France, the act of April 30, 1798, was passed, establishing the Navy Department, and its Secretary became the fifth member of the Cabinet. In 1829 the Postmaster General entered the Cabinet for the first time, on the invitation of President Jackson, though this office ha$l been in existence since the act of September 22, 1789. The General Post Office was constituted the Post Office Department by the act approved June 8, 1872.
The discussions in the early Congresses looking toward the establishment of another executive department centered around what was termed a "Home Department," and the then important work of government in connection with land and Indian affairs formed the nucleus from which was established, under the act of March 3, 1849, the Department of the Interior, whose Secretary became the seventh Cabinet member. As the business interests of the country entered largely into the provisions of the various measures anticipating the Interior Department, it may be well to notice some of these reports.
In a bill to establish a Home Department, introduced by Representative Vining, of Delaware, in the First Congress, July 23, 1789, the duties of the proposed department were, in part, "to report to the President plans for the protection and improvement of manufactures, agriculture, and commerce." The outcome of this movement was the change in name of Department of Foreign Affairs to Department of State, above noted, and the giving of duties to the State Department not comportable with the original name.
President Madison's message of December 3, 1816, recommended the establishment of "an additional department in the executive branch of the Government"; and the Senate committee to which this recommendation was referred reported a bill to establish a Home Department to have charge of such subjects as the President might direct. In 1825 the subject was again revived, and Representative Newton offered a resolution that a department to be denominated "the Home Department should be established for the purpose of superintending whatever may relate to the interests of agriculture and manufactures, the promotion of the progress of science and the arts, the intercourse and trade between the several States by roads and canals." This resolution was not agreed to.
In his message of December 6, 1825, President John Quincy Adams recommended a reorganization of the executive departments, and the committee of the House of Representatives to which this matter was referred, by its chairman, Daniel Webster, reported a bill to establish a new department. The report stated that "at the organization of the Government it appears to have been the original design, in regard to the executive departments, that there should be a distinct and separate department for such internal or domestic affairs as aopertain to the General Government."