President Thomas Jefferson's Cabinet: Members & Overview

Instructor: Nate Sullivan

Nate Sullivan holds a M.A. in History and a M.Ed. He is an adjunct history professor, middle school history teacher, and freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will learn about President Thomas Jefferson's Cabinet members. We will identify who they were and highlight their notable contributions and what they are known for.

What Is a Presidential Cabinet?

Imagine what it would be like to be the president of the United States. You have so much to do and simply cannot do it all. You have to know so much about so many diverse aspects of life, and there is simply no way for you to be an expert in every area. How can one man or woman be an expert in everything from law to transportation to farming practices to technology and everything else in between? The reality is that he or she can't. That is why presidents rely on advisors and staff. Specifically, presidents rely on their Cabinet. A president's Cabinet is a body of advisors made up of the heads of each of the departments within the executive branch. For example, the positions of secretary of state, secretary of education, and secretary of the treasury are all Cabinet positions. Oh yeah, the Vice President of the United States is also considered to be among the president's Cabinet members.

George Washington had a pretty stellar Cabinet. It included brilliant men like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander HamiltoCn, and others. Talk about a ''Dream Team!'' This lesson, however, isn't about Washington's cabinet: it's about President Jefferson's cabinet. Let's dig in and learn about the men who advised America's third president.

Background and Context

By way of context, President Jefferson served from 1801-1809. He belonged to the Democratic-Republican Party, a party that favored a limited, weak federal government, and believed power should be invested among the people at local levels. When selecting his Cabinet members, Jefferson appointed ''able old friends'' and brilliant minds who could help build the Democratic-Republican Party and provide a new direction for the American Republic. Remember, before Jefferson, John Adams had been president: he was a Federalist, opposed to the Democratic-Republicans. So the Jefferson Administration represented a very new and different path forward. In fact, Jefferson's election to the White House is sometimes even called the ''Revolution of 1800.''

Thomas Jefferson chose cabinet members that reflected the values of the Democratic-Republican Party.

Jefferson's Cabinet Members

Let's start with Jefferson's vice president. This was a notorious man whom some of you have probably heard of. This is the man who shot and killed Alexander Hamilton. That's right, between 1801-1805, Aaron Burr served as America's third vice president. He and Jefferson did not get along too well, and in Jefferson's second term Burr was replaced as vice president by George Clinton.

Vice President Aaron Burr became a notorious figure in American history after he killed Alexander Hamilton in a pistol duel.
burr hamilton

Jefferson's right-hand man, serving the ever-important role of Secretary of State was none other than James Madison. James Madison was also a Virginian, had participated in the writing of the U.S. Constitution, and went on to succeed Jefferson as president in 1809. Jefferson and Madison shared many views, including a distrust of a strong federal government. Madison was arguably the most influential of Jefferson's Cabinet members. As secretary of state, Madison worked to maintain American neutrality as Great Britain and France were at war with one another.

James Madison served as Secretary of State under Thomas Jefferson and was arguably his greatest influence.

Albert Gallatin, a Swiss-born American, was Jefferson's choice for Secretary of the Treasury. Gallatin had served in the Revolutionary War before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Gallatin served as Secretary of the Treasury from 1801-1814, under both President Jefferson and President Madison. Gallatin favored low taxes, and under his watch, the national debt decreased.

For the position of Secretary of War, Jefferson selected Henry Dearborn, also a Revolutionary War veteran. In fact, Dearborn had been an officer in the Continental Army and fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill. He served between 1801-1809. Dearborn advised Jefferson on military matters, and in particular, stressed the importance of establishing clear boundaries between American and British soil so that future conflicts would not spring up. Today, Dearborn, Michigan, is named after him.

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