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ArtII.S2.C1.2 Executive Departments

Article II, Section 2, Clause 1:

The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.

Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 authorizes the President to require the department heads of the Executive Branch to advise the President in writing on matters relating to their duties. The Framers adopted this provision when proposals to establish a Council of State to advise the President failed to win the necessary support at the Constitutional Convention.1 In the Federalist No. 74, Alexander Hamilton credited Article II, Section 2, Clause 1 with little importance, stating that he considered the provision to be a “mere redundancy” because “the right for which it provides would result of itself from the office.” 2 Discussing the provision in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, Justice Joseph Story opined that while the President’s right to require such opinion “would result from the very nature of the office,” the provision serves a purpose by “impos[ing] a more strict responsibility, and recognizes a public duty of high importance and value in critical times.” 3

President George Washington established the practice of the Executive Branch department heads meeting collectively to advise the President as a Cabinet.4 Consequently, Cabinet meetings are not required under the Constitution.5

1 Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 70, 97, 110 (Max Farrand ed., 1911)[hereinafter Farrand’s Records; 2 Farrand’s Records at 285, 328, 335–37, 367, 537–42. Debate on the issue in the Convention is discussed in Charles Thach, The Creation of the Presidency 1775–1789 105–110, 116 (1923). back
The Federalist No. 74 (Alexander Hamilton). back
3 Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States § 1487 (1837). back
Leonard White, The Federalists: A Study in Administrative History ch. 4 (1948). back
Edward S. Corwin, Presidential Power and the Constitution 89 (Richard Loss, ed., 1976) back