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March 4

In 1789, on this day the office of the Vice Presidency was formed in New York City, the first holder would be the indefatigable John Adams who took up the post on April 21st and almost immediately set about profoundly changing it.

The Triumph of the Duke of BraintreeHis previous executive position was Chair of the Board of War and Ordinance (effectively Secretary of War during the outset of the American Revolution) where had had served with distinction but after that tenure of one year he had spent a decade away from the action in Europe. To be sure, he undertook a series of brilliantly executed initiatives in the pursuit of strategic national interest, particularly with regards finance and national recognition, but he was unable to directly influence the development of the machinery of the Government as he would have wished. As a result of his absence, he was sadly missed during the deliberations at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Of course not long after he returned, many might have given pause to wish that this dominating personality might return to Europe.

Had he been present at Philadelphia, almost certainly envisaging himself in the role, then a lot of unpleasantness might well have been avoided. Because the office designed by committee was quite frankly a mixed bag of confused ideas. Indeed the main functions were to remain available if the President fell ill and also to serve as President Pro Tem, the Presiding Officer of the Senate.

General Washington determined that his presence in the Senate made him a member of the Legislative Arm of the Federal Government and excluded him from Cabinet Deliberations. And members of the Senate decided that he was not permitted to participate in debates. He could however casting tie-breaking votes and did so frequently (partly due to the then small size of the Senate). Of course this arrangement introduced unnecessary conflict and suited no one. Under Adams own proposals with Senate Leaders (by this stage more than willing to hear any suggestion that would remove him from the Congress), the role of President Pro Tem became a post elected by the Senate itself, and being released, he was permitted to rejoin Cabinet deliberations. Needless to say, Washington had never actually wanted the argumentative Adams inside the Cabinet (he preferred deferential subordinates such as Hamilton and von Steuben) and instead his highly vocal presence fundamentally altered the course of the General's unhappy single term of office. On the positive side, the circumstances of "the argument" made it easier for Jefferson and Adams to work together as a team after 1793. To be continued (further details of the argument will follow in the next installment).