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The great amount and variety of the executive business of the nation, requires the division of this department into several subordinate departments, and the distribution among them of the different kinds of public business. At the head of each of these departments is a chief officer. These chief officers, sometimes called _heads of departments_, with the attorney general, being private advisors or counselors of the president, are called the _cabinet_. They are appointed by the president and senate.


§2. By the first congress under the constitution, were established the state, treasury, and war departments, whose head officers, called secretaries, and the attorney-general, constituted the first cabinet. In 1798, the navy department was established. During president Jackson's term of office, the postmaster-general was made a cabinet officer. And the establishment, in 1849, of the department of the interior, added to the cabinet the seventh member.

§3. The _secretary of state_ performs such duties as are committed to him by the president relating to foreign intercourse. Some of these duties have been mentioned. (Chap. XXXIX, §6.) He conducts all our diplomatic correspondence, being the official organ of communication with the ministers of foreign governments sent to this country, and with our ministers abroad. _Diplomacy_ signifies the rules and customs which govern the intercourse of nations through their ministers or agents; also the management of the business of a nation by its minister at a foreign court. And such minister, especially if he manages with ability and skill, is called a _diplomatist_.

§4. The secretary of state keeps the seal of the United States; and he makes out, records, and seals all civil commissions to officers appointed by the president and senate, or by the president. His duties in relation to the publishing and distributing the laws, and certain other matters, are similar to the duties of a secretary of state of a state government.

§5. The _secretary of the treasury_ has charge of the finances of the nation. He superintends the collection of the revenue, and performs certain other duties of the nature of the controller or auditor of a state. (Chap. XIII, §3.) He lays before congress annually a report of the finances, containing a statement of the public revenue and expenditure during the past year, the value of the imports and exports, and estimates of the revenue and expenditures for succeeding years, and plans for improving the revenues. He also makes annually a statement of appropriations of money, and of sums remaining, in the treasury.

§6. The vast amount of business in this department requires a great number of assistants; among whom are several controllers and auditors of accounts; a treasurer, a register, who keeps the accounts of goods imported and exported, and of the shipping employed in our foreign trade; a solicitor; a recorder; and numerous clerks.

§7. The _secretary of the interior_ superintends the business relating to the public lands, public buildings, the lead mines and other mines of the United States, Indian affairs, patents, and pensions. A _pension_ is a yearly allowance to a person by the government for past services. In this country pensions are granted for services in war. They were at first allowed only to such as had been disabled in the war of the revolution and in the war of 1812; and subsequently to all who had served at least six months in the revolutionary war, and to their widows during their lives. Those disabled in the late war with Mexico have also been added to the pension list. And by recent acts of congress, bounties of lands were to be allowed to all the surviving soldiers of the war of 1812, who had served one month therein.

§8. The _secretary of war_ performs duties relating to military commissions, or to the land forces and warlike stores of the United States. The standing army of the nation consists at present of about 15,000 men, who are distributed among the several military stations, armed and ready for service. He reports annually a statement of the expenditure and application of moneys drawn from the treasury for his department, and makes such suggestions relative to its condition as he thinks proper. He is assisted by subordinate officers and clerks.

§9. The _secretary of the navy_ executes the orders of the president for procuring naval stores and materials, and for equipping and employing vessels of war, and performs such other duties pertaining to the naval establishment as are required of him. Three officers are appointed by the president and senate, who constitute a board of _commissioners for the navy_, and discharge the ministerial duties of the office of the secretary, and furnish estimates of the expenditures of the department.

§10. The _postmaster-general_ establishes post-offices, appoints postmasters and other persons employed in the general post-office, and provides for carrying the mails. He is assisted by three assistant post-masters-general, an auditor of the post-office treasury, to audit and settle the accounts of the department, and to superintend the collection of the debts due the department. The business of this department requires a large number of clerks. He reports annually all contracts made for the transportation of the mail, and a statement of the receipts and expenditures of the department.

§11. Postmasters keep an account of all letters sent from and received at their respective offices, stating the names of the offices from which letters are received, and of those to which letters are sent, and whether they are post paid or sent free. Postmasters, at stated periods, (in most places quarterly,) advertise all letters remaining in their offices; and they send quarterly to the general post-office accounts of letters sent and received, and of moneys received for postage, and of those paid out on orders of the department. Letters also which have lain in their offices during the time for which they were required to be advertised, are sent as _dead_ letters to the general post-office, where they are opened; and such as contain money or other valuable matter are returned by mail to the writers.

§12. Postmasters are allowed for their services a commission on the amount of postage received by them quarterly. Those at whose offices the sums received are small, are allowed a greater per centage than those where the receipts are large. Thus, the commission at present (1859) is, on the first $100 received, sixty per cent.; on the next $300, fifty per cent.; on the next $2,000, forty per cent.; on all over 2,400, fifteen per cent. Stamped letters are considered as paid in cash. On newspaper postages, fifty per cent, on all sums, large or small. If a postmaster's commission exceeds $2,000 a year, besides the expenses of the office, the excess is paid to the general post office. Postmasters may also receive for pigeon-holes or boxes, not exceeding $2,000, the excess, if any, to be paid to the general post-office. Postmasters whose compensation amounts to $1,000 or more in a year, are appointed by the president and senate.

§13. Postmasters whose commission on postages has been less than $200 during the preceding year, may receive and send, free of postage, letters on their own private business, weighing not more than half an ounce. And members of congress, during their term of office, and until the first of December after its expiration, may send and receive letters and packages weighing not more than two ounces, and all public documents free. A person to be entitled to send matter free, must write on the outside his name and the title of his office. This is called _franking_. Civil officers at the seat of government also may frank matter relating to the business of their offices, by marking it outside, "official business."

§14. The _attorney-general_ attends to all suits in the supreme court of the United States in which the United States is a party or is concerned, and gives his opinions on questions of law when requested by the president or heads of departments.